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This is an article on the preservation of the natural environment. For the philisophical position vs heredity see Environmentalism (psychology)

File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

The historic Blue Marble photograph, which helped bring environmentalism to the public eye.

Environmentalism is a concern for the preservation, restoration, or improvement of the natural environment, such as the conservation of natural resources, prevention of pollution, and certain land use actions. It often supports the struggles of indigenous peoples against the spread of globalisation to their way of life, which is seen as less harmful to the environment.

The term environmentalism is associated with other modern terms such as greening, environmental management, resource efficiency and waste minimization, and environmental responsibility, ethics and justice (Bhattacharya, 2004).


Environmental activism dates back nearly 400 years. The first such recorded instance is that of the Bishnois of Rajasthan, India when a number of Bishnois embraced death to defy the cutting trees in their villages, by the king's men of that region.

Modern environmentalism

Modern environmentalism has its roots in the Mid to Late 19th Century United States with individuals such as John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau was interested in man's 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 man should become intimately close with nature. Muir also came to believe in nature's inherent right after spending time hiking in Yosemite Valley as well as 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. Notably in 1916 the National Park Service was founded by President Woodrow Wilson.

In 1949 A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold was published. It explained Leopold’s belief that mankind 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.

It was not until the 1960s that concern for the environment by a few individuals turned into a movement and the formation of environmentalism as an ideology started to happen. In 1962 Rachel Carson published Silent Spring. In this Carson detailed how insecticides and pesticides could enter the food chain affecting the whole environment as well as causing a risk to man. The book particularly looked at DDT and led to its eventual ban.[1] The book's legacy was to produce a far greater awareness of environmental issues and interest into how man affects the environment. With this new interest in environment came interest in problems such as air pollution and oil spills, and environmental interest grew. New pressure groups formed notably Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

In the 1970's the Chipko movement was formed in India, influenced by Mahatma 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.

By the mid 70s many felt that man was 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.

In 1979 former NASA scientist James Lovelock published Gaia: A new look at life on Earth, which put forth the Gaia Hypothesis, 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 mainstream factions.

Environmentalism has also changed to deal with new issues such as the theory of global warming and genetic engineering.

Environmental Movement

Main article: Environmental Movement

The Environmental Movement (a term that sometimes includes the conservation and green movements) is a diverse scientific, social, and political movement. 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 ecology, health, and human rights. Additionally, throughout history, the movement has been incorporated into religion. The movement is represented by a range of organizations, from the large to grassroots, but a younger demographic than is common in other social movements (see green seniors). Due to its large membership, varying and strong beliefs, the movement is not entirely united. It has also spawned Environmental art, a distinct movement which presses an environmental message within contemporary art.

Popular environmentalism

Environmentalist action has recently led to the development of a new subculture. It is mainly composed of the educated upper-class. These environmentally conscious types take special pride in their sustainable consumption patterns, shopping at grocery stores that trumpet earth-friendliness (such as Whole Foods Market) and buying top-dollar organic products.

Some environmentalists complain that this group of elites are shopping under the banner of environmentalism without espousing any of its true ideals. Because organic and sustainable products are often more expensive, purchasing them has become a mark of wealth. In another form of pretension, the young and single have gone so far as to even begin labeling themselves 'ecosexual.' Closely akin to the concept of the suave metrosexual, the ecosexual seeks out mates who share their environmentalist ideals. Thus, environmentalism is not just about nature anymore-- it's about social connections.

It is argued that this new trend has taken the focus away from the real problems 'true' environmentalists hope to solve: consumer items offer a deceptively easy, feel-good way to both save the world and one's reputation simultaneously. Yet, others who espouse the idea that people can effectively 'vote with their dollar' argue that this new subculture is aiding the environmental cause. By purchasing sustainable products, they are promoting sustainable business that will be beneficial to the environment, even if the consumers have extraneous purposes for supporting them.

Dark Greens and Light Greens

Environmentalists are sometimes split up into two groups, Dark and Light Greens. Light Greens are the more popular and more visible part of the environmental movement, which includes the more famous and public environmental groups such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club. Light Greens do not follow environmentalism as a distinct political ideology, but rather seek greater environmental emphasis within existing ideologies such as Conservatism, Socialism or Liberalism.

Dark Greens are much more radical than light greens; they tend to believe that all the current political ideologies (that are referred to as industrialism) are corrupt and naturally lead to environmental degradation as they do not view mankind as part of the environment but rather as a higher form of life with the right to take what it wants from the environment. Dark Greens claim that this is caused by the emphasis on growth that exists within all existing ideologies referred to a ‘growth mania’. The dark green brand of environmentalism is associated with ideas of Deep Ecology, Post-materialism, Holism, the Gaia Theory of James Lovelock and the work of Fritjof Capra. The division between light and dark greens was visible in the fighting between Fundi and Realo factions of the German Green Party

In the late 1990s a new school of environmental philosophy emerged. Founded by David Klein in southern California, it merged environmental responsibility with rational economic thought. Essentially founded in liberal/socialist political philosophy it eventually branched into anti-elitism. Klein's position was that the focal point of environmentalism should be the care and protection of our world, and not the egotism and fund-raising associated with many environmental organizations. Though short lived, and its impact small, "Kleinism" continues to have an impact on political environmentalism.

Environmental organizations and conferences

Main article: List of environmental organizations

Environmental organizations can be global, regional, national or local; they can be government-run or private (NGO). Several environmental organizations, among them the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, specialize in bringing lawsuits. Other environmentalist groups, such as the National Wildlife Federation, World Wide Fund for Nature, Friends of the Earth, the Nature Conservancy, and the Wilderness Society, disseminate information, participate in public hearings, lobby, stage demonstrations, and purchase land for preservation. Smaller groups, including Wildlife Conservation International, conduct research on endangered species and ecosystems. More radical organizations, such as Greenpeace, Earth First!, and the Earth Liberation Front, have more directly opposed actions they regard as environmentally harmful. While Greenpeace is devoted to nonviolent confrontation, the underground Earth Liberation Front engages in the clandestine destruction of property, the release of caged or penned animals, and other acts of sabotage. A major organization along the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic coast line is the Coastal Conservation Association,[2] which has many chapters at the state level and then many region specific chapters depending on the state.

On an international level, concern for the environment was the subject of a UN conference 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 (NAFTA), the European Environment Agency (EEA), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

See also

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  1. Lerner & K. Lee Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth Environmental issues : essential primary sources.". Thomson Gale. URL accessed on 2006-09-11.
  2. Coastal Conservation Association


External links

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