Political challenges

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It was the first oil crisis, in 1973-1974 that led to a major shift in environmental consciousness, as energy issues moved to the top of many national political agendas, especially in relation to nuclear energy. In several countries the late 1970s were a period of intense political debate and social-movement activity as the pros and cons of nuclear energy, or "hard energy paths" in general, were contested (Lovins 1977). In certain countries, Denmark for example, renewable energy experimentation became a social movement of its own, and led to new industries and government programs. Seen in retrospect, an important result of the energy debates of the 1970s was a professionalization of environmental concern and an incorporation by the established political structures of what had originally been a somewhat delimited political issue. As a result, there was both specialization and institutionalization of knowledge production.

On the one hand new kinds of discipline, or sub-disciplines, developed in many countries. Energy-systems analysis became a recognized field for investigating the costs and benefits of different choices of energy supply and distribution. Human ecology took on the form of a recognized academic field and developed its own theories, based on concepts of entropy and energy flow. In the Netherlands and some other European countries, environmental science, or environmental studies, became a separate field with state research programs providing funding for new university departments and new public research institutions (Leroy 1995). Throughout the world environmental research tended to became a "sector" of its own within the broader systems of research and development.

Within ecology itself, a kind of bifurcation took place between ecosystem ecologists, on the one hand, who were often drawn into larger, mul-tidisciplinary projects, and population, or evolutionary ecologists, on the other, who focused their attention on particular species or ecological communities. There was a still further specialization, due to the range of approaches that emerged in the established disciplines to take on the new environmental and energy issues. As a result of these developments, many of the academic ecologists and other environmental scientists who were active in the formation of new groups and organizations eventually drifted away from activism and the more activist organizations, as opportunities for research careers emerged at the universities (Cramer et al. 1987).

On the other hand new kinds of institutional arrangements were created, often from central government. In the United States, for example, there was established both a national government-funded center for renewable energy and an influential Office of Technology Assessment within Congress. In many European countries, new research councils and governmental departments were built up, with ambitions to establish somewhat more policy-related types of research. There were also efforts, in this period, to create new kinds of "service" institutions, linking universities to the environmental movement organizations. In the Netherlands, science students at the universities developed a network of "science shops" to market their expertise more directly to those citizen groups that needed it. There were also self-named "radical scientists" who started to publish journals and arrange conferences. The former included Science for the People in the United States, Radical Science Journal in Britain, Wechselwirkung in Germany and Naturkampen in Denmark. And, perhaps the most ambitious of all, environmentally minded engineers and technicians actually constructed their visionary, or "utopian," technologies, such as the world's largest wind power plant at the Tvind schools in western Denmark or the geodesic dome with its self-sufficient ecosystem at the New Alchemy Institute in Massachusetts. When some of these alternative groups gathered at the UN Conference in Vienna on Science, Technology and Development, it was apparent that a new kind of alternative science and technology had emerged.

What, in retrospect, was most characteristic of the period of the late 1970s was the breadth, but also the unity and coherence, of the environmental movement. As a popular front, or campaign, against nuclear energy, the different traditions of ecology were combined into an integra-tive cognitive praxis, with a visionary ecological philosophy or world-view guiding a range of practical experiments with alternative technology in settings that were largely autonomous and thus outside of the formalized rule systems and organizational frameworks of the larger society. In informal local groups and movement-based workshops and study circles, technical projects and educational activities were conducted with the participation of both "experts" and amateurs. The key point is that for a brief time the movement could provide an organized learning experience in which theory and practice were combined in pursuit of a common collective struggle. These settings would be difficult to maintain for very long, since they were, in many ways, much too fragile for any kind of permanent institutionalization, and when the issue that inspired the movement was resolved, and taken off the political agenda, the different component parts split apart and fragmented (Cramer et al. 1987). The unity that had been achieved in struggle simply could not be sustained when the "opportunity structure" was altered, as it came to be throughout the world in the early 1980s.

The challenge to the coherence of the movement was also, to a large extent, a result of the broadening and diversification of environmental-ism in the late 1970s. While most activists in Europe were concerned with nuclear energy, which became an issue of major political importance in several countries, other issues were important in other parts of the world. In the United States, the discovery of toxic wastes buried under the neighborhood of Love Canal in Buffalo, New York, inspired a new kind of locally based, working class opposition to environmental pollution (Szasz 1994). It was also in the United States that the new techniques of genetic engineering were critically reviewed by activists for their risks and dangers to the communities in which the laboratory experiments were carried out. In opposing genetic engineering, environmentalists such as Jeremy Rifkin pointed to a new kind of futuristic challenge that made many of the actual environmental problems pale in significance. "Two futures beckon us," Rifkin wrote. "We can choose to engineer the life of the planet, creating a second nature in our image, or we can choose to participate with the rest of the living kingdom. Two futures, two choices. An engineering approach and an ecological approach" (1983: 252).

Meanwhile, in India and other parts of the Third World protests against hydroelectric dams and industrial forestry projects forged new connections among critical environmentalists, scientists, and local populations. In the opposition to the Silent Valley dam, a "people's science movement" came into being with a popular approach to knowledge; while in the Chipko movement, in the foothills of the Himalayas a local ecology of diversified resource use was pitted against the monocultural, managerial ecology of professional forestry (Gadgil and Guha 1992). In India the Gandhian legacy, with its ideal of artisanship and a rural village-based economy, became an important ingredient of the environmental movement, a valuable indigenous tradition that could be mobilized and made relevant to current concerns.

These new forms of environmentalism were difficult to unify in a single movement; rather, in the intellectual and broader political traditions that they tapped into, and in the alliances that they made, sometimes with quite conservative and fundamentalist religious groups, they were often articulating interests and strategies that were diametrically opposed to the positions of "modernist" anti-nuclear activists, as well as many of the professional environmentalists in the think-tanks and the "mainstream organizations". So, while the environmental movement was expanding and diversifying, the seeds were sown for a more explicit process of differentiation in the 1980s.

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Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

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