The following is an article on Enviromentalism extracted from Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia.
Environmentalism, The weight of helping the environment
Environmentalism, approach to economic and ecological questions stressing that factors of environmental impact (such as pollution or loss of biodiversity), whether local or global, must be taken into account and properly weighted in assessing the acceptability of human actions. By campaigning and other actions environmentalists, usually as members of a like-minded group, seek to raise awareness of specific environmental concerns. These activities may take the form of work by pressure groups or looser associations of campaigners, or the parliamentary processes of the various parties involved in green politics.
Concern about environmental degradation is not a new phenomenon. For instance, in the 4th century BC the Greek philosopher Plato worried about the effects of deforestation and soil erosion. The roots of modern environmentalism may be found in Victorian Britain when natural history became a popular pastime. Gradually, as the effects of rapid and often uncontrolled industrialization became evident, the emphasis shifted from the study of nature to a desire to protect it. The first recorded environmental pressure group was the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, founded in 1865. At about the same time, the first national parks were being established in the United States.
Today’s environmentalists can be seen as the direct descendants of these early movements, and may be divided into four broad categories: 1) Single-issue campaigning organizations, such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, or the World Wide Fund for Nature. 2) Advocates of environmental protection within other organizations and institutions such as the Church, education, business, or professional bodies. 3) Developers of relevant theories and practices for environmental protection, such as ecological economics, organic farming, or renewable energy technology. 4) “Green” political parties.
From the late 1960s to the mid-1980s the first three of these groups brought the issues to the attention of both governments and the public, using various tactics, including sometimes confrontational campaigning.
During the 1980s a new phase of environmentalism began: policy responses to a wide range of environmental problems were developed; in some countries green parties were formed; a growing number of local projects demonstrated how these policies might work in practice; and people began to accept environmental protection as a matter for sustained everyday concern, rating it in opinion polls alongside unemployment and other manifestations of economic insecurity. Membership of environmental organizations outstripped that of political parties and began to challenge other mass membership organizations, such as trade unions.
By the mid-1990s, the need properly to integrate environmental protection with social and economic policies has led environmental activists to form strategic partnerships. For instance, Greenpeace, a group of insurance companies, and the G-77 group of developing countries worked together to influence the first review of the Convention on Climate Change agreed at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (commonly known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in June, 1992). In April 1996, Real World was founded in the United Kingdom—a coalition of over 30 pressure groups covering issues of the environment, development, social justice, and democratic renewal, and united by what members see as the root cause of their individual areas of concern—the inherent unsustainability of current world trends in economic and social policy. Sustainable development is increasingly seen as a central concept in evolving new strategies for future growth.
The Greenpeace and Real World initiatives echo at international and national level the partnership approach which has been active at local level for some time. One high-profile instance is the UK anti-roads campaigns. These have involved coalitions of small, locally based groups joining forces to target and disrupt specific road-building projects, such as the M3 extension at Twyford Down, Hampshire, the M11 extension in north London, the M77 extension in Glasgow, and the Bath and Newbury bypasses. These coalitions have been remarkable in uniting advocates of anarchist and new-age philosophies with more conservative elements among local settled communities in a common front against what they see as an unacceptable trade-off between the conflicting interests of road transport and the environment.
In the United Kingdom, an electoral process in which small parties have difficulty gaining representation in Parliament has meant that environmentalists have tended to bypass party politics altogether, either through organizing in more powerful coalitions of the type described above, or through a kaleidoscope of local self-help activities which cross traditional activist group boundaries. In much of Western Europe and beyond, however, environmentalism has consolidated in and around the democratic process with political parties taking certain issues into their electoral agenda. In some countries, such as Germany and Sweden, green parties are now viewed as an established part of the political spectrum.
The First Green Parties
The first time an environmental issue was taken to the polls was when the United Tasmania Group (UTG) in Australia, amid contoversy over a hydroelectric plan to flood Lake Pedder, contested state elections in April 1972. When UTG leader Richard Jones wrote a pamphlet entitled New Ethic to outline his group’s programme, it was as much about community and political integrity as environmental protection. One month later, when the world’s first nationwide green party was formed in neighbouring New Zealand, it called itself Values.
Inspired by the Tasmanian and New Zealand greens, the first European green party was founded in Britain in 1973. Originally called People (later Ecology party and finally Green party), its founder members were greatly influenced by the idea of a rapidly growing population putting an intolerable strain on the Earth’s capacity to provide resources and absorb pollution. This understanding eventually led to the setting up of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
One of the popular books of this time was Blueprint for Survival, published by the British magazine The Ecologist. From it People drew the basis of its political programme. Blueprint suggested that the principal characteristics of a society that could “to all intents and purposes … be sustained indefinitely while giving optimum satisfaction to its members” would be: (1) minimum disruption of ecological processes; (2) maximum conservation of materials and energy; (3) a population in which “recruitment” (births) equals “loss” (deaths—that is, a static, rather than increasing, population); (4) a social system in which individuals can enjoy, rather than feel restricted by, the first three conditions.
Developments of these principles, which are closely related to the concept of sustainable development, make up the programmes of most green parties today.
The Growth of the Greens
A Swiss, Daniel Brélaz, made history in 1979 by becoming the first green to be elected to a national parliament. Two years later four greens were elected to the Belgian parliament. Neither event made much impact. It was the gain in 1983 of 28 seats in the German Bundestag by Die Grünen, led by the charismatic Petra Kelly, that really heralded the birth of a new political force—the first for over half a century. Since then, green parties have won seats at some level of local government in a large number of countries, and entered both the European parliament and 20 national parliaments (see table). The Federation of European Green Parties notes the existence of over 70 parties on six continents.
Although in some countries the nature of the electoral system or weak internal organization of green parties has prevented electoral success, steady progress has occurred in the Netherlands, Finland, the Republic of Ireland, and Switzerland. In March 1995 Finland’s Pekka Haavisto became the first green to join a national government (as Minister for Environment and Planning). And despite domestic political upheavals in Italy (the anti-corruption drive) and Sweden (the collapse of social-democratic consensus), greens there have managed to keep (and in Sweden’s case regain) most of their parliamentary seats. Two capital cities, Dublin and Rome, have had a green mayor.
Many of the democratic movements in Eastern Europe had their roots in environmental groups, such as Ecoglasnost in Bulgaria, the Danube Circle in Hungary, the Ecological Library in East Germany, and the Polish Ecological Club, with several greens joining transitional governments or winning seats in parliaments when elections were held. However, as the difficulties of reforming economies and building a civil society became apparent, many of these seats were lost in subsequent elections.
Beyond Europe, Tasmanian Green Independents have held seats in the state parliament, and Values has re-formed as the Green Party of New Zealand. For greens in Canada and the United States, the difficulties of nationwide organizing have kept activity local, while in Japan, the green party has been eclipsed by the Seikatsu Club. The Club promotes “green” consumption and, with a turnover of around US$300 million per year, has influenced production of both agricultural and manufactured goods.
Green parties are active in Africa and in South and Central America, but only the long-established Partido Verde of Brazil is represented in a national parliament. As in Japan, and especially in countries where access to the political process is difficult or impossible, it has tended to be non-party activity which has had the biggest political impact. One of the best-known examples comes from northern India, where women of the Chipko Andolan used the slogan “ecology is permanent economy” and hugged trees to prevent the logging which was destroying their communities.
In the 1990s environmentalism entered a new phase. With governments in broad agreement over the seriousness of environmental problems, sustainable development (defined by UNEP as “development which improves people’s quality of life, within the carrying capacity of the Earth’s life-support system”) has become a main objective for all parties. At the same time, pressure groups and coalitions of activists, working through specific and often emblematic issues, seek to bring about a fundamental shift in perceptions of the environment in the public at large.