I haven’t seen the movie, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” though who can resist a film that one dazzled critic termed “intermittently exciting” and “trite.”

I have, however, read the book by the same name and it rates somewhere between nauseating and terrifying in its self-righteous rationalization of violence in the name of combatting climate change. Wield your mental machete to slash through the author’s intellectual ramblings and you’ll find this simple message at its core: breaking stuff is fun!

Doubt me?

Read how Andreas Malm, the book’s author and professor at Lund University in Sweden, describes his feelings. He and fellow members of the Ende Gelände civil disobedience movement had just torn down fencing surrounding a coal-fired power plant in eastern Germany and stormed the compound.

“I have never felt a greater rush of exhilaration: for one throbbing, mind-expanding moment, we had a slice of the infrastructure wrecking this planet in our hands. We could do with it as we wanted.”

Nope, no sexual innuendo there. Of course, in the next moment, our tree-hugging heroes realized they were clueless about how a power generation facility actually works, much less how to shut one down safely. Eventually, police arrived and the environmental avengers retreated, but not before engaging in sufficient mischief inside the plant that forced its operator to stop generating electricity until repairs could be made.

So, no harm done, except for anybody who may have been hooked up to a ventilator that suddenly lost power. That could have been inconvenient.

“But if destroying fences was an act of violence, it was violence of the sweetest kind,” Malm exudes. “I was high for weeks afterwards.”

Breaking stuff is fun!

Column: How to Blow Up an Eco-Terrorist Manifesto
London, England. October 18th, 2019. Extinction Rebellion members lead a “Red Handed” protest in London in October 2019. They were attempting to leave red hand prints on government buildings. (Source: Shutterstock.com)

Hey, if tearing down fencing were the extent of environmental activism, we could all relax. But it’s not, and it’s the intention of the book to encourage people to act in far more nefarious ways.

“At what point do we escalate?” Malm asks. “When do we conclude that the time has come to also try something different? When do we start physically attacking the things that consume our planet and destroy them with our own hands? Is there a good reason we have waited this long?”

Uh, yeah, there is a good reason, professor. What you are suggesting is illegal and dangerous. People and property—and the environment—can get hurt when energy infrastructure is damaged.

In 1978, a guy named Phillip Martin Olson bombed the then-new Trans Alaska Pipeline, resulting in 14,000 bbl of crude covering four acres of snow before workers could cut the flow.  

In 2001, Daniel Carson Lewis shot that same pipeline with a rifle, piercing the pipe near a valve, which caused about 3,600 bbl to spill onto the tundra north of Fairbanks. Lewis did not appear to have any particular motive. He was just “an idiot with a gun, out along the pipeline with alcohol,” said a spokesman for the government agency overseeing pipeline operations.

What is maddening about the book, besides its incoherent writing and mediocre editing, is the smugness. Sneaking through an affluent neighborhood and flattening the tires on SUVs is justified because rich people are capitalists and capitalism is bad. To wit, the drivers of vehicles that emit high levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere deserve whatever they’ve got coming.

Also, breaking stuff is fun!

In November 2016, two activists set fire to six pieces of heavy machinery used to build the Dakota Access Pipeline, destroying five of them. A few months later, they used welding torches to burn through the steel of the pipeline. In the next phase, they returned to setting equipment on fire at Energy Transfer work sites with parcels soaked in gasoline.

Either nostalgia won out or activism had drained their creative juices.

The danger of a treatise like this is that somebody will perceive it as reasonable and decide to take action. The dropdown list under “What Could Go Wrong?” is a long one, ranging from a security guard shooting an intruder to a pipeline exploding and killing people who live nearby.

Ironically, this book was published in 2021, as the oil and gas industry engaged in a major push forward to decarbonize. But that wouldn’t matter to Malm or anyone else rationalizing violence in support of the climate. Because breaking stuff is … no, it’s not fun. It’s just irresponsible, dangerous and stupid.