It is not precisely known when environmental activism started, but researchers are of the view that although, from time to time, people have raised their voice against the deterioration of the environment, it gained prominence in the 1960s. 1960s was a time when Americans, along with the other developed countries of the world had come face to face with the harsh reality that industrial progress had far-reaching effects. Till then, most of the people believed that nature had the infinite capacity to clean itself and man-made activity cannot prove a deterrent to its equilibrium. But, all this changed as a lot of issues came to the forefront like smog in the Los Angeles sky and the presence of harmful pesticides in agricultural products. All this, and the publication of Rachel Carson's bestseller Silent Spring which proposed the idea that the relationship between humans and nature was interdependent, caught the attention of the public eye. This was followed by the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, which saw some legislation being put to effect to preserve environment. Since then, environmental activism has been one of the widely recognized movements in the world, however, in recent years, due to challenges such as global terrorism and economic slump, environmentalism seems to have been put on the back burner. Environment activism aims to spread awareness about the environmental problems and solutions, apart from acting as a representative for individuals/entities who have been affected by environmental degradation.
Need for Environmental Activism
Environmental activism has led to an increase in the awareness among people about various issues concerning the effect, human activities have had on the environment. Be it the reduction of acid rain or the protection of ozone layer, environmental activists have always pressed for timely actions, and to an extent have been successful. The most notable environmental organizations are the Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. These groups have an organizational structure in place, providing employment to individuals who are passionate about environmental conservation. These largely depend on individual and corporate donations, so that government interference and influence is avoided. Environmental activists try to raise awareness on environmental issues through public rallies, marathons, sit-ins etc. In the last decade or so, media, both electronic and print has been used effectively by environmental activists to put their point across to policy-makers and general public.
The failure of the Copenhagen talks was a serious setback to environmental activists. According to activists, the failure of the talks between world leaders from 130 countries showed that environmental conservation meant little to world leaders. There was a difference of opinion as developing countries felt that the recommendations were in favor of the developed countries. In the absence of a global political consensus, environmental activists have to put in all their efforts to ensure that there is some sort of awareness on this grave issue. Another burning issue that environmental activists have been trying to raise is that of global warming, but recent reports have shown that more and more people now believe that global warming is a natural process, and hence, inevitable. Most people comfort themselves with the fact that climate change is not an immediate issue and would not have any serious implications in near future. The growing lobby which is actively involved in climate change denial has posed as a serious threat to environmental activists. It is necessary to mention that more immediate issues such as health care and economic policies have dominated the political scenario, making environmental issues seem a less serious threat.
Analysts are of the view that environmentalist groups are better organized right now than ever before, but there has been no remarkable achievement lately. In the past, environmental groups had achieved major success by getting the government to put in legislation such as National Environment Policy Act, Clean Water Act in place, which poses some serious questions on the achievement of these organizations in recent times. Perhaps, the biggest attack on environmental activism came in October 2004, when Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, both long-time environmental strategists, published an essay, controversially titled as "The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World". Environmental groups retaliated strongly but this essay gained wide recognition and their views have found many supporters since then.
Despite all the roadblocks, environmental activism has been a strong movement which has, to a large extent, shaped policy on environmental conservation. The road ahead is challenging for this movement, but as Gaylord Nelson, politician, founder of Earth Day puts it, "If we continue to address the issue of the environment where we live as though we're the only species that lives here, we'll create a disaster for ourselves", it is important that we all get our act together and contribute to the preservation of the environment.