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Environmental movement

Environmental movement is a term often used for any social or political movement directed towards the preservation, restoration, or enhancement of the natural environment. Here are some of the most prominent and well-defined examples:

  • The North American Conservation movement dating at least to John James Audubon which sought to protect biodiversity on aesthetic traditional and spiritual grounds.
  • Environmental health movement dating at least to Rachel Carson, and more related to nutrition, preventive medicine, aging well and other human body specific concerns. In these the natural environment is of interest mostly as an early warning system for what may happen to humans.
  • Ecology movement which focused on Gaia theory, value of Earth and other inter-relations between human sciences and human responsibilities. Its spinoff Deep Ecology was more spiritual but often claimed to be science.
  • Environmental Racism is a new movement that seeks to explore the relationships between racism, and environmental destruction. Often, disenfranchised communities end up beside highways, garbage dumps, and factories. The Environmental Racism movement seeks to link "social" and "ecological" environmental concerns, while at the same time keeping environmentalists conscious of the dynamics in their own movement, i.e. racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and other reminants of dominant culture.

Most environmental movements have similar value systems and moral codes, and cite common heroes and moral examples in their myths, although they often diverge in details such as emphasis, priorities, means of action, and specific goals. They often share the notion that the perception of one's environment is strongly connected with that of one's self. In this regard, some environmentalists distinguish themselves from conservationists, noting that while the latter advocate whats "good for you", they advocate what's good -- period.

Environmental movements often interact or are linked with other social movements with similar moral views, e.g. for Peace, human and animal rights; against nuclear weapons and/or nuclear power, endemic diseases, poverty, hunger, etc..



New Zealand

The earliest major environmental issue was the raising of Lake Manapouri in 1969 for a hydro-electricity scheme. The campaign was successful in preventing the lake level from being raised. Other major issues were nuclear energy, preventing native forest logging on the West Coast and halting the growing of GE food crops.

See also: Timeline of environmental history of New Zealand

North America

In North America the early role models are Johnny "Appleseed" Chapman, Chief Seattle, and Henry David Thoreau in the U.S. and Grey Owl in Canada. By word and deed, they argued that man belonged in harmony with nature, as its keystone species - in the terms of modern ecology. They saw no contradiction in altering or inhabiting the natural environment, and living in harmony with it forever. They did not resist development or colonization of lands - indeed Seattle's Reply, 1854, was an agreement not to resist it.

Early environmentalists encouraged emulation of indigenous peoples and enriching the natural ecology with slow patient effort - Chapman alone planted millions of apple trees throughout the United States. The movement had little or no explicit political character. It was mostly aesthetic. It had no central doctrine. Most of its proponents did not know each other, but created a powerful discourse that influenced people strongly at the time.

Many historians point to the important philosophical and activist roles played by John Muir in the early twentieth century. As well, forester and ecologist Aldo Leopold both founded the Wilderness Society in 1935, and wrote a classic of nature observation and ethical philosophy, A Sand County Almanac , published in 1949. The 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's controversial book Silent Spring was another often-cited milestone and impetus.

United Kingdom

See: Conservation in the United Kingdom

Environmental versus Conservation movement

By contrast with the conservation movement (an American invention of John Audubon and others who invoked Christian reverence for the Creation), early environmentalists did not lobby for parks or human exclusion from "the wild". They did not see humans as apart from nature.

The harshest critic of the environmental movement in the 20th century was probably Ayn Rand, who considered it to be the opponent of human morality, creativity and industry. While carefully differentiating and not attacking the old American conservation movement, in her book "The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution", 1971, she scoffed that the environmental movement was attempting to re-create the Garden of Eden - in defiance even of Judeo-Christian ethics which said that man did not belong there and could not return.

Some took her critique as a compliment. Others considered the criticism valid. A very few in deep ecology considered it both valid, and a compliment.

The popular techno-thriller writer Michael Crichton has recently expressed many of the same views, particularly in a number of speeches in the last few years and in his book State of Fear

Role of science

Largely due to this political critique and confusion, and a growing concern with the environmental health problems caused by pesticides, some serious biologists and ecologists created the scientific ecology movement which would not confuse empirical data with visions of a desirable future world.

Today it is the science of ecology, rather than any aesthetic goals, that provide the basis of unity to most environmentalists. All would accept some level of scientific input into decisions about biodiversity or forest use . Conservation biology is an important and rapidly developing field.

Most would generally deny that there is such a thing as "environmentalism" and consider that phrase an invention of enemies.

One way to avoid the stigma of an "ism" was to evolve early anti-nuclear groups into the more scientific Green Parties, sprout new NGOs such as Greenpeace and Earth Action , and devoted groups to protecting global biodiversity and preventing climate change. But in the process, much of the emotional appeal, and many of the original aesthetic goals were lost - these groups have well-defined ethical and political views, backed by hard science.

Renewed focus on local action

However, the environmental movement today persists in many smaller local groups, usually within ecoregions, furthering spiritual and aesthetic values Thoreau or those who rewrote Chief Seattle's Reply would recognize. Some resemble the old U.S. conservation movement - whose modern expression is the Sierra Club, Audubon Society and National Geographic Society - American organizations with a worldwide influence.

These "politically neutral" groups tend to avoid global conflicts and view the settlement of inter-human conflict as separate from regard for nature - in direct contradiction to the ecology movement and peace movement which have increasingly close links: While Green Parties and Greenpeace, and groups like the ACTivist Magazine for example, regard ecology, biodiversity and an end to non-human extinction as absolutely basic to peace, the local groups may not, and may see a high degree of global competition and conflict as justifiable if it lets them preserve their own local uniqueness. This seems selfish to some. However, such groups tend not to "burn out" and to sustain for long periods, even generations, protecting the same local treasures. The Water Keepers Alliance is a good example of such a group that sticks to local questions.

The visions and confusions, however, persist. The new tribalist vision of society for example echoes the concerns of the original environmentalists to a degree. And the more local groups increasingly find that they benefit from collaboration, e.g. on consensus decision making methods, or making simultaneous policy, or relying on common legal resources, or even sometimes a common glossary. However, the differences between the various groups that make up the modern environmental movement tend to outweigh such similarities, and they rarely co-operate directly except on a few major global questions.

See also

External links

Last updated: 06-02-2005 05:05:10
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