The Transformation of Consciousness

In conjunction with the emergence of grassroots movements, three social movements arose, dedicated to changing people's ecological consciousness and societal arrangements. The deep ecology movement began with a 1973 article by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, entitled "The Shallow and the Deep Long-Range Ecology Movement." Deep ecology was promoted in the United States by philosopher George Sessions and sociologist Bill De-vall, who published Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered (1985), the goal of which was to change people's consciousness about the human relationship to nature. Deep ecology called for a new ecological worldview — a relational total-field image, as Naess put it—that pursues a philosophy of person-in-nature rather than a separation of people from nature. It proposed a new ontology, or science of being, to rethink the human manipulation of nature. It argued for a new psychology, in which individuals identified with nature as a Self-Writ-Large. When a redwood tree is cut down, for example, it is as if an individual has lost an arm or leg, because each self can identify with a larger cosmic Self. A new consciousness is critical, deep ecologists argue, to saving the planet.

Social ecology also developed as a movement during the 1970s and 1980s. Social philosopher Murray Bookchin founded the Institute for Social Ecology in Vermont in 1974, aimed at changing human ecological relations with nature, particularly at the local level. Social ecology is based on the idea that the evolution of dominance hierarchies in human societies led to the human domination of nature. To overcome domination and move toward an ecological society, Bookchin promoted communitarian democracy, modeled on New England town hall meetings and face-to-face decision-making. Bookchin and his followers saw an opportunity to enact these ideas through the emerging Green Party in the United States, identifying especially with the left Greens.

A third movement to emerge in the 1970s and 1980s was ecofeminism. The movement originated in Europe, where French feminist Françoise d'Eaubonne founded the Ecology-Feminism center in 1972 and published a chapter entitled "The Time for Ecofeminism" in her book Feminism or Death (1974). Ecofeminism examines women's historical and cultural connections to nature and draws on women's activism to resolve environmental problems. Numerous women throughout the world embraced and promoted ecofeminism through actions, articles, and books as a movement to liberate both women and nature. Among others, Ynestra King explicated the concept through a course at Vermont's Institute for Social Ecology, and helped to publicize it through a 1980 conference entitled "Women and Life on Earth: Ecofeminism in the '80s." Irene Diamond and Gloria Orenstein developed the movement further by organizing a major conference in southern California in 1987, celebrating the 25th anniversary of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, and in 1990 published Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism.

The concerns of the environmental movement in the 1990s moved to the global level. Environmentalists warned of a global ecological crisis manifested by ozone depletion, global warming, population expansion, vanishing species, and declining biodiversity. Out of such global concerns, the Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The Montreal Protocol over ozone depletion, signed by 24 countries in 1987, had successfully reduced chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) emissions worldwide by 1995, but emissions in developing countries continued to grow. Alarm over increasing signs of global warming led to the Kyoto Climate-Change Conference in 1997. The resulting Kyoto Protocol sought to establish limits on greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries that would reduce gases to 1990 levels by 2012, while exempting developing countries. Although the United States signed the agreement in 1998, the U.S. Senate had yet to ratify it at the century's end. The extinction of wildlife was another major concern. By 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported 1,180 species as threatened or endangered under the provisions of the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Nine wild salmon species in the Pacific Northwest were threatened, resulting in mandatory economic and environmental restrictions. As the world's population passed the six billion mark in October 1999, the urgency of dealing with the environmental impacts of a potential doubling in population by 2040 heightened. Problems to be resolved included the encroachment of humanity on wilderness areas and wildlife from industry and housing expansion, energy development, air and water pollution, and increases in endangered species.

Over the last three decades of the twentieth century, environmental policies and laws that dealt effectively with global and national impacts achieved some success, but received opposition within the executive and legislative branches of government, illustrating the strengths and weaknesses of the environmental policy process and the influence of citizens' movements. Reversal of the environmental crisis, environmentalists maintain, will depend on reducing fossil fuel emissions and hazardous chemical wastes, on finding humane ways of reducing population growth rates, preserving biodiversity, and implementing sustainable forms of livelihood on the planet.

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