Environmentalism in the 20th Century
While environmentalism is certainly a product of the twentieth century, it has had its roots date back much further. It is related to traditional native beliefs about the sanctity of the environment to religious respect for the creations of God. The first environmentalists were the wilderness and wildlife associations and the public-health movement, which all opposed market liberalism and the conquest-of-nature manner of colonists and settlers.
No single work on ecology has had as much influence as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, published in 1962. Carson, a biologist, traced the impact of agricultural chemicals up and down the food chain and the general environment. Silent Spring had a great impact on both public awareness and eventually policies in making regulations. 12 of the pesticides that Carson indentified as the most dangerous have been severely restricted or banned outright, including the infamous DDT, now banned in most countries.
Since Silent Spring, there has been uneasiness over technological progress and the environmental impact of economic decisions was always considered. The main focus of environmental movements in the sixties, however, centred not on agro-chemicals but instead on the effects of nuclear-weapons testing and the setting up of a Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty.
Gloom and Doom
The early 70s saw the world take up and take notice of ecological issues with much greater concern as a series of pessimistic (but true) books and reports appeared, each predicting a dire future for humanity if problems such as population growth and industrialisation went unchecked.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a new breed of more militant environmental organisations started to emerge. This development was brought on by mounting evidence of global eco-destruction - major oil spills, nuclear and chemical accidents, species extinction. Some of these organisations were Greenpeace, the media darling, and Friends of the Earth (FOE). Public concern was proportionate to the level of property around them while the organisations weren't above civil disobedience and even sabotage.
Mile Island incident, 1979
See: Acid Rain, 1982
See: Bhopal gas leak, 1984
See: The ozone hole, 1985
See: The Chernobyl disaster, 1986
In the 1980s, Green political parties such as the West German Greens, began to appear in Europe. In countries which are under the proportional-representation system, like Germany, France and Holland, Green parties have consistently received between five and ten percent of the vote, making them a consistent and strong influence on local, state and national governments on issues such as pollution controls and human rights.
The Earth Summit
The United Nations held it's second Earth Summit in 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, following the first one held in Stockholm two decades earlier. At the first conference, industrial countries and Third World countries had met head on: Southern governments felt that their economies were to be victims of ecological controls imposed by the West. By 1992 the situation had changed. Now, the spirit of environmentalism had taken root among ordinary Southern citizens and Southern politicians could no longer claim ecology was merely a Western, middle-class concern.
Despite the lack of urgent action by governments to address the key problems causing environmental destruction, the Green movement looks set to take the spotlight in the twenty-first century. The ravaged world fishery, global warming, ozone depletion, widespread chemical poisoning and rampant deforestation threaten the future of the world and it looks like the only solution will be to go Green.