Environmental Activism and Global Civil Society

Environmental Activism and Global Civil Society

Earth Day 1970 marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. Twenty million Americans gathered to demon- strate their distress over the state of the environment. Their message was historically distinct. In the past, environmental concern revolved mainly around establishing and protecting wilderness areas for aesthetic and recreational prises. On Earth Day 1970, it involved safeguarding the biophysical quality of life. People spoke out about oil spills, urban smog, toxic dumping and dwindling resources. They protested the use of pesticides, the killing of whales, and the production of radioactive wastes. They complained, in short, about the increasingly degraded quality of air, water, and soil, and worried out loud about its impact on human life.

Although Earth Day was a predominantly American experience, it spurred recognition that environmental problems were not limited to the United States. Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, environmentalists emphasized that air, water, shifting soils and migratory animals—to say nothing of the stratospheric ozone layer or the global carbon cycle— transcend national boundaries. The United States could not adequately protect its territory without encouraging others to do the same. In short, environmentalism went global. Protecting a riverbed could not be separated from saving the planet.

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