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Homework answers / question archive / Environmental problems are extremely complex and long-term, and are critical to the future of our planet and its species

Environmental problems are extremely complex and long-term, and are critical to the future of our planet and its species

Earth Science

Environmental problems are extremely complex and long-term, and are critical to the future of our planet and its species. The environmental move- ment, which originated in a number of countries in the nineteenth century, is faced with the challenge of maintaining effective campaigns of action over many decades. Maintaining a vital environmental movement involves keeping activists involved, influencing public opinion and holding public attention, creating lasting organizations, and devising collective action cam- paigns that have a real impact on environmental problems. The stakes are extremely high: beyond long-standing problems of pollution and habitat destruction, global warming is now causing the oceans to warm and the glaciers to melt at an alarming rate, with consequences such as increased hurricanes, floods, a potentially catastrophic rise in sea levels, droughts, and accelerated loss of species. Environmentalists must tackle the causes of such devastation and, despite the urgency of the issues, the problem of motivat- ing individuals, industries, and governments to participate in bringing about the radical changes necessary. In this chapter, we examine some of the problems involved in sustain- ing an influential environmental movement, concentrating on the move- ment in North America. We begin with a discussion of the origins of the contemporary movement in the 1960s and then turn to mobilization of the movement over time and its ability to attract and maintain public support. Next, we examine debates over the direction of the environmental move- ment and consider a selection of organizations and campaigns, including Greenpeace and its media-focused efforts such as its anti-whaling cam- paigns, green lobbies, consumer-based boycotts, anti-logging and anti- roads direct-action campaigns, and opposition to fossil fuel industries. We also consider the movement's intersection with Indigenous issues as well as backlash against the movement by conservative governments that label radical organizations terrorist. Origins of the Environmental Movement Although the protest cycle of the 1960s gave impetus to new types of environ- mental organizations and activities, the environmental movement originated much earlier. Conservation movements emerged in a number of countries in the nineteenth century to promote national parks, wilderness preservation, resource management, and the exploration of nature (Lowe and Goyder, 1983: 15-17). In Europe, Australia, and North America, campaigns were initiated to connect environmental concerns such as sewage disposal and clean air and water with public health (Rootes, 2004: 612). In the United States, organizations such as the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society, and the Izaak Walton League formed in the late nineteenth and early twentie eth centuries. Canada's first conservation organization, the Canadian Nature Foundation, was founded in the 1930s (Pachike, 1997: 254). Women active in Progressive Era organizations in North America supported the conservation movement by lobbying for clean air and water, pure food, and public parks. Threats to the environment, mobilizing structures, and political oppor- tunities all contributed to the expansion of the environmental movement in the 1960s. While environmental problems were long-standing move- ment organizations and writers began to call attention to these problems. In the early 1960s, activists in the women's peace movement raised environ- mental issues in connection with their concerns about atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons (Rome, 2003: 534-6). Voice of Women in Canada and Women's Strike for Peace in the United States created public awareness of the environmental effects of the nuclear arms race by organizing events and collecting children's baby teeth to dramatize the issue of high levels of strontium 90, a by-product of radiation, in milk (Swerdlow, 1993; Rebick, 2005). With the publication of such landmark works as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962), which focused attention on pollution from pesticides, the concerns of the environmental movement broadened.

Mobilizing Support for Environmentalism All long-term social movements are faced with the problem of maintaining support for the cause over time, and the environmental movement faces particular challenges insofar as many environmental problems are long- term ones that are extremely difficult to solve and may not be apparent to potential movement constituents in their everyday lives. For example, although scientists agree that the planet is experiencing climate change and immediate and aggressive actions must be taken to prevent it, 23 per cent of Canadians agree it is real but do not believe it is caused by humans, and over one in 10 Canadians don't even believe the scientific evidence (Environics, 2013: 2). Americans share similar views, with 36 per cent believing there is no solid evidence of climate change (PEW, 2013). Min Zhou (2013), using the World Values Survey, found that people with more education and know- ledge about global environmental harms are more likely to be concerned about the environment. He also finds that those who are more liberal in their political attitudes have a greater concern. Recently, however, increase ing numbers of extreme weather events may finally be intensifying concern among the broader public about global warming caused by human activities (Gore, 2014: 89). Over the years, public interest in the environment and membership in environmental organizations have ebbed and flowed, as has media attention to environmental issues. Between 1965 and 1970, when numerous environmental groups formed in North America, there was a great sense of urgency about environmental issues (Mckenzie, 2002: 89). Actions by groups like Greenpeace gained national and international headlines with media-savvy direct-action stunts (Dale, 1996). However, concern about environmental harms has varied since then (Leiserowitz, 2007: 9). Anthony Downs (1972) argues that there is an "issue attention cycle" whereby the public becomes alarmed about a is an "issue attention cycle" whereby the public becomes alarmed about a problem and very concerned with its amelioration. Once the public comes to realize the cost of significant advances, however, enthusiasm for solutions to the problem dampens. Eventually, the decline in public interest is followed by a "post-problem phase" during which the problem may sporadically recapture public interest. In 1972, Downs wrote that the public was already starting to realize the enormity of the social and financial costs involved in cleaning up the environment.

Debates on the Power and Direction of the Environmental Movement Because contributions to movironmental groups wary with changes in pol- ical opportunitics and other socio-coonomic shifts, the environmental movement hiss oot enjoyed continuous growth and wibility Environmental movements in different countries have experienced perinch of upsurge and decline, depending on local and national in wel in international factous (Rome, 2004). Morewer, the power of the environmental movement is limited in the face of other factors that affect environmental outcomes, such at the influence of fossil fuel industries on local cultures and political deci- Mom. In a study of opposition to ligparfind natural gas (1NG) Domminals in the United States, McAdam and Boudet (3017) found that mobilisation apaint poopened LNG projects occurred in only half of the 20 communities they Hedied, and the mobilisation that did occur was often minor, with only one community coperiencing what they comedered a genuine social move ml. "Community context" variables, such as the hawory of the community with on indowry ( 2. ad and en development in the Gulf Correrice) or an. dirions of economic hardship that make communities receptive to even raky projects, played an important role in preventing mobilization in many ow. munities. Where opposition to LNG projects occurred, however, it did con- tribute to the rejection of LNG terminal. Thes, environmental movements have met with varying amounts of wooos in mobilizing support and inflouncing public policies, and NT- ious environmental problems wach as global warming romain urgent. Consequently, there have been many debate over the organization, writ- crick, and electiveness of the environmental movement. One important theme in their debates in the impact of institutionalization, which gener. ally refers to the tendency of movement organizations that have survived over many youn to develop burerotic structures, be rely on profccionul and relations with government and other established actors (ibid., 624). The strategic choices of environmental movements are also a prime subject of debate, involving questions about the importance of direct-action tactics versus institutional ones, the use of media-oriented tactics, efforts to influ- ence and work with corporate elites, and other issues. In North America, concerns about the environment became less sali- ent to the public in the 1990s, with few Canadians or Americans paying much attention to environmental problems until the mid-2000s (Harrison, 2007: 94). This decline in salience was reflected in low levels of member- ship in North American environmental groups in the 1990s. For example, out of Ontario's population of about 12 million, the Federation of Ontario Naturalists had about 15,000 members in 1995 and the World Wildlife Fund had about 60,000 members, In comparison, Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds claimed one million members out of the country's population of 60 million (Cartwright, 2003: 130, n. 2). In the United States, between 1990 and 1994, membership in the Sierra Club fell from 630,000 to 500,000; membership in Greenpeace dropped from 2.5 million to 800,000; and the National Wildlife Federation laid off 100 staff (Dowie, 1995: 175).

Greenpeace and the Mass Media Despite its beginnings as "a rag-tag collection of long-haired, bearded men" (Dale, 1996: 1), Greenpeace became a powerful multinational organization, capable of manipulating the global media, through the use of its trademark strategy of creating dramatic events that generate sympathetic coverage and large numbers of supporters (Brown and May, 1991; Weyler, 2004). The group got its start with a campaign to stop a US military nuclear test at Amchitka in the Aleutian Islands (see Hunter, 2004, for a detailed account). Led by media-savvy activists, the campaign exploited anti-US sentiment in Canada by emphasizing the threat of tidal waves on Canada's west coast from the nuclear test. The activists bravely sailed an old fishing boat to the test site, thereby creating a "David-versus-Goliath spectacle of ordinary people defying a morally bankrupt and intellectually unsound enterprise" (Dale, 1996: 18). The campaign provoked an enormous amount of oppos- ition to the nuclear test among the Canadian public and an equally large amount of media coverage. Although the test proceeded as planned, the US military later announced that it would cease nuclear testing in the North Pacific, allowing Greenpeace to claim victory. Grassroots Environmentalism and Direct-Action Campaigns While many large national environmental organizations have become highly institutionalized, grassroots environmental groups have abo mobilized to expand the goals and tactics of the movement. In fact sometimes groups chose to "go local" instead of global in their activism, even valorizing local food and lifestyles over more transnational objectives (Stoddart and Ramos, 2013). Some of these local groups also organize to oppose the siting of environ- mental hazards in their own neighbourhoods, such as "dirty diesel" trains in Toronto (Taylor, 2015). Although critics labelled them NIMBY'S (Not in My Backyard), many local movements developed into environmental justice groups with a deeper understanding of the political and economic under- pinnings of environmental problems (Szask, 1994: 80). In recent years, new direct-action campaigns have emerged around climate change and oppos- ition to fossil fuchs, and even more traditional convervation organizations are engaging more frequently in direct action (Rootes and Brulle, 2013: 5). In some instances, local environmental disasters served as critical events that helped to mobilize grassroots movements. Movement organiza- tions were then successful in framing issues in ways that appealed to local activate, and they devised direct-action tactics that allowed for grassroots participation. In the United States, a toxic-waste movement emerged in the late 1970s, based primarily in white working-class and middle-class com- munities and spurred by the saga of a neighbourhood community that had been built on top of Love Canal, a chemical-waste dumpsite for a chemical plant in Niagara Fall, New York. In Canada, residents and workers cam- puigned against chemical pollution in highly industrialized areas such as southwestern Ontario (Adkin, 1998). Racial and ethnic communities also mobilized around toxic contamination and public health threats (Brulle and Fellow, 2006). This coincided with the rise of the environmental jus- tice movement, which raised issues of racism and inequality, charging that the working poor and people of colour typically pay the highest price for environmental pollution in that industrial facilities and toxic-waste dumps are often placed in poor and minority neighbourhoods (Szusz, 1994: 75).

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