26 4.5. Environmentalism

Environmentalism is a broad philosophy, ideology[1][2][3] and social movement regarding concerns for environmental conservation and improvement of the health of the environment, particularly as the measure for this health seeks to incorporate the concerns of non-human elements. Environmentalism advocates the preservation, restoration and/or improvement of the natural environment, and may be referred to as a movement to control pollution.[4] For this reason, concepts such as a land ethicenvironmental ethicsbiodiversity,ecology and the biophilia hypothesis figure predominantly.

At its crux, environmentalism is an attempt to balance relations between humans and the various natural systems on which they depend in such a way that all the components are accorded a proper degree of respect. The exact nature of this balance is controversial and there are many different ways for environmental concerns to be expressed in practice. Environmentalism and environmental concerns are often represented by the color green,[5] but this association has been appropriated by the marketing industries and is a key tactic of greenwashing. Environmentalism is opposed by anti-environmentalism, which takes a skeptical stance against many environmentalist perspectives.




Environmentalism denotes a social movement that seeks to influence the political process by lobbying, activism, and education in order to protect natural resources andecosystems. The word was first coined in 1922.[citation needed]

An environmentalist is a person who may speak out about our natural environment and the sustainable management of its resources through changes in public policy or individual behavior. This may include supporting practices such as informed consumption, conservation initiatives, investment in renewable energy, improved efficiencies in the materials economy, transitioning to new accounting paradigms such as Ecological economics and renewing and revitalizing our connections with non-human life.

In various ways (for example, grassroots activism and protests), environmentalists and environmental organizations seek to give the natural world a stronger voice in human affairs.[6]

In general terms, environmentalists advocate the sustainable management of resources, and the protection (and restoration, when necessary) of the natural environment through changes in public policy and individual behavior. In its recognition of humanity as a participant in ecosystems, the movement is centered around ecologyhealth, and human rights.


A concern for environmental protection has recurred in diverse forms, in different parts of the world, throughout history. For example, in Europe, King Edward I of England banned the burning of sea-coal by proclamation in London in 1272, after its smoke had become a problem.[7][8] The fuel was so common in England that this earliest of names for it was acquired because it could be carted away from some shores by the wheelbarrow. Air pollution would continue to be a problem in England, especially later during the Industrial Revolution, and extending into the recent past with the Great Smog of 1952.


In Europe, the Industrial Revolution gave rise to modern environmental pollution as it is generally understood today. The emergence of great factories and consumption of immense quantities of coal and other fossil fuels gave rise to unprecedented air pollution and the large volume of industrial chemical discharges added to the growing load of untreated human waste.[9] The first large-scale, modern environmental laws came in the form of the British Alkali Acts, passed in 1863, to regulate the deleterious air pollution (gaseous hydrochloric acid) given off by the Leblanc process, used to produce soda ash. Environmentalism grew out of the amenity movement, which was a reaction to industrialization, the growth of cities, and worsening air and water pollution.

In Victorian Britain, an early “Back-to-Nature” movement which anticipated modern environmentalism was advocated by intellectuals such as John RuskinWilliam Morris andEdward Carpenter, who were all against consumerismpollution and other activities that were harmful to the natural world.[10] Their ideas also inspired various proto-environmental groups in the UK, such as the Commons Preservation Society, the Kyrle Society, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Garden city movement, as well as encouraging the Socialist League and The Clarion movement to advocate measures of nature conservation.[11]

John Muir in 1907

In the United States, the beginnings of an environmental movement can be traced as far back as 1739, though it was not called environmentalism and was still considered conservation until the 1950s. Benjamin Franklin and other Philadelphia residents, citing “public rights,” petitioned the Pennsylvania Assembly to stop waste dumping and remove tanneries from Philadelphia’s commercial district. The US movement expanded in the 1800s, out of concerns for protecting the natural resources of the West, with individuals such as John Muir and Henry David Thoreau making key philosophical contributions. Thoreau was interested in peoples’ relationship with nature and studied this by living close to nature in a simple life. He published his experiences in the book Walden, which argues that people should become intimately close with nature. Muir came to believe in nature’s inherent right, especially after spending time hiking in Yosemite Valley and studying both the ecology and geology. He successfully lobbied congress to form Yosemite National Park and went on to set up the Sierra Club. The conservationist principles as well as the belief in an inherent right of nature were to become the bedrock of modern environmentalism.

In the 20th century, environmental ideas continued to grow in popularity and recognition. Efforts were starting to be made to save some wildlife, particularly the American Bison. The death of the last Passenger Pigeon as well as the endangerment of the American Bison helped to focus the minds of conservationists and popularize their concerns. In 1916 the National Park Service was founded by US President Woodrow Wilson.

The Nazis had elements that were supportive of animal rights, zoos and wildlife,[12] and took several measures to ensure their protection.[13] In 1933 the government enacted a stringent animal-protection law.[14][15]

Many NSDAP leaders including Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring were supporters of animal protection. Several Nazis wereenvironmentalists (notably Rudolf Hess), and species protection and animal welfare were significant issues in the regime.[16] Heinrich Himmler made efforts to ban the hunting of animals.[17] Göring was an animal lover and conservationist.[18] The current animal welfare laws in Germany are more or less modification of the laws introduced by the National Socialist regime.[19]

In 1935, the regime enacted the “Reich Nature Protection Act”. The concept of the Dauerwald (best translated as the “perpetual forest”) which included concepts such as forest management and protection was promoted and efforts were also made to curb air pollution.[20][21]

In 1949, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold was published. It explained Leopold’s belief that humankind should have moral respect for the environment and that it is unethical to harm it. The book is sometimes called the most influential book on conservation.

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and beyond, photography was used to enhance public awareness of the need for protecting land and recruiting members to environmental organizations. David BrowerAnsel Adams and Nancy Newhall created the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series, which helped raise public environmental awareness and brought a rapidly increasing flood of new members to the Sierra Club and to the environmental movement in general. “This Is Dinosaur” edited by Wallace Stegner with photographs by Martin Litton and Philip Hyde prevented the building of dams within Dinosaur National Monument by becoming part of a new kind of activism called environmentalism that combined the conservationist ideals of Thoreau, Leopold and Muir with hard-hitting advertising, lobbying, book distribution, letter writing campaigns, and more. The powerful use of photography in addition to the written word for conservation dated back to the creation of Yosemite National Park, when photographs persuaded Abraham Lincoln to preserve the beautiful glacier carved landscape for all time. The Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series galvanized public opposition to building dams in the Grand Canyon and protected many other national treasures. The Sierra Club often led a coalition of many environmental groups including the Wilderness Society and many others. After a focus on preserving wilderness in the 1950s and 1960s, the Sierra Club and other groups broadened their focus to include such issues as air and water pollution, population control, and curbing the exploitation of natural resources.

In 1962, Silent Spring by American biologist Rachel Carson was published. The book cataloged the environmental impacts of the indiscriminate spraying of DDT in the US and questioned the logic of releasing large amounts of chemicals into the environment without fully understanding their effects on ecology or human health. The book suggested that DDT and other pesticides may cause cancer and that their agricultural use was a threat to wildlife, particularly birds.[22] The resulting public concern led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 which subsequently banned the agricultural use of DDT in the US in 1972. The limited use of DDT in disease vector control continues to this day in certain parts of the world and remains controversial. The book’s legacy was to produce a far greater awareness of environmental issues and interest into how people affect the environment. With this new interest in environment came interest in problems such as air pollution and petroleum spills, and environmental interest grew. New pressure groups formed, notably Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, as well as notable local organizations such as the Wyoming Outdoor Council, which was founded in 1967.

The historic Blue Marble photograph. Environmentalism is a concern for humanity’s impact on the Earth and its natural systems.


In the 1970s the environmental movement gained rapid speed in the U.S. and around the world. The Chipko movement was formed in India; influenced by Mohandas Gandhi, they set up peaceful resistance to deforestation by literally hugging trees (leading to the term “tree huggers”). Their peaceful methods of protest and slogan “ecology is permanent economy” were very influential.

Another milestone in the movement was the creation of an Earth Day. Earth Day was first observed in San Francisco and other cities on March 21, 1970, the first day of Spring. It was created to give awareness to environmental issues. On March 21, 1971, United Nations Secretary-General U Thant spoke of a spaceship Earth on Earth Day, hereby referring to the ecosystem services the earth supplies to us, and hence our obligation to protect it (and with it, ourselves). Earth Day is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network,[23]and is celebrated in more than 175 countries every year.[24]

The UN’s first major conference on international environmental issues, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (also known as the Stockholm Conference), was held on June 5–16, 1972. It marked a turning point in the development of international environmental politics.[25]

By the mid-1970s, many felt that people were on the edge of environmental catastrophe. The Back-to-the-land movement started to form and ideas of environmental ethics joined with anti-Vietnam War sentiments and other political issues. These individuals lived outside normal society and started to take on some of the more radical environmental theories such as deep ecology. Around this time more mainstream environmentalism was starting to show force with the signing of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 and the formation of CITES in 1975. Significant amendments were also enacted to the United States Clean Air Act[26] and Clean Water Act.[27]

In 1979, James Lovelock, a British scientist, published Gaia: A new look at life on Earth, which put forth the Gaia Hypothesis; it proposes that life on Earth can be understood as a single organism. This became an important part of the Deep Green ideology. Throughout the rest of the history of environmentalism there has been debate and argument between more radical followers of this Deep Green ideology and more mainstream environmentalists.


During the 1980s the growing awareness of global warming and other climate change issues brought environmentalism into greater public debate. In 1986 the international conservation organisation the World Wildlife Fund renamed itself the Worldwide Fund For Nature to reflect a shift to a more strategic approach. Still known as WWF, however, the organisation brought together religious authorities representing the five major world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism) to prepare the 1986 Assisi Declarations. These theological statements, published by the WWF and UNEP, identified the responsibilities towards the care of nature expected of followers of each religion thus providing spiritual motivation for environmental action. The full texts, with additional similar declarations from Bahá’ísm, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism were later included in the 2003 World Bank publication ‘Faith In Conservation’.[28]


Environmentalism has also changed to deal with new issues such as global warmingoverpopulation and genetic engineering. Many youth of today’s society have become more aware of the state of the planet and are deeming themselves environmentalists. School Eco Clubs are now working to create new ideals for the future through sustainable schools and other minor changes in student lives like buying organic food, clothing and personal care items. In the future, many of the jobs opening up will have environmentalist aspects.

[icon] This section requires expansion.(September 2011)

[edit]Environmental movement

Main article: Environmental movement

Before flue-gas desulfurization was installed, the air-polluting emissions from this power plant in New Mexico contained excessive amounts of sulfur dioxide.

The environmental movement (a term that sometimes includes the conservation and green movements) is a diverse scientific, social, andpolitical movement. Though the movement is represented by a range of organizations, because of the inclusion of environmentalism in the classroom curriculum,[29][30] the environmental movement has a younger demographic than is common in other social movements (seegreen seniors).

Environmentalism as a movement covers broad areas of institutional oppression, including for example: consumption of ecosystems and natural resources into waste, dumping waste into disadvantaged communities, air pollution, water pollution, weak infrastructure, exposure of organic life to toxins, mono-culture, anti-polythene drive (jhola movement) and various other focuses. Because of these divisions, the environmental movement can be categorized into these primary focuses: environmental science, environmental activism, environmental advocacy, and environmental justice.

[edit]Free market environmentalism

Free market environmentalism is a theory that argues that the free marketproperty rights, and tort law provide the best tools to preserve the health and sustainability of the environment. It considers environmental stewardship to be natural, as well as the expulsion of polluters and other aggressors through individual and class action. It has been supported by libertarians and many conservatives.[31]

[edit]Evangelical environmentalism

Evangelical environmentalism is an environmental movement in the United States in which some Evangelicals have emphasized biblical mandates concerning humanity’s role as steward and subsequent responsibility for the caretaking of Creation. While the movement has focused on different environmental issues, it is best known for its focus of addressing climate action from a biblically grounded theological perspective. The Evangelical Climate Initiative argues that human-induced climate change will have severe consequences and impact the poor the hardest, and that God’s mandate to Adam to care for the Garden of Eden also applies to evangelicals today, and that it is therefore a moral obligation to work to mitigate climate impacts and support communities in adapting to change.[32]

[edit]Preservation and conservation

Main article: Conservation movement

Environmental preservation in the United States and other parts of the world, including Australia, is viewed as the setting aside of natural resources to prevent damage caused by contact with humans or by certain human activities, such as logging, mining, hunting, and fishing, often to replace them with new human activities such as tourism and recreation.[33] Regulations and laws may be enacted for the preservation of natural resources.

[edit]Organizations and conferences

Reef doctor work station in Ifaty,Madagascar

Environmental organizations can be global, regional, national or local; they can be government-run or private (NGO). Environmentalist activity exists in almost every country. Moreover, groups dedicated to community development and social justice also focus on environmental concerns.

There are some volunteer organizations. For example Ecoworld and Paryawaran Sachetak Samiti which is about the environment and is based in team work and volunteer work. Some US environmental organizations, among them the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, specialize in bringing lawsuits (a tactic seen as particularly useful in that country). Other groups, such as the US-based National Wildlife Federationthe Nature Conservancy, and The Wilderness Society, and global groups like the World Wide Fund for Nature and Friends of the Earth, disseminate information, participate in public hearingslobbystage demonstrations, and may purchase land for preservation. Statewide nonprofit organizations such as the Wyoming Outdoor Council often collaborate with these national organizations and employ similar strategies. Smaller groups, including Wildlife Conservation International, conduct research onendangered species and ecosystems. More radical organizations, such as GreenpeaceEarth First!, and the Earth Liberation Front, have more directly opposed actions they regard as environmentally harmful. While Greenpeace is devoted to nonviolent confrontation as a means of bearing witness to environmental wrongs and bringing issues into the public realm for debate, the underground Earth Liberation Front engages in the clandestine destruction of property, the release of caged or penned animals, and other criminal acts. Such tactics are regarded as unusual within the movement, however.

On an international level, concern for the environment was the subject of a United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972, attended by 114 nations. Out of this meeting developed UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and the follow-up United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. Other international organizations in support of environmental policies development include the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (as part of NAFTA), the European Environment Agency (EEA), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

[edit]Usage in popular culture

From at least 1946,[citation needed] American comics with an environmental, conservation or outdoor theme have appeared; including Mark TrailSmokey the Bear and Woodsy Owl.


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Criticism of environmentalism tend to fall into two major categories: environmental skepticism and anti-environmentalism. Environmental skeptics, such as Bjørn Lomborg (the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist) dispute the claims of environmentalists, claiming they are either inaccurate or exaggerated. Anti-environmentalists, on the other hand, accept many of the claims made by environmentalists while simultaneously accepting that change is inevitable, regardless of cause and speed. They do not deny the impact of humanity, but they dispute the argument that humanity can kill the planet, citing life’s several billion year history as evidence that it is more resilient than many environmentalists realize.

[edit]An Alternative View

Environmentalists typically believe that human interference with ‘nature’ should be restricted or minimised as a matter of urgency (for the sake of life, or the planet, or just for the benefit of the human species), whereas both environmental skeptics and anti-environmentalists do not believe that there is such a need.

There is an alternative view which one can have. One can believe that both of the views expressed in the previous paragraph are wrong. On the one hand, the environmental skeptics and the anti-environmentalists are wrong because they underestimate the changes which humans have made to the biogeochemical cycles of the Earth. On the other hand, the standard environmentalist view is wrong because the response to the changes which humans have made should not be to pull back human involvement with the rest of the planet. Indeed, the situation is so dire (the environmental skeptics and anti-environmentalists are so wrong) that there is a need for geoengineering in the near future. One of the main advocates of this view is Neil Paul Cummins. One can be an environmentalist and believe that human ‘interference’ with ‘nature’ should be increased. [34] Nevertheless, there is a risk that the shift from emotional environmentalism into the technical management of natural resources and hazards could decrease the touch of humans with nature, leading to a weaker concern with environment preservation. [35].


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