Environmental movement

Environmental movement

The environmental movement, a term that includes the conservation and green movements, is a diverse scientific, social, and political movement for addressing environmental issues.

Environmentalists advocate the sustainable management of resources and stewardship of the environment through changes in public policy and individual behavior. In its recognition of humanity as a participant in (not enemy of) ecosystems, the movement is centered on ecology, health, and human rights.

The environmental movement is represented by a range of organizations, from the large to grassroots. Due to its large membership, varying and strong beliefs, and occasionally speculative nature, the environmental movement is not always united in its goals. At its broadest, the movement includes private citizens, professionals, religious devotees, politicians, and extremists. Environmentalists are also often linked with other social movements, such as human and animal rights and pacifism.


The environmental movement in the United States can be traced back to the early conservation movement and the establishment of Hot Springs National Park in 1832. Two early conservationists stood out as leaders in the movement; Henry David Thoreau and George Perkins Marsh. Thoreau was concerned about the wildlife from Massachusetts. He wrote "Walden; or, Life in the Woods" as he studied the wildlife from a cabin. Marsh was influential with regards to the need for resource conservation.

The roots of the modern environmental movement can be traced to attempts in nineteenth-century Europe and North America to expose the costs of environmental negligence, notably disease, as well as widespread air and water pollution, but only after the Second World War did a wider awareness begin to emerge.

During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, several events illustrated the magnitude of environmental damage caused by humans. In 1954, the 23 man crew of the Japanese fishing vessel Lucky Dragon was exposed to radioactive fallout from a hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll. In 1962, the publication of the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson drew attention to the impact of chemicals on the natural environment. In 1967, the Torrey Canyon oil tanker went aground off the southwest coast of England, and in 1969 oil spilled from an offshore well in California's Santa Barbara Channel. In 1971, the conclusion of a law suit in Japan drew international attention to the effects of decades of mercury poisoning on the people of Minamata.

At the same time, emerging scientific research drew new attention to existing and hypothetical threats to the environment and humanity. Among them were Paul R. Ehrlich, whose book "The Population Bomb", published 1968, revived concerns about the impact of exponential population growth. Biologist Barry Commoner generated a debate about growth, affluence and "flawed technology." Additionally, an association of scientists and political leaders known as the Club of Rome published their report "The Limits to Growth" in 1972, and drew attention to the growing pressure on natural resources from human activities.

Meanwhile, nuclear proliferation and photos of Earth from outer space emphasized the consequences of technological accomplishments, as well as Earth's truly small place in the universe.

In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, and for the first time united the representatives of multiple governments in discussion relating to the state of the global environment. This conference led directly the creation of government environment agencies and the UN Environment Program. The United States also passed new legislation such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act- the foundations for current environmental standards.

Since the 1970s, public awareness, environmental sciences, ecology, and technology have advanced to include modern focus points like ozone depletion, global climate change, acid rain, and the harmful potential of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Scope of the movement

Biological studies

*Environmental science is the study of the interactions among the physical, chemical and biological components of the environment;
*Ecology, or ecological science, is the scientific study of the distribution and abundance of living organisms and how these properties are affected by interactions between the organisms and their environment.

Primary focus points

*The environmental movement is broad in scope and can include any topic related to the environment, conservation, and biology, as well as preservation of landscapes, flora, and fauna for a variety of purposes and uses. See List of environmental issues
*The Conservation movement seeks to protect natural areas for sustainable consumption, as well as traditional (hunting, fishing, trapping) and spiritual use.

Other focus points

* Environmental health movement dates at least to Progressive Era, and focuses on urban standards like clean water, efficient sewage handling, and stable population growth. Environmental health could also deal with nutrition, preventive medicine, aging, and other concerns specific to human well-being. Environmental health is also seen as an indicator for the state of the environment, or an early warning system for what may happen to humans.
* Environmental Justice is a movement that began in the U.S. in the 1980s and seeks an end to environmental racism and prevent low-income and minority communities from an unbalanced exposure to highways, garbage dumps, and factories. The Environmental Justice movement seeks to link "social" and "ecological" environmental concerns, while at the same time preventing de facto racism, and classism.
* Ecology movement could involve the Gaia Theory, as well as Value of Earth and other interactions between humans, science, and responsibility.
* Deep Ecology is often considered to be a spiritual spinoff of the ecology movement.
* Bright green environmentalism is a currently popular sub-movement, which emphasizes the idea that through technology, good design and more thoughtful use of energy and resources, people can live responsible, sustainable lives while enjoying prosperity.

Environmental law and theory

Property rights

Many environmental lawsuits question the legal rights of property owners, and whether the general public has a right to intervene with detrimental practices occurring on someone else's land. Environmental law organizations exist all across the world, such as the Environmental Law and Policy Center in the midwestern United States.

Citizens' rights

One of the earliest lawsuits to establish that citizens may sue for environmental and aesthetic harms was Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference v. Federal Power Commission, decided in 1965 by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The case helped halt the construction of a power plant on Storm King Mountain in New York State. See also United States environmental law and David Sive, an attorney who was involved in the case.

Nature's rights

Christopher D. Stone's 1972 essay, "Should trees have standing?" addressed the question of whether natural objects themselves should have legal rights. In the essay, Stone suggests that his argument is valid because many current rights-holders (women, children) were once seen as objects.

Environmental reactivism

Numerous criticisms and ethical ambiguities have led to growing concerns about technology, including the use of potentially-harmful pesticides, water additives like fluoride, and the extremely dangerous ethanol-processing plants.

NIMBY syndrome refers to public outcry caused by knee-jerk reaction to an unwillingness to be exposed to even necessary developments. Some serious biologists and ecologists created the scientific ecology movement which would not confuse empirical data with visions of a desirable future world.

Modern environmentalism

Today, the sciences of ecology and environmental science, rather than any aesthetic goals, provide the basis of unity to most serious environmentalists. As more information is gathered in scientific fields, more scientific issues like biodiversity, as opposed to mere aesthetics, are a concern. Conservation biology is rapidly-developing field. Environmentalism now has proponents in business: new ventures such as those to reuse and recycle technical equipment are becoming more and more popular. Computer liquidators are just one example.

In recent years, the environmental movement has increasingly focused on global warming as a top issue. As concerns about climate change moved more into the mainstream, from the connections drawn between global warming and Hurricane Katrina to Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth, many environmental groups refocused their efforts. In the United States, 2007 witnessed the largest grassroots environmental demonstration in years, Step It Up 2007, with rallies in over 1,400 communities and all 50 states for real global warming solutions.

Radical environmentalism

;Main|Radical environmentalism

Radical environmentalism emerged out of an ecocentrism-based frustration with the co-option of mainstream environmentalism. The radical environmental movement aspires to what scholar Christopher Manes calls "a new kind of environmental activism: iconoclastic, uncompromising, discontented with traditional conservation policy, at time illegal ..." Radical environmentalism presupposes a need to reconsider Western ideas of religion and philosophy (including capitalism, patriarchy and globalization) [http://shiftshapers.gnn.tv/blogs/9306/A_Brief_Description_of_Radical_Environmentalism A Brief Description of Radical Environmentalism] , Jeff Luers, "4 Struggle Magazine", 26th September 2005.] sometimes through "resacralising" and reconnecting with nature.Manes, Christopher, 1990. "Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilization", Boston: Little, Brown and Co.]

Criticisms of the environmental movement

Critics point out that environmentalism is more deeply rooted in politics than science, citing an uneasiness about compromising capitalistic ideals, a sacrifice of a comfortable lifestyle, or an unwillingness to allow a global governing body to dictate personal behavior. These concerns are often perceived as validated by extremists associated with the movement who overshadow real accomplishments and scientific findings.

A consistent theme acknowledged by both supporters and critics is that scientists are constantly learning more about nature's complexities, and that the environmental debate deals with many points of view.

Environmental studies are also criticized for the reliance on recent data to define long-term environmental trends. Because of this, many environmentalists support the precautionary principle, or to err on the side of caution when making public policy. This conjecture, however, is precisely what makes skeptics nervous.

One study reported in The Guardian concluded that " [p] eople who believe they have the greenest lifestyles can be seen as some of the main culprits behind global warming." The researchers found that individuals who were more environmentally conscious were more likely to take long-distance overseas flights, and that the resulting carbon emissions outweighed the savings from green lifestyles at home. [David Adam, [http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/sep/24/ethicalliving.recycling "Green idealists fail to make grade, says study,"] The Guardian, September 24 2008 ]

See also

* Bright green environmentalism
* Conservation Movement
* Earth Science
* Eco-anarchism
* Eco-socialism
* Ecological economics
* Ecological modernization
* Ecology
* Environmentalism
* Environmental organizations
* Environmental science
* Environmental skepticism
* Free-market environmentalism
* Green anarchism
* Green movement
* Green syndicalism
* Natural environment
* Political ecology
* Radical environmentalism
* Sustainability
* Technogaianism
* Timeline of environmental events

;Regional environmental movements

*Environmental movement in the United States
*Environmental movement in New Zealand


Further reading

* John McCormick, "The Global Environmental Movement", London: John Wiley, 1995
* Sheldon Kamieniecki, editor, "Environmental Politics in the International Arena: Movements, Parties, Organizations, and Policy", Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993, ISBN 0-7914-1664-X
* Philip Shabecoff, "A Fierce Green Fire: The American Environmental Movement", Island Press; Revised Edition, 2003, ISBN 1559634375
* Paul Wapner, "Environmental Activism and World Civil Politics", Albany: State University of New York, 1996, ISBN 0-7914-2790-0
* de Steiguer, J.E. 2006. "The Origins of Modern Environmental Thought." The University of Arizona Press. Tucson. 246 pp.

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