(5) Environmentalism


History of Environmentalism


Nongovernmental Environmentalism

Among ordinary citizens, concern over deteriorating local and global environmental conditions began to increase in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Symbolic of this was the first Earth Day in April 1970, which saw some 20 million people rally at one of the largest organized demonstrations ever held in the United States. At the same time more and more environmental activists were creating national and transnational organizations to lobby governments and corporations and rally public support.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF, later the World Wide Fund for Nature), which started in 1961 with fundraising headquarters in Switzerland, was evolving into an international network of national offices. By the early 1970s it had already established a US$10 million trust fund to cover administrative expenses. Greenpeace was also beginning to take shape after a group of activists set sail in 1971 from Vancouver for Amchitka, an island off Alaska, to “bear witness” to U.S. nuclear testing.

The same year four groups-from England, France, Sweden, and the United States-founded Friends of the Earth International to coordinate environmental campaigns.

Over the next decade networks of environmental activism began to deepen. Greenpeace, for example, evolved into a multinational enterprise as more than 20 groups in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand adopted the name Greenpeace. In 1979 the Canadian Greenpeace Foundation, facing financial and organizational difficulties, agreed to create a new international organization called Greenpeace International (with its headquarters in Amsterdam). By the 1980s this new structure was allowing Greenpeace to coordinate campaigns and fundraising in ways not unlike the advertising and sales strategies of a multinational corporation.

Some Greenpeace activists stole a page from advertisers, using daring stunts to reach front pages and primetime, repeating messages and images to embed new meanings and emotions into the public psyche. There were many successes. For example, whales became “majestic” and seals “cuddly,” and whaling and sealing were recast in the minds of many people as senseless slaughters.

Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) were continuing to grow and evolve over this time as well. In the second half the 1970s, the number of national offices in the federation increased (primarily in developed countries). Such expansion began to necessitate more organizational capacity.

The federation decided to set up a small international secretariat in 1981 (rotating from country to country) to assist with coordinating and running the increasingly large annual meetings. Two years later the number of groups in the federation reached 25-and the members decided to elect an executive committee to oversee the issues dealt with at the annual meetings.

Two years after this the European members decided to create the first regional coordinating office in Brussels. The number of national offices in the federation was continuing to grow, with more joining through the 1980s from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The first Eastern European member-Poland’s Polski Klub Ekologiczny-joined in 1985. A year later the number of members was at 31-and for the first time a national office in the developing world hosted the annual meeting (Sahabat Alam Malaysia, or Friends of the Earth Malaysia). The mandate was expanding with more national offices from developing countries, and by the mid-1980s FOEI was campaigning to protect tropical rainforests and indigenous forest dwellers.

The increase in the number of WWF projects and campaigns is yet another typical example of the growth of many nongovernmental environmental organizations from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. In 1973 the WWF launched Project Tiger (with the Indian government) to try to save India’s endangered tigers.

Its first worldwide tropical rainforest campaign-covering Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia-began two years later. In 1976 the WWF launched an ambitious marine campaign-called The Seas Must Live-to establish sanctuaries for dolphins, seals, turtles, and whales. The WWF was focusing more as well on monitoring and strengthening controls on trade in animals and plants (including ivory and rhino horn). It cooperated with the International

Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to create a new organization in 1976 called TRAFFIC (Trade Records Analysis of Fauna and Flora in Commerce). The end of the decade saw the WWF rise over US$1 million in a campaign to “Save the Rhino” from poachers. By then the WWF was a truly international institution with a mandate well beyond its original focus on endangered species and habitat loss-one that many within the organization now felt required more cooperation with governments to integrate conservation into development strategies. The WWF was also emerging as an actor in more formal international structures-for example, cooperating with the IUCN and the UNEP to launch in 1980 a World Conservation Strategy endorsed by the United Nations. Meanwhile, its number of regular supporters was continuing to grow-sitting at about 1 million by the early 1980s.

Since the 1980s the capacity of environmental activists to influence governments, public attitudes, and corporations has continued to expand. Today, thousands of groups-big and small-form networks advocating for change. These can include celebrity consumer advocates like Ralph Nader. They can include innovative NGOs like Adbusters that practice “culture jamming,” running spoof ads and counter-ads to encourage people to not consume. They can include grassroots movements like the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, which under the leadership of Wangari Maathai (winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize) was able to plant some 30 million trees in Africa. And they can include local groups of just a couple of people working to protect a patch of land in a village.

A few environmental groups, however-ones like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the WWF-now sit as big multinational players in this thicket of diverse environmental voices. Greenpeace International now has millions of contributors and offices in dozens of countries. Friends of the Earth also have millions of members and supporters, with over 70 national groups and over 5,000 local ones. And the WWF now has close to 5 million regular supporters, operating in over 100 countries and funding more than 2,000 conservation projects.

Over the last decade more of these activists have been cooperating with governments to achieve “mutual” goals. For groups like the WWF this strategy has resulted in many successful projects. In recent years, for example, the WWF has been able to assist with establishing millions of hectares of protected forests. This includes, for example, in 2006 convincing Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, and Malaysia to commit to the WWF’s Heart of Borneo initiative to protect the biological diversity of 220,000 square kilometers of forests on the island of Borneo.

The WWF has also been cooperating with governments to strengthen environmentalism in local communities as well-such as working with the Malagasy government on an environmental syllabus for primary schools, training locals as wildlife scouts in Zambia, and training gold miners in Suriname. It is collaborating as well with scientists to conduct research-on occasion making original discoveries, such as when a team of WWF divers found a new coral reef off the coast of Thailand in 2006.

The WWF is also partnering with many companies. “The WWF sees a future in which the private sector makes a positive contribution to the well-being of the planet,” explains a website pamphlet called The Nature of Business. “To achieve this, WWF engages in challenging and innovative partnerships with business to drive change.” A few examples show the diversity and range of activities. WWF-Sweden has worked with the food company Tetra Pak to establish policies for responsible wood purchases and to mitigate climate change. WWF-India has worked with the Austrian crystal firm Swarovski to establish a wetlands visitor center in India’s Keoladeo National Park. And WWF-Denmark has worked with the pharmaceutical firm Novo Nordisk on a policy to reduce the firm’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The WWF has also been partnering with many firms on policies to reduce greenhouse gases-including multinationals such IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, and Polaroid. NGOs such as the WWF have been especially eager to develop partnerships for eco-labeling programs. Two of the most influential programs are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Today, the FSC, founded in 1993 primarily using WWF funds, is the world’s most recognizable logo for sustainable forest management, with retailers like Home Depot relying on FSC-certified wood to market sustainable timber.

The MSC, founded in 1996 by the WWF and the Unilever food conglomerate, is now the most recognizable international eco-labeling program for sustainable seafood, gaining worldwide publicity in 2006 when Wal-Mart-the world’s biggest retailer-pledged to only buy wild seafood from fisheries meeting MSC standards. The partnering of some NGOs with governments and firms does not mean activists are no longer challenging from the periphery of power. If anything, there are more activists than ever before, in part because the Internet allows for a cheap and easy global presence. Still, the trend in recent years has been toward more partnerships and a more commercial focus to all environmentalism.

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