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:

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..


Scope of the movement

  • The Conservation movement which sought to protect biodiversity on traditional aesthetic and spiritual grounds.
  • Environmental health movement dating at least to Rachel Carson, and more related to nutrition, preventive medicine, aging well and other concerns specific to the human body's well-being. 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 interrelations between human sciences and human responsibilities. Its spinoff Deep Ecology was more spiritual but often claimed to be science.
  • Environmental Justice is a movement that began in the U.S. in the 1980s and seeks an end to environmental racism. Often, low-income and minority communities are located close to highways, garbage dumps, and factories, where they are exposed to greater pollution and environmental health risk than the rest of the population. The Environmental Justice 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 malaises of dominant culture.

Environmental versus Conservation movement

By contrast with the early conservation movement, environmentalists did not lobby for parks or human exclusion from "the wild". They did not see humans as apart from nature. Conservation of ecosystems is part of the concerns of the more recent environmental movement

Rationale for the Environmental movement

A report publihed in 1972 by the Club of Rome called Limits to Growth outlined some of the concerns of the environmentalists. Another report called The Global 2000 Report to the President, released later by the Council on Environmental Quality, reported similar findings but was largely ignored.

More recently the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment gives the movement vindication.


Critics hold that the environment is in better shape than the environmental movement claims. Most notably, political scientist Bjrn Lomborg has argued in his book The Skeptical Environmentalist that on most fronts such as pollution and biodiversity loss, the negative news has been greatly exaggerated. His opponents counter that he has used evidence selectively to present a distorted picture.

In the 20th century, American Ayn Rand criticized the environmental movement on philosophical grounds, considering 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 (http://www.vix.com/objectivism/Bibliography/AynRand.html#TheNewLeft), she scoffed that the environmental movement was attempting to re-create the Garden of Eden. Some took her critique as 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.


See: Environmental movement in New Zealand, Environmental movement in the United States

Environmental rights

Many environmental lawsuits turn on the question of who has standing; are the legal issues limited to property owners, or does the general public have a right to intervene? Christopher D. Stone's 1972 essay, "Should trees have standing?" seriously addressed the question of whether natural objects themselves should have legal rights, including the right to participate in lawsuits. Stone suggested that there was nothing absurd in this view, and noted that many entities now regarded as having legal rights were, in the past, regarded as "things" that were regarded as legally rightless; for example, aliens, children and women. His essay is sometimes regarded as an example of the fallacy of hypostatization.

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 (http://www.activistmagazine.com) 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.

Environmentalism and religion

Many major world religions now teach that mankind has a responsibility to protect the environment. The concept of the social mortgage in Catholic social teaching implies that humanity does not have an absolute right to use the world's resources (viewed as a godly creation), but is responsible for protecting the environment; many Protestant denominations have similar teachings. Islam also teaches stewardship and responsibility for the Earth's environment.

See also

External links

de:Umweltschutz ru:Энвайронментализм zh:环境保护 sv:Miljrrelsen


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