Environmentalism and environmental concerns are often referred to as the “Green Movement”. Where did “Going Green” get its start? Are we the first generation to become concerned about saving the environment?
The answer is “No”! Environmentalism actually began years ago!
In the United States, early environmental efforts can be traced as far back as 1739, but were generally referred to as “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 as 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 to be protected, 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 his 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.
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 Brower, Ansel 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. 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. 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.
In the 1970s, 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.
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.
Environmentalism as a movement has and will continue to cover several areas of institutional and industrial focus. Examples of these areas include: 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, monoculture, and various other focuses. Because of these divisions, the environmental or “Green Movement” can be categorized into several areas of concern which include: Environmental Science, Environmental Activism, Environmental Advocacy, and Environmental Justice.
Environmentalism today has also evolved to deal with new issues such as global warming and genetic engineering. We must continue to stand strong in defending environmental issues, lest our planet perish and we along with it!
Information Sources: Wikipedia and Amazon.com