The encompass for environmental concern has arguably had no real stance,until the early 1960’s. Before this time, undesirable side-effects where seenas natural consequences of economic and social progression and thus, rivers andatmospheres where assumed to have an infinite capacity for waste and dirt.Japan and the USA as leading industrialised countries where often idolised fortheir growth, and so denial towards the extent of the problem was a societal norm,giving environmental problems no real scope on the political agenda. Consequencesof industrial use such as smog, radioactive fallout and pesticidescontaminating, blanketing and destroying the crops and atmospheres of majorcities rapidly became impossible to ignore, and soon provoked a turning pointin the emergence of an environmentalist movement and up rise of concernedreactions such as the- publication of Rachel Carson’s book ‘Silent Springs’ in1962 for example.
In the UK, political orientation towards the environment didnot feature within the manifestos of political parties until the 1970’s (Godfrey, 2012). Similarly, in the USA, exorbitanthuman use and the eventual deterioration of the environment that followed, leadto a compulsory turning point in the rise of environmental awareness by thelate 1960’s. This essay will therefore argue that, just as the deterioration of theenvironment lead to a compulsory launch in the rise of political awarenessduring the 1960’s and 1970’s, so does the constant previous and contemporaryconcern for environmental problems continue to mount pressure on governmentsand societies; and give rise to the environment as a political issue. To begin, in accordance with a chronological version of events is theindustrial and scientific revolution of the 18th and 19thcentury, or as otherwise referred to by scholars as a period where the amountof “industrialisation, human activity and pollution” … “threatenedirreversible changes on an unprecedented scale to the world’s climate” -ClivePointing, A Green History of the World, 1991. (Harrisonand Boyd, 2003:275). The industrial revolution began a processbased on ignorant false assumption. Fossil fuels and other scarce resources,where assumed to be infinite and thus, subject to the process of agriculturalindustrialised demand for food and raw materials.
As highlighted by NoelCastree human beings often regard ‘the environment and products of it’ as’non-human’ and thus inferior (Castree, N.2003:287). As a result of this, as it was done prior to the 19thcentury, environmental issues are often easy to be ignored.
Within this context,however, the defects of exorbitant manufacturing and industrial growth or as Rousseau argues the ‘corruptingunnaturalness of civilisation’ (Barry,2005:55) where creating noticeable globaldefects in the form of environmental tragedies. Examples include theSeveso disaster (India,1984) and Chernobyl nuclear explosion (USSR,1986) during the current time and additional negative impacts fromnuclear gasses, and motor vehicles that would abet health problems at a time inthe future. As a result of this, it soon becamenecessary that such limits to growth and uncertainties surroundingindustrialisation be investigated and thus, a new realm of attention towardsthe environment as a political issue began.In the USA, chemical pollution was catalysisto one of the earliest examples of response toward environmental problems. Legislativeaction toward air pollution in St. Louis, USA, 1876 (Paehlke 1989:23) was implementedin response to poisoned rivers, extinct species, destructed rain forests, and thesubsequent overpopulation (Harrisonand Boyd, 2003:276) that followed.
Within the UK, similar concern for airpollution, initiated the implementation of the 1863 Alkaline Act. In additionto this, existence of additional environmental concerns, triggered furtherresponse towards the environment as a political issue. Public health concerns, beginningfrom general and industrial waste disposal, triggered the Poor Law Commissionin 1834. Regarding sanitation and preservation of landscape and habits- theCommons, Open Spaces, and Footpaths Preservation society was created in 1865),and to settle grievances relating to the quality of human surroundings andimpact upon health followed the Torren’s Artisans and Labourers Dwellings Actof 1868 (Godfrey 2012). By the late 19th centurydevelopments in ecological science, public awareness, and emergence ofenvironmental lobbyists, saw the erosion of ignorance toward the matter andprogression of vivid interest in political response toward environmentalproblems and directorial provision for dealing with them. The emergence ofpressure groups not only inflated political attention toward the issue but alsorepresented a growing middle-class interest toward the protection of wildlife,wilderness and natural resources (Lowe and Goyder 1983:30) and as such, thescope for environmental concern within the realm of politics was exaggerated bythe emergence of nature protecting groups and non-government organisations towardthe latter on the 19th and early 20th century. Severalleading pressure groups such as the Sierra Club USA, Royal Society forProtection of Birds UK, and Naturschutzbund Deutchland Germany (Carter, 2001)originate from this period and represent a shift in “historically, radical andtransformative elements of environmental movements and eco political thought”.
Asarticulated by Bluhdorn such aspects have been “blunted” and “reconfigured bycomprehensive cultural change” (Blühdorn and Welsh 2007:186)and thus, abet the wider effect that saw a “modernisation-induced value andculture shift” and gradual accumulation in “market-driven, industrial, andgrowth-oriented” (Kenis, A. and Lievens, M. 2014:540) policieseffecting various environmental issues. Such strategiesinclude regulatory methods toward pollution, creation of parks and overallintroduction toward modern environmentalism.
The existence of modern environmentalismindifferently, to preservationist attitudes prior to this period, advocated theenvironment as a political matter complete with its own ideology and politicalmovement (Jacobs 1997:2). The main stance, advocated by ‘greener’ versions ofthe modern market model such as, Green Growth (OECD, 2010),The advocacy of ecological modernisation (Spaargaren and Mol 1992,Mol and Spaargaren, 2000:340) and the Green economy (UNEP 2011, 2012) attempted to embracethe environmental crisis as a serious threat to human existence, while”refraining from any fundamental questioning of existing social systems”(Bluhdorn:2013:25). A perception, yet again that has been nurtured by theexistence of environmental eco-disasters of the time such as: the oil spillagesfrom the wrecked Torrey Canyon Tanker in 1967, and Blow out of an oil platformin Santa Barbara California and mercury poisoning of Minamarta Bay in Japan1969 (Carter, 2001:4). The continual existence of environmentalproblems, overarching shadow of limits to growth and ‘consequences ofpopulation increase encouraged people to embrace a radical transformation inthe values and priorities within society and politics by advocating thought inglobal terms about the environment’ (Ehrlich 1968:45; Meadows et al 1972:25).
Bluhdornmakes parallel analysis to this idea where he argues “recent shift in ecopolitical discourses have their counterpart in simultaneous shifts indemocratic politics” (Bluhdorn 2013:16). Modern environmentalism, therefore,was influenced by general revolt in social protest and broader ‘politics ofaffluence’ during this time, evident particularly during the 1970’s when theformation of NGO’s (non-government organisations’) created the demandingmechanism necessary for political and law making attention toward environmentalproblems. Such efforts where not only successful in triggeringthe largest environmental demonstration in history-Earth Day on 22ndof April 1970, but also instigated the set up of government ministerialagencies responsible for introducing new legislation to protect the environment,and establish environmentalism as part of the international agenda; stimulatedby examination of global environmental problems on human health at the 1972 UNStockholm conference.
As it did, during the early 1960’s andcontinual period after, the existence of environmental problems, provided thenecessary components for monumental environmental movements in politics. Withinthe UK for example, the “changing attitudes and unpredictable responses” of theConservative and Labour Party earned detailed analysis for their response andmark on the “ongoing process of greening political parties” (Godfrey 2012). Theexistence of new political ideas and attitudes towards the environment on thisscale aided the rise of mass environmentalism within society and creation of newpolicy agendas or as defined by Robinson as “the translation ofideas, attitudes, motivations, symbols and ways of thinking from theconstituent cells of the environmental movement to the mainstream politicalparties in terms of rhetoric, policy and ideology” (Robinson1992:74), and thus, scholarly and non-academic studies have both,concluded around the fact that in comparison to other political parties, greenvoters are more so younger, better educated, less likely to attend church andmore likely to hold public sector and/or white-collar jobs (Muller 2005:43). Deriving contemporary evidence from theprevious UK prime ministers conference speech in 2005, where Tony Blair states”global warming is too serious for the world any longer to ignore its danger orsplit into opposing factors of it”. Such statements are largely significant tothe realm of modern environmentalism as not only do they represent the substantialextent to which environmental problems have become politically mainstream, theyalso justify a positive revolutionary change in the political culture andvalues of industrialised countries. Despite the undeniable progression of theenvironment as part of the political agenda, as afore mentioned by Castree,several scholarly contributions have questioned the depoliticising nature ofecological modernisation as within it, human beings still tend to deem theenvironment as an entity ‘incompatibly separate to human beings and thus,ambiguously thought of as something ‘out there’ that surrounds us (Kenis, A.and Lievens, M.
2014:540) as apposed to apart of us. Within this approach,Swyngedouw (2007, 2010a) argues environmental problems are so easily depoliticisedbecause they lack a dominant subject of change. For example, under the subjectof oppression, equal rights and struggle, change can be easily identified andaccountable to women, ethnic minorities, or labour workers, and thus they arerespectively the first to speak out. Indifferently, environmentalism, due toits nature, lacks this ability- and so, although a subject now embraced withinpolitics, such characteristics make the political nature of some eventsinsignificant, inferior and therefore, hard to contest. Under this stance, some may contest, insupport of the question, and argue that, the existence of environmentalproblems in contemporary day exerts a compulsory collective concern amongsthuman beings. As a result, environmental questions and research lends easily toa discourse that suggests “we are all in this together” and must cooperate,create partnerships and reach consensus (Kenis, A.
and Lievens, M. (2014:535).As agreed by Swyngedouw 2007, if everyone together is the subject of environmentalquestions, bettered values toward nature are the only result.
Regardless, of policy adjustments, innovativegovernment instruments such as eco taxes and evidential development inenvironmental political concern- the environment remains a uncontrollable anddeeply complexed issue. It’s significance and progression as part of thepolitical agenda however, cannot be disputed and much commendation for thisgrowth can be attributed to not only the existence of environmental problemsbut enlightened and bettered human understanding of these problems and theirdetrimental effects. It is also important by this retrospect, toconsider the character of democracy in depoliticising environmental topics.Scholarly contributions together with public opinion have observed that, individualswithin a democracy can often feel, “isolated and lacking in influence orcontrol over the government” (Porritt and Winner 1988:5). Given this, perspective it is important to realise that whatremains to be disputed is not, the political significance of environmentalissues at the hand of environmental issues, but the extent and range ofextra-parliamentary strategies available to all members of society to fix theseproblems, remain green, outside of trying to achieve change by just simply ‘votinggreen’ (Young,1993:102). In contemporary day, in comparison to thecooperative vision that began the politicisation of environmentalism, theexistence of environmental problems provides basis for political division anddebate.
For example, in the USA 2015, Democrat Barak Obama approved theexpansion of Artic drilling, whilst Republican Hillary Clinton openly opposedit, stressing the term “common sense” as themain attribute in justifying immediate attention toward environmental issues;in comparison to Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who proclaimed that “acceptedscience” proves climate change is a “religion being forced upon Americanpublic” at the hands of “monied interests” (Black, 2016). In addition tothis, the existence of climate change for some, continues to exert expandedinfluence and ways of thinking within governments. Acting a constant reminder,global warming clarifies the possible planet changing detrimental effects ofhuman impact.
As a concept the implications have had time to perpetuate throughsociety, ethos and regimes; to the extent that in modern society we are mostcommonly concerned with “mitigation” and adaptation” as pragmatic ways of andmanaging and handling the implications. In conclusion,despite some disparities within the argument for environmental concern; the long-vettedpoliticising process of environmentalism has revealed an imposing, broad andpowerful environmental political lobby that without doubt, in conjunction with pressingenvironmental issues, can admit full responsibility for its contribution in achievingpolitical existence within environmentalism. The ecological narrative duringthe 1960’s, paved the foundation for non-government organisations, science, andgreen parties that have worked to permanently link environmental concerns ofthen and now, to pending political innuendos of the future. So much so, that asa result, politics is now an imperative part of the process in observing andimproving the worlds environmental health.