Environmentalism is activism aimed at improving the environment, particularly nature. This activism is usually based on the ideology of an environmental movement, and often takes the form of public education programs, advocacy, legislation and treaties.
One concern common to most types of environmentalism is opposing pollution. In this sense, most people in the world are "environmentalists" since hardly anyone wants to breathe air choked with fumes or swim in dirty water. For people in underdeveloped countries, the problem is often finding clean drinking water.
In another sense, the meaning of the term "pollution" has been extended to include industrial emission of carbon dioxide, which is beneficial to plant growth and harmless to human beings in ordinary concentrations. Proponents of the global warming hypothesis and supporters of the Kyoto Protocol classify carbon dioxide as a "pollutant" due to their belief that it contributes to harmful global warming (see climate change issues).
The term in both senses was first used in the early 20th century. They are related by the observation that if one's surroundings play a great role in individual development, and those surroundings are either green, beautiful, healthy and thriving, or gray, ugly, degraded, unhealthy and unable to sustain themselves, two different attitudes to life develop. This is reflected in the modern controversy over measuring well-being, which often places importance on aesthetics and experience of a healthy natural environment, e.g. gardens.
Numerous events in the world of English-language publishing after the middle of the twentieth century contributed to the abrupt rise of environmentalism, especially among college and university students and the more literate public. One was the publication of the first textbook on ecology, Fundamentals of Ecology, by Eugene Odum and Howard Odum, in 1953. Another was the appearance of the best-seller Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, in 1962. The wide popularity of The Whole Earth Catalogs, starting in 1968, was quite influential among the activistic and hands-on younger generation of the 1960s and 1970s.
Environmentalists can conserve resources in many ways. Driving a fuel-efficient car, taking short showers, and eating vegan food are among these. Fuel-efficient cars have lower emissions and consume less oil, which is a limited resource. Short showers consume less fresh water. Vegan food (soybeans, rice, green vegetables) takes less land, water, and oil to grow and eat directly than to grow soybeans, feed the soybeans to a pig, and then eat the pig.
Environmentalism and Politics
Environmentalists first became influential in American politics after Earth Day, April 22, 1970. Their activism directly led to the creation of numerous U.S. environmental laws, starting with the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act and the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA in 1970. These successes were followed by the enactment of a whole series of laws regulating waste (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act), toxic substances (Toxic Substances Control Act), pesticides (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act), cleanup of polluted sites (Superfund), protection of endangered species (Endangered Species Act), and more.
Fewer environmental laws have been passed in the last decade, as corporations and other conservative interests have increased their influence over American politics. At the same time, many environmentalists have been turning toward other means of persuasion, such as working with business, community and other partners to promote sustainable development.
Much environmental activism is direct towards conservation, as well as the prevention or elimination of pollution. However, conservation movements, ecology movements, peace movements, green parties, green- and eco-anarchists often subscribe to very different ideologies, while supporting the same goals as those who call themselves 'environmentalists'. To outsiders, these groups or factions can appear to be indistinguishable.
As human population and industrial activity continue to increase, environmentalists often find themselves in serious conflict with those who believe that human and industrial activities should not be overly regulated or restricted, e.g., some libertarians.
Environmentalists often clash with others, particularly "corporate interests," over issues of the management of natural resources, e.g. the atmosphere as a "carbon dump", the focus of climate change and global warming controversy. They usually seek to protect commonly owned, or unowned, resources for future generations.
Those who take issue with new untested technologies are more precisely known, especially in Europe, as political ecologists. They usually seek, in contrast, to preserve the integrity of existing ecologies and ecoregions, and in general are more pessimistic about human 'management'.
While most environmentalists are mainstream and peaceful, a small minority are adopting more radical approaches. Various extreme ideologies of radical environmentalism, and several ecology-based theories of anarchy (known as (small-g) green anarchism) are cited to justify equipment sabotage, logging or fishing blockades, and even burning of houses impinging on a natural ecology. Environmentalists differ in their views of these ideologies and groups, but almost all condemn violent actions that can harm humans. Some tolerate the destruction of property not essential to sustaining or saving human life. The most extreme, sometimes called terrists, often claim to view themselves as part of nature, simply acting to protect itself from man.
Environmentalism and religion
Many major religions now teach that mankind has a responsibility to protect the environment. The concept of the social mortgage in Catholic social teaching implies that humanity does not have an absolute right to use the world's resources (viewed as part of God's creation), but is responsible for protecting the environment; many Protestant denominations have similar teachings. Islam also teaches stewardship and responsibility for the Earth's environment.
Environmentalism in fiction
Environmentalism in music
Environmentalism is occasionally the topic of song lyrics. See Environmental protest songs for a list of such songs.
Environmentalism in nonfiction
Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough, Michael Braungart