What is environmentalism? Well, before giving an answer to this question, it is important to revisit a story written by Sarah Orne Jewett. In the story, A White Heron, Sarah narrates of a little girl who enjoys and treasures nature as it is. She enjoys spending time in the woodland looking for their cow, and enjoys the sound of singing birds. One day, the girl meets a hunter who promises to given some money to anyone who leads him to a white heron. At first, the offer appears too tempting, but, the little girl, Sylvia, does not give in. She decides to keep whereabouts of the white heron unknown because she enjoys the sight of the bird, and the noises it makes. At the end of the story, the writer leaves the readers with something to ponder: “are birds better friends than humans?” Back to our question, environmentalism is the ideology that advocates for environmental conservation and maintenance of the environment. The reasoning behind this is that humans need to co-exist peacefully with the various natural ecosystems because humans are dependent on the environment for their survival. As the world marks the 21st century, environmentalism has become a necessity rather than an option.
Today, the level of air and water pollution is unprecedented. Since the early days of industrial revolution, the world’s environment has never been the same again. The establishment of factories created the need for increased use of fossil fuels – which pollute the air- and led to the discharge of industrial wastes – and the industrial chemical discharges from factories harm the environment as well as the people. The dangers posed by these turn of events prompted strategists to agitate for laws which regulate environmental pollution. People from several quarters called for the protection of the natural environment through political, economic and social solutions.
The concept of environmentalism could be traced back to the 1863, when the British government passed the British Alkali Acts to control air pollution - from the processes of producing soda ash. Since then, activists from various parts of the world took the cue and started to advocate for laws that control industrialization, air and water pollution, and the growth of cities. These efforts paid off in the 20th Century when people began to appreciate environmental ideas, and started to support efforts to save wildlife. Years later, Aldo Leopold published the most progressive book on the need for sustainable development, and this provided the ideological basis for the environmentalism movement. Leopold argued that humans have an ethical duty to protect the environment, and conservation groups used this argument to create public awareness on the need to protect the environment.
Having been enlightened, the public started to question some of the things which appeared conventional. For example, scientists, and the public at large, began to question the use of large amounts of chemicals for agricultural purposes without fully understanding the impact of the chemicals on the environment. The scientists specifically took issue with the use of DDT. Before long, the use of DDT was banned after disturbing reports indicated that DDT is harmful to both humans and the environment. This event prompted more rigorous processes of testing the potential, harmful effects of pesticides and other chemicals that come into direct contact with the environment. Other milestones have been achieved over the years, and, today, environmentalism focuses on other complex issues such as global warming and overpopulation.
Without a doubt, the environmental movement has made substantial gains over the years. In the United States, for example, the environmental movement has risen to become the most popular social movement. Statistics indicate that more than five million households support environmental organizations within the country. Today, the US has more than 6,000 active environmental groups. This is not a small feat, by any means, given that only few people were receptive of the environmentalism idea a few years ago. Nonetheless, the strong support of the environmental movement now is an indication that national conservation organizations have found a strong financial footing. As a result of this support, conservationists have been able to win some important victories especially in the efforts to save wildlife and protect the environment from air and water pollution.
For example, through the use of marathon events and nature walks, environmental groups have been able to raise public awareness and raise funds to support their activities. The use of films and documentaries has also been a common feature in the recent past. Through the use of films and documentaries, environmentalists have been able to articulate their agenda, and provide facts that support their noble cause. Planet Earth, a BBC documentary, is a good example of such documentaries. The documentary highlights the effects of gradual change on the environment and the seasonal changes which have occurred as a result of climate change. The environmentalism cause has also been helped by favorable public support and research indices.
Convinced that future the generations face a real threat (if climate issues are not addressed), the public has resorted to efforts to save the environment as well as mankind. Above all, people are convinced that it is of utmost responsibility for every human being to ensure that we live in harmony with other living things in our ecosystem without inviting severe natural catastrophes. This has convinced people that massive human activity causing loss of biodiversity need to be controlled early enough because the costs associated with extinct ecosystems will be very high. The only way to facilitate this is through promotion of sustainable development and consumption.
Despite calls to protect the environment, there is another school of thought which disputes the claims made by environmentalists. This group argues that the claims made by environmentalists are either inaccurate or overly exaggerated. To some, although environmental change is real, there is no need to worry about the environment because nature takes care of itself. To support this notion, the proponents of this ideology cite the seven billion years of life as evidence that the environment is more resilient than environmentalists can think.
The anti-environmentalists view modern environmentalism with suspicion, and have labeled some of their claims as extremist and populist. They argue that political interests have permeated the green lobby and therefore, the green lobby cannot be trusted to advocate for constructive agenda; instead, the environmentalists have used the environment platform to call for legislation that favors their own agenda. The anti-environmentalists also argue that the claims made by environmentalists border on sensationalism and misguide the public, the media and the political fora. As a result, honest and well-meaning environmentalists have been hijacked by people with vested interests of promoting some “green” solutions which are not backed by biodiversity and ecology research. Consequently, some of these groups have blown the real issues out of proportion. Although the anti-environmentalists and the environmentalists may not agree on this issue after many years, one thing is for sure: the environment is depreciating rapidly and something needs to be done.
In spite of the criticism leveled against the environmentalism movement, there is need to advocate for sustainable development and tie future policies with environmental concerns. Biodiversity is important for the survival of future generations, and it is important to preserve species in their natural habitats and protect against illegal habitat destruction. Also, there is need to prevent illegal poaching, and design laws that protect natural species. Important environmental issues such as rapid global warming cannot be ignored because the ecosystems are sensitive to climatic change, and subtle changes in biodiversity affect other parts of the ecosystem. In the past, measures aimed at addressing biodiversity loss and ecology issues have not been effectively implemented, and there is need for change of tact. The sooner governments realize this and cat decisively in the interest of future generations, the better. The survival of mankind depends on sustainable, healthy environment and everyone has a responsibility to ensure its maintenance.
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