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environmental movement

  The organized political expression of environmentalism. The modern environmental movement is an important political force today and dates back to late 1960s Europe and North America. There, in the wake of Rachel Carson\'s (1962) Silent spring, the Torrey Canyon oil tanker disaster (1967), Paul Ehrlich\'s (1968) The population bomb and the first Earth Day (1970), concern over human use and abuse of the environment proliferated. In these early years, the environmental movement was the preserve of relatively small numbers of radical activists, such as those associated with the environmental groups Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace (both founded in 1971). Since then, however, it has grown, diversified and also become a more mainstream political concern. It exists today as an extremely large and heterogeneous movement which can be examined in terms of its different constituent groups, their favoured political tactics and the number and scale of their environmental concerns.

In terms of groups, six categories can be distinguished: environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs), environmental new social movements (NSMs), green political parties, governments with environmental sensibilities, ecologically-sensitized businesses, and \'green consumers\'. It is important to understand that only the first three are exclusively environmental, whereas the others devote only some of their energy and resources to environmental matters. Environmental NGOs were among the founding groups of the modern environmental movement. Created voluntarily by ordinary members of civil society, they have become a vital force in raising public, government and business awareness of current environmental problems. Some environmental NGOS — like Greenpeace — are well-established and well-known, while others are newer and ephemeral, like Friends of Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia, Canada. Most are anti-establishment in their political outlook, although some — like the Worldwide Fund for Nature — have close affiliations with mainstream political and economic interests. In addition, there is the United Nations which, while ostensibly nongovernmental, enjoys the unique capacity of being able to convene most of the world\'s governments, as it did at the 1992 \'Earth Summit\'. Environmental NSMs also arise from civil society, but are usually more informal, local, issue-based and often temporary (see Escobar, 1995). The 1970s Chipko Movement in India is a well-known example, which comprised ordinary rural Indians coming together to protest corporate exploitation of the environment. Some \'dark green\' NSMs are conservative and even authoritarian, urging a return to ecological harmony based on a singular cultural identity (Bramwell, 1985). Green political parties are more recent phenomena than environmental NGOS, and in the West date from the late 1970s. As public concern over the environment grew, many environmentalists saw the chance to gain formal political power by standing as candidates in democratic political elections. Green parties have been more successful in Europe than in North America, the German Green Party enjoying reasonable representation in the West German Bundestag in the mid-1980s. Until the late 1990s, however, no green party enjoyed a controlling interest in government and most green parties were less popular then than even a decade ago (Bramwell, 1994): in 1998, however, the German Green Party formed a coalition with the country\'s Social Democrats, occupying several seats in the Federal Cabinet.

The efforts of green parties and environmental NGOs have contributed to making today\'s mainstream political parties and elected governments far more sensitive to environmental issues than heretofore. In addition, many environmental problems — like acid rain and global warming — have become too pressing for these parties and governments to ignore. Accordingly, most western administrations today have more or less elaborate environmental policies, including international agreements like the Montreal Protocol on CFCs. Even businesses have been convinced that the environment matters. For some this has taken the form of a \'commercial environmentalism\', as in the case of firms producing \'green commodities\' like non-detergent washing liquids. For other businesses, like those involved in commercial fishing and forestry, public opposition has forced them (often reluctantly) to alter their environmental practices. This has been assisted by the emergence of an environmental economics designed to make businesses bear the full economic cost of their environmental impacts. Finally, although not usually organized formally, diverse consumers keen to buy \'eco-friendly\' products have helped bolster the environmental movement.

Not surprisingly, the political tactics of these different groups vary. Many environmental NGOs have used physical intervention — for instance, \'tree-hugging\' — as well as graphic media campaigns — like Greenpeace\'s against the Newfoundland seal hunt in the 1980s. Green parties have used the media too, but have also directly influenced political debate through their Parliamentary debating and voting. Governments, of course, have been able to use their enormous economic and legal power to effect environmental improvements, as too have many of the larger transnational corporations like Shell Oil and Dow Chemical. The different sizes and powers of the various groups comprising the environmental movement also decisively alter the number and geographical scale of their environmental concerns. Some groups are local, single-issue groups and may be short-lived whereas others are able to consider multiple environmental issues at the international as well as local scale, notably national governments, big businesses and large environmental NGOs.

ideologically, the environmental movement has both an \'ecocentric\' and a \'technocentric\' wing (O\'Riordan, 1981; cf. environmentalism). The former is more radical than the latter, puts the environment first and argues for a fundamental alteration in existing economic and social uses of nature. It is associated with most environmental NGOs, NSMs and green parties. By contrast, technocentrism is anthropocentric and suggests that the environment can be rationally managed within existing frameworks. It is associated with mainstream government, business and consumer interests. Despite the popularity of ecocentrism, some have worried that environmentalism has been hijacked by these status quo technocentrist groups (Rowell, 1996). Others, however, suggest that the environment offers one of the few possibilities for genuine global economic and political cooperation because it is an issue of common concern to humanity. Equally, though, some radicals believe that it is precisely this commonality of interest that may serve as the foundation for a new global grassroots movement ranged against those in positions of power and authority (McCormick, 1989).

If such a global movement — in either its radical or mainstream forms — is to materialize it will have to negotiate the serious differences of interest between the developed and developing worlds. As the 1992 \'Earth Summit\' showed, many developing countries cannot afford to put environmental issues first as long as poverty endures (see Chaterjee and Finger, 1994). Indeed, many see the notion of \'global ecology\' as an excuse for the developed countries to avoid transferring resources to less developed countries while asking them to forego development in the interests of global environmental protection (Shiva, 1993). In this and many other ways, the environmental movement remains as divided as it is heterogeneous. (NC)

References Bramwell, A. 1985: Blood and soil. Buckinghamshire: Bourne End. Bramwell, A. 1994: The fading of the greens. New Haven: Yale University Press. Carson, R. 1962: Silent spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Chaterjee, P. and Finger, M. 1994: The earth brokers. London: Routledge. Ehrlich, P. 1968: The population bomb. New York: Ballantine Books. Escobar, A. 1995: Encountering development. Princeton: Princeton University Press. McCormick, J. 1989: The global environmental movement. London: Belhaven. O\'Riordan, T. 1981: Environmentalism. London: Pion. Rowell, A. 1996: Green backlash. London: Routledge. Shiva, V. 1993: The greening of the global reach. In W. Sachs, ed., Global ecology. London: Zed Books, 149-56.

Suggested Reading Bowlby, S. and Lowe, M. 1992: Environmental and green movements. In A.M. Mannion and S. Bowlby, eds, Environmental issues in the 1990s. Chichester: Wiley, 161-75; McCormick (1989).



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