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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.
At the same time, emerging scientific research drew new attention to existing and hypothetical threats to the environment and humanity. Among them were 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 co-ordinating organization the anti-nuclear movement's efforts gained a great deal of attention. 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.
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).
Environmental Science is the study of the interactions among the physical, chemical and biological components of the environment.
Ecology is the scientific study of the distribution and abundance of living organisms and how these properties are affected by interactions between the organisms and their environment.
Environmental Studies is the study of the entire field of environmental issues. The scope is more broad than that of the Environmental Science degree. The ENVS degree offered at schools includes a base in sciences such as Biology, Chemistry, and Earth Sciences as well as requiring many other Social Sciences classes. This scholarly field has been established only in the past 20 years. ENVS is especially in high demand as of late since U.S. President Barack Obama has established himself as a –green– president. The president said regarding a speech on the environment, –We can let the jobs of tomorrow be created abroad, or we can create those jobs right here in America and lay the foundation for lasting prosperity".
Along with a broad range of pertinent issues. See List of environmental issues
The University of Colorado is a flagship school for the environmental movement. The school offers Bachelor of Arts (BA) degrees in: Environmental Studies, Environmental Design, and Environmental Engineering. C.U. also offers Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) degrees in Environmental Studies as well as an Architecture Ph.D specializing in Sustainable and Healthy Environments (SHE). The university was named the #1 green school in America on Sierra Club–s 2009 list.
The broad ENVS curriculum instills a range of knowledge so vast that this major is a well-rounded education for anyone entering the growing environmental workforce. The evolving workplace is being filled out by the increasing number of these ENVS graduates. The environmental field focuses on areas such as: Alternative Energy, Conservation, Green Building, Public Policy, Scientific Research, among others.
Many environmental lawsuits question the legal rights of property owners, and whether the general public has a right to intervene with detrimental practices occurring on someone else's land. Environmental law organizations exist all across the world, such as the Environmental Law and Policy Center in the midwestern United States.
One of the earliest lawsuits to establish that citizens may sue for environmental and aesthetic harms was Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference v. Federal Power Commission, decided in 1965 by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The case helped halt the construction of a power plant on Storm King Mountain in New York State. See also United States environmental law and David Sive, an attorney who was involved in the case.
Christopher D. Stone's 1972 essay, "Should trees have standing?" addressed the question of whether natural objects themselves should have legal rights. In the essay, Stone suggests that his argument is valid because many current rights-holders (women, children) were once seen as objects.
Numerous criticisms and ethical ambiguities have led to growing concerns about technology, including the use of potentially harmful pesticides, water additives like fluoride, and the extremely dangerous ethanol-processing plants.
NIMBY syndrome refers to public outcry caused by knee-jerk reaction to an unwillingness to be exposed to even necessary developments. Some serious biologists and ecologists created the scientific ecology movement which would not confuse empirical data with visions of a desirable future world.
Today, the sciences of ecology and environmental science, rather than any aesthetic goals, provide the basis of unity to most serious environmentalists. As more information is gathered in scientific fields, more scientific issues like biodiversity, as opposed to mere aesthetics, are a concern. Conservation biology is rapidly developing field. Environmentalism now has proponents in business: new ventures such as those to reuse and recycle consumer electronics and other technical equipment are gaining popularity. Computer liquidators are just one example.
In recent years, the environmental movement has increasingly focused on global warming as a top issue. As concerns about climate change moved more into the mainstream, from the connections drawn between global warming and Hurricane Katrina to Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth, many environmental groups refocused their efforts. In the United States, 2007 witnessed the largest grassroots environmental demonstration in years, Step It Up 2007, with rallies in over 1,400 communities and all 50 states for real global warming solutions.
Many religious organizations and individual churches now have programs and activities dedicated to environmental issues The religious movement is often supported by interpretation of scriptures. Most major religious groups are represented including Jewish, Islamic, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, Christian and Catholic.
Radical environmentalism emerged out of an ecocentrism-based frustration with the co-option of mainstream environmentalism. The radical environmental movement aspires to what scholar Christopher Manes calls "a new kind of environmental activism: iconoclastic, uncompromising, discontented with traditional conservation policy, at time illegal ..." Radical environmentalism presupposes a need to reconsider Western ideas of religion and philosophy (including capitalism, patriarchy and globalization) sometimes through "resacralising" and reconnecting with nature.
A study reported in The Guardian concluded that "people who believe they have the greenest lifestyles can be seen as some of the main culprits behind global warming." The researchers found that individuals who were more environmentally conscious were more likely to take long-distance overseas flights, and that the resulting carbon emissions outweighed the savings from green lifestyles at home.
Regional environmental movements
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