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Environmentalism as a social movement

Environmentalism as a social movement

Environmentalism and environmental movement

Environmentalism is a broad philosophy and social movement regarding concerns for environmental conservation and improvement of the state of the environment. Environmentalism and environmental concerns are often represented by the color green. [1]

A concern for environmental protection has recurred in diverse forms, in different parts of the world, throughout history. For example, in the Middle East, the earliest known writings concerned with environmental pollution were Arabic medical treatises written during the "Arab Agricultural Revolution", by writers such as Alkindus, Costa ben Luca, Rhazes, Ibn Al-Jazzar, al-Tamimi, al-Masihi, Avicenna, Ali ibn Ridwan, Isaac Israeli ben Solomon, Abd-el-latif, and Ibn al-Nafis. They were concerned with air contamination, water contamination, soil contamination, solid waste mishandling, and environmental assessments of certain localities. [3][4]

In Europe, King Edward I of England banned the burning of sea-coal by proclamation in London in 1272, after its smoke had become a problem.[5][6] The fuel was so common in England that this earliest of names for it was acquired because it could be carted away from some shores by the wheelbarrow. Air pollution would continue to be a problem in England, especially later during the Industrial Revolution, and extending into the recent past with the Great Smog of 1952.

Environmentalism can also be seen as a social movement that seeks to influence the political process by lobbying, activism, and education in order to protect natural resources and ecosystems. The environmental movement includes the conservation and green politics, is a diverse scientific, social, and political movement for addressing environmental issues.

An environmentalist is a person who may speak out about our natural environment and the sustainable management of its resources through changes in public policy or individual behavior by supporting practices such as not being wasteful. In various ways (for example, grassroots activism and protests), environmentalists and environmental organizations seek to give the natural world a stronger voice in human affairs.[2]

Environmentalists advocate the sustainable management of resources and stewardship of the environment through changes in public policy and individual behavior. In its recognition of humanity as a participant in (not enemy of) ecosystems, the movement is centered on ecology, health, and human rights.

The environmental movement is represented by a range of organizations, from the large to grassroots. Due to its large membership, varying and strong beliefs, and occasionally speculative nature, the environmental movement is not always united in its goals. At its broadest, the movement includes private citizens, professionals, religious devotees, politicians, and extremists.

The roots of the modern environmental movement can be traced to attempts in nineteenth-century Europe and North America to expose the costs of environmental negligence, notably disease, as well as widespread air and water pollution, but only after the Second World War did a wider awareness begin to emerge.

The US environmental movement emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, with two key strands: protectionists such as John Muir wanted land and nature set aside for its own sake, while conservationists such as Gifford Pinchot wanted to manage natural resources for exploitation. Among the early protectionists that stood out as leaders in the movement were Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and George Perkins Marsh. Thoreau was concerned about the wildlife in Massachusetts; he wrote Walden; or, Life in the Woods as he studied the wildlife from a cabin. John Muir founded the Sierra Club, one of the largest conservation organizations in the United States. Marsh was influential with regards to the need for resource conservation. Muir was instrumental in the creation of the world's first national park at Yellowstone in 1872.

During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, several events illustrated the magnitude of environmental damage caused by humans. In 1954, the 23 man crew of the Japanese fishing vessel Lucky Dragon 5 was exposed to radioactive fallout from a hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll. The publication of the book Silent Spring (1962) by Rachel Carson drew attention to the impact of chemicals on the natural environment. In 1967, the oil tanker Torrey Canyon went aground off the southwest coast of England, and in 1969 oil spilled from an offshore well in California's Santa Barbara Channel. In 1971, the conclusion of a law suit in Japan drew international attention to the effects of decades of mercury poisoning on the people of Minamata.[2]

At the same time, emerging scientific research drew new attention to existing and hypothetical threats to the environment and humanity. Among them was Paul R. Ehrlich, whose book The Population Bomb (1968) revived concerns about the impact of exponential population growth. Biologist Barry Commoner generated a debate about growth, affluence and "flawed technology." Additionally, an association of scientists and political leaders known as the Club of Rome published their report The Limits to Growth in 1972, and drew attention to the growing pressure on natural resources from human activities.

Meanwhile, technological accomplishments such as nuclear proliferation and photos of the Earth from outer space provided both new insights and new reasons for concern over Earth's seemingly small and unique place in the universe.

In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, and for the first time united the representatives of multiple governments in discussion relating to the state of the global environment. This conference led directly to the creation of government environmental agencies and the UN Environment Program. The United States also passed new legislation such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act- the foundations for current environmental standards.

By the mid-1970s anti-nuclear activism had moved beyond local protests and politics to gain a wider appeal and influence. Although it lacked a single coordinating organization the anti-nuclear movement's efforts gained a great deal of attention.[3] In the aftermath of the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, many mass demonstrations took place. The largest one was held in New York City in September 1979 and involved two hundred thousand people; speeches were given by Jane Fonda and Ralph Nader.[4][5][6]

Since the 1970s, public awareness, environmental sciences, ecology, and technology have advanced to include modern focus points like ozone depletion, global climate change, acid rain, and the potentially harmful genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Free-market environmentalism

Free-market environmentalism is a position that argues that the free market, property rights, and tort law provide the best tools to preserve the health and sustainability of the environment. This is in contrast to the most common modern approach of legislation by which the state intervenes in the market to protect the environment. While environmental problems may be viewed as market failures, free market environmentalists argue that environmental problems arise because of:

Laws that override or obscure property rights and thus fail to adequately protect or define those rights; and

Laws governing class or individual tort claims that provide polluters with immunity from tort claims, or interfere with those claims in such a way as to make it difficult to legally sustain them.

As a rule, therefore, free-market environmentalists believe that the best way to protect the environment is to allow tort and contract laws governing and protecting property rights and tort claims to emerge naturally, so that the protection of property no longer suffers from the defects that give governments, individuals, and corporations perverse incentives to spoil the environment.

Some economists believe that the market is unable to correct the negative externalities of industrial production and excessive depletion of non-renewable resources. In this view, firms receive the full benefit of creating their products in a way that generates pollutants but do not bear the full social costs of the increased pollution. They have no economic incentive to create products in a way that minimizes pollution and absent targeted environmental regulations, will continue to do so. This activity would be rational, because it would be profitable for a firm to overpollute, while letting others absorb the costs of its effects and cleanup. Regarded this way, opponents of market solutions to the problem of pollution assert that market mechanisms left to their own devices contain built-in incentives for environmental degradation. The case for free market valuation is complicated by uneven regulation, e.g. the standards set for recycling (under Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, of 1976) are more strict than the government regulation of mining (General Mining Act, 1872).

Ecological economist Robin Hahnel has enumerated what he terms the four basic defects of a market economy with respect to the environment as: [1]

overexploitation of common property resources;


too little pollution cleanup; and


In response to these concerns, economists who prefer the free-market environmentalist approach argue that:

Overexploitation occurs to the extent of the lack of ownership incentives to care for the property, and that this communalization effect occurs to the extent of multiplicity of ownership. Overexploitation reduces the intrinsic and retail value of the property, the effect of which is most clearly felt by individual owners or through limited co-ownership.

Pollution occurs where and to the extent that victims are prevented or hindered from seeking tort restitution for such aggression. Legislative and Judicial authorities have tended to favor heavy industries over individual or class action in favor of public property and the common good.

Pollution clean-up also occurs naturally in a free market, because reducing the negative value of a property is a net gain, again leading to a higher intrinsic or retail value, and thus marketability.

Overconsumption is a flawed concept, because it assumes that resources are non-renewable. The market, through supply and demand, regulates consumption by adjusting it according to supply. For example, if a resource becomes more scarce, its value increases and thus also its cost. This forces consumers to redirect their purchases to alternate resources which are in more plentiful supply. In addition, the higher market value of the resource creates an incentive to create more of the commodity, and allows for a greater expenditure in doing so.

The prevalence of externalities would have serious implications for market efficiency in its static and dynamic dimensions. If negative externalities are unnaccounted for, it would imply that market prices will not accurately reflect true social opportunity costs, leading to misallocations of goods. As the elementary economics text book by Baumol and Blinder observes When a firm pollutes a river, it uses some of society's resources just as surely as when it burns coal. However, if the firm pays for coal but not for the use of clean water, it is expected that management will be economical in its use of coal and wasteful in its use of water.

The standard approach to addressing negative externalities is governmental regulation proscribing polluting activities. This approach has been criticized by free-market economists and others as being inefficient and ineffective. Furthermore, the demands of regulation seldom appeal to the social conscience of industries or enterprise owners and violation is often seen as legitimate business practice.

Critics have noted that studies sponsored by firms assessing their own activities are invariably biased and typically exemplify an illegitimately narrow focus that ignores a competitive market context and the prevalence of external effects throughout the supply chain. Amoco's attempts at voluntary measures have met with resistance from the four or five oil refining corporations with greater market share, who expressed a preference to be forced by state regulations before lowering their sulphur content. Following Amoco's gestures, prominent environmental groups were unimpressed. For example, the Earth Day 2000 report, "Don't Be Fooled" named Amoco as one the top 10 "greenwashers" of the year. [2]

While some environmentalists advocate compromises such as carbon trading schemes, most free-market environmentalists would prefer full accountability as dictated by courts that respect the rights of property owners in absolute terms.

Some free-market proponents, particularly those influenced by the Austrian economic school, such as B.J. Lawson claim that sustainability is fundamentally impossible when the money supply exhibits secular inflation.

Some economists argue from the Coase Theorem that, if industries internalized the costs of negative externalities they would face an incentive to reduce them, perhaps even becoming enthusiastic about taking advantage of opportunities to improve profitability through lower costs. Moreover, economists claim this would lead to the optimal balance between the marginal benefits of pursuing an activity and the marginal cost of its environmental consequences. One well-known means of internalizing a negative consequence is to establish a property right over some phenomenon formerly in the public domain. This requires a little abstract thinking in the case of environmental problems as these Coasians are talking about a grant to pollute or to exploit some limited natural phenomenon. This is a sophisticated variant of the polluter pays principle. However, critics have charged that the "theorem" attributed to Coase is of extremely limited practicability because of assumptions, including that it was theorized to account for adjacent effects where transaction costs for bargaining agents are typically small, but is ill-suited to real world externalities which have high bargaining costs due to many factors.

A number of libertarians, such as Rothbardians, reject the proposed Coasian solution as making invalid assumptions about the purely subjective notion of costs being measurable in monetary terms, and also of making unexamined and invalid value judgments (i.e., ethical judgments). The Rothbardians' solution is to recognize individuals' Lockean property rights, of which the Rothbardians maintain that Wertfreiheit (i.e., value-free) economic analysis demonstrates that this arrangement necessarily maximizes social utility.

Proponents of free-market environmentalism use the example of the recent destruction of the once prosperous Grand Banks fishery off Newfoundland. Once one of the world's most abundant fisheries, it has been almost completely depleted of fish. Those primarily responsible were large "factory-fishing" enterprises driven by the imperative to realize profits in a competitive global market.[3] It is contended that if the fishery had been owned by a single entity, the owner would have had an interest in keeping a renewable supply of fish to maintain profits over the long term. The owner would thus have charged high fees to fish in the area, sharply reducing how many fish were caught. The owner also would have closely enforced rules on not catching young fish. Instead commercial ships from around the world raced to get the fish out of the water before competitors could, including catching fish that had not yet reproduced.

Another example is in the 19th century early gold miners in California developed a trade in rights to draw from water courses based on the doctrine of prior appropriation. This was curtailed in 1902 by the Newlands Reclamation Act which introduced subsidies for irrigation projects. This had the effect of sending a signal to farmers that water was inexpensive and abundant, leading to uneconomic use of a scarce resource. Increasing difficulties in meeting demand for water in the western United States have been blamed on the continuing establishment of governmental control and a return to tradable property rights has been proposed.

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