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Nature's friends.

There is no single event that can be pointed to for which we can say: "Aha! That's when the environmental movement began." Environmentalism grew slowly from a developing awareness that human activity was degrading Nature. That's as far as the Western world is concerned. There is evidence that in non-Western cultures ideas about sustainable resource use, respect for the land and sea as providers, and consumption on an as-needed basis existed long ago among aboriginal peoples: just as they continue to exist today.

Thomas Malthus, as far back as the late 18th century, had an awareness of the dangers of growth. In the 1994 book, The Environmental History of Britain Since the Industrial Revolution (ISBN: 0582226260) B.W. Clapp says that scientific concerns about damage to the environment began to emerge in the 1860's.

In 1864, The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau was published. In the book, Mr. Thoreau called for the establishment of "national preserves" of old-growth forest.

Twenty years later, George Bird Grinnell, editor of Forest and Stream, invited readers to write in and sign a pledge against harming any bird. An amazing 40,000 responded and they became the first members of the Audubon Society for the Protection of Birds. Mr. Grinnell named the society after the American naturalist and bird artist John James Audubon (1785-1851).

Throughout his life, John Muir (1838-1914) was concerned with the protection of Nature both for the spiritual advancement of humans and, as he said so often, for Nature itself. In 1892, he contacted the editor of Century Magazine. He wrote: "Let us do something to make the mountains glad." His letter sparked interest that led to the foundation of the Sierra Club.

However, both these early--organizations tended to focus on preserving wilderness and wildlife for the enjoyment of the social elite. They still viewed Nature as somehow separate from the human existence; humans were not part of Nature, they were superior to it. Environmentalists then were less concerned with the broader issues of pollution and resource depletion that are central to today's environmental movement.

It was Eugene and Howard Odum who, in the early 1950s, started to connect the dots. Their book, Fundamentals of Ecology, was published in 1953. In it they described a new science, that of ecology, in which whole natural systems should be studied together. Before the Odum's book, natural processes were studied in isolation. Afterwards, scientists began looking at whole systems of weather patterns, watersheds, regional plant and animal populations, and human activity aand how they related and influenced each other.

It took a while for these ideas to make their way out of university science faculties. Probably the most influential person in helping that transition along was Rachel Carson (1907-64), an American marine biologist. In the mid-1950s, she began to collect material about the effect of newly created chemicals on animals. In 1962, her book Silent Spring was published, and that's probably the nearest thing to an "Aha!" moment in the development of the environmental movement. In the book she documented the hazards that pesticides posed to animals and humans alike. Ms. Carson came under a ferocious attack from the chemical and agricultural industries as well as politicians, but this didn't stop the book becoming a bestseller.

Silent Spring put the connection between pollution and health concerns onto the public agenda. Idealistic young people the first of the baby boomers) latched onto the threat to the environment as part of a much wider culture of protest. There were deep concerns about nuclear weapons. There was growing disillusion with materialism. Established authority came under close scrutiny. Young people in particular began organizing against the Vietnam War. In the United States the call for equal rights for blacks became louder and louder. The youth of the 'hippie' movement were withdrawing from society. They rejected the dominant set of values and connected with the values of the romantic and wilderness movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. All these movements shared common elements. Memberships overlapped as did philosophies and tactics. They learned from each other how to organize street protests, demonstrations, and campaigns.

Typical of the activists at work in the late 1960s is John McConnell. Born in Davis City, Iowa in 1915, Mr. McConnell had a varied background. Sometime preacher, sometime journalist, he was always involved in peace and disarmament efforts. By the late 1960s, he saw how a marriage among environmentalists and peace activists could push both causes forward.

In 1969, Mr. McConnell went to the San Francisco city council with an idea. He proposed that the city should proclaim 21 March 1970 to be Earth Day. It is the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere a moment filled with Nature's promise of renewal and new life. He saw this as the perfect time for people to join--each in their own way--in silent prayer or reflection: a time for dedication and commitment to the care of our planet, a time for thanksgiving and celebration.

Earth Day has been held annually on the day of the vernal (spring) equinox ever since; that is on or about 21 March. But, hold on. Isn't Earth Day 22 April? Well, yes it is and so is 21 March. The confusion comes about because another Earth Day, called "The First National Environmental Teach-in," was held on 22 April 1970. The day organized by John McConnell is now referred to as International Earth Day.

An astonishing 20 million people turned out for events on that first Earth Day (the April one), and some people claim it to be another "Aha!" moment. But, that first Earth Day was mostly an American event: By 1990, it was celebrated in more than 140 countries, involving in excess of 200 million people. The numbers now are said to be half a billion people involved with more than 1,000 different environmental groups.

Earth Day is now more commonly celebrated on 22 April for the practical reason that better weather can be expected to draw people to outdoor activities. There are fairs and festivals, tree plantings, neighbourhood cleanups, seminars, marches, and demonstrations: But, activities such as these seemed a bit tame to many.

The people who started up Greenpeace believed in a more activist agenda. The group was formed in 1971 in Vancouver by a bunch of journalists, U.S. military draft-dodgers, and students. They were all involved in the peace movement or were fighting environmental battles. Singers Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Phil Ochs, and B.C. band Chilliwack staged a benefit concert in Vancouver that raised $17,000.

With that money the group was able to hire a leaky old fishing vessel, the Phyllis Cormack. The first voyage was north to Amchitka Island off Alaska where the U.S. was carrying out nuclear weapons testing. The scheme was to get close enough to force the U.S. to stop the test; either that or go ahead with the detonation and kill everybody on board. Greenpeace reasoned that the U.S. government would not risk the bad publicity generated by vaporizing a bunch of peace activists.

The U.S. Coast Guard stopped them from getting close to the test site, but the media coverage embarrassed the U.S. anyway. A short time later, the testing program was halted.

(French government officials were not as squeamish as those in the U.S. They were fed up with Greenpeace protesting its nuclear tests in the South Pacific. In 1985, they sent secret service agents to' sabotage Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior vessel in a New Zealand harbour. They blew two holes in the side of the ship and drowned a crew member in the process.)

Greenpeace activists are famous for risky publicity stunts. They protest against whaling by riding small inflatable boats between whaler's harpoon guns and whales. They climb up tall buildings to hang huge protest banners. Less dangerous ventures include lying down to block shipments of radioactive plutonium or chaining themselves to old-growth trees.

Some in the environmental movement write-off Greenpeace as a bunch of yahoos with their over-the-top dissent. But, it's hard to argue with their effectiveness; the group is active in 40 countries with financial contributions from 2.5 million people.

Most other large groups prefer a less in-your-face style to Greenpeace's. They rely on scientific research, media contact, lobbying government, and educating the public. Also, they represent the mainstream of environmentalism.

Groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth, the Worldwatch Institute, or Green Cross International have a global reach. They have sophisticated publicity machines, credibility, and probably have the most pull with governments. Their budgets don't come close to matching those of the corporations they tackle so they have to be selective about the fights they pick.

Some activists complain that these large, international organizations have lost their way. Some of the big groups accept government grants and corporate donations. Does this compromise their activities? The more radical environmentalists believe so.

We have to count the eco-anarchists among these more radical elements. These folks reject the notion of humans as above or superior to the rest of the natural world and that society has to be restructured to work with natural forces rather than against them. That means living in small eco-villages (of no more than a few hundred people).

You won't find SUVs, bid-screen televisions, or garbage disposal units in eco-villages. However, eco-anarchists do make one concession to technology in allowing for the use of the latest medical techniques. Influential in eco-anarchist literature is Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, which relates conversations between a man and a gorilla. According to Jared Diamond, an evolutionary biologist, the development of agriculture actually made life worse compared to a hunting-gathering culture. He explained his view in an article written for Discover Magazine in 1987 entitled The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race. Some go further still, calling themselves "earth patriots," "eco-terrorists," or "terrists." The Earth Liberation Front, Anarchist Golfers Association, and the Church of Euthanasia are among those who see nothing wrong with committing illegal acts in defence of the environment. Some who call themselves terrists, often claim to view themselves as part of Nature, simply acting to protect itself from human activity. They go as far as the destruction of property, and sabotaging industrial activity, although they also use less violent tactics such as blockades.


The word "ecology" was coined by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel in 1866.


Green Party of the United States officers have been placed deliberately on no-fly lists to prevent them from getting to meetings.


In 1992, a panel of distinguished Americans declared Rachel Carson's Silent Spring the most influential book of the previous 50 years.


A Brief History of Environmental Issues--http:// dart_448.hybrid.concordia. ca/history.html

Earth Magna Charta-- charta.htm

Environmental History Timeline--http://www. envhist/

RELATED ARTICLE: Going political.

After a lot of debate, the environmental movement became political. The fear of many was that by forming political parties they would become part of the institutions responsible for many environmental problems. Others argued that influencing change would be easier from within the governing structures.

Those favouring political action formed the first Green Parties between 1972 and 1973 in New Zealand and the U.K. The idea caught on quickly in Europe while it took ten years to find its way to Canada. In the 2004 federal election, the Green Party of Canada ran candidates in all 308 ridings and captured 4.3% of the popular vote.

But, Canada's Greens have a long way to go to catch up-to their European cousins. Green parties across the Atlantic are now or have been in the recent past members of governing coalitions in Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, and Finland. But, that's a mixed blessing to some in the movement. Some of those coalition governments of which Greens have been a part have compromised on environmental regulation. The purists say this is why environmentalists should stay out of the political process: it farces them to water down their principles.


A lot of people come to the environmental movement through something that happens in their neighbourhood. If a highway, gravel pit, waste dump, or factory is proposed it's a safe bet that opposition against it will become organized. People say the proposed what ever can go somewhere else but Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY).

The NIMBY term is not usually complimentary. It's often associated with opposition to subsidized housing projects, half-way houses for released criminals, or group homes for the disabled, mentally challenged, or troubled kids.

But, some NIMBYISM is connected to environmental concerns. Some observers have started to identify NIMBYs as the true champions of the environmental movement, fighting with very little in the way of resources to protect their families and communities In the words of environmentalist Sue Arnold: "Let there be no mistake about the identity of the front-line fighters in the great environmental battles--they have been and continue to be the locals. Born-again greenies if you like; townspeople who just won't cop wanton destruction of their communities."

RELATED ARTICLE: A wrong turn?

The Enlightenment was an era of the 18th century that is sometimes also called The Age Of Reason. Its great thinkers--David Hume, Mary Wollstonecraft, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and many others--saw themselves as leading the world out of the superstitions and tyranny of the Middles Ages.

The idea grew that humans were capable of manipulating and improving Nature and it was therefore their duty to do so through reason-by means of science and technology. The intellectual capacity of humans made it possible for us to adapt Nature to our will rather than having to adapt humans to the natural environment.

Many environmentalists believe this philosophy, which still informs many human actions today, is what has gotten us into the stew we are in.


Archie Belaney was an odd fellow. As a child growing up in England he developed a fascination with Nature and the culture of North American Indians. In 1906, he came to Canada and made contact with the Ojibway of Bear Island in Northern Ontario. They taught Archie their language, how to trap, and live off the land.

The Ojibway also gave Archie the name he would be better known as: Grey Owl. He passed himself off as a half-breed for the rest of his life.

During the 1920s, he became disillusioned by trapping. He saw people taking fur-bearing animals for profit without thought to preserving the animal populations to ensure future game. He saw new technologies destroying forests more rapidly than they could be regenerated.

Grey Owl turned to conservation to save the beaver, which was, at that time, threatened with extinction. He started writing articles and books about the wilderness and then went on lecture tours. He was immensely popular.

In England in 1936, he gave more than 200 lectures in four months and addressed 250,000 people. He always dressed in Indian garb and his "Indian" identity was never questioned.
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Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2005
Previous Article:Taking back democracy.
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