The age of ecology

By the end of the 1960s the period of questioning had inspired both the emergence of new activist groups, such as Friends of the Earth (which David Brower, the director of the Sierra Club, created in 1970 as a way to protest against the conservatism of the older organization) and a process of policy reform and institution-building. In this second phase most of the industrialized countries established new state agencies to deal with environmental protection and other newly identified social problems, and environmental research and technological development were organized in new locations in both the private and the public sectors. Many national parliaments enacted more comprehensive environmental legislation and at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972 the protection of the environment was recognized as a new area of international concern.

The manned landing on the moon in 1969 had provided the symbol for the conference, the blue planet viewed from space: small, fragile, and strikingly beautiful in its shape and color. A biologist, Rene Dubos, and an economist, Barbara Ward, collaborated on the book that would set the agenda for the conference. Only One Earth made the case for a new kind of environmentalism, combining efficient management of resources with empathetic understanding: "Now that mankind is in the process of completing the colonization of the planet," they wrote, "learning to manage it intelligently is an urgent imperative. Man must accept responsibility for the stewardship of the earth" (Ward and Dubos 1972: 25). In conclusion they noted that the reforms and policy proposals that they suggested would not come easily: "the planet is not yet a centre of rational loyalty for all mankind. But possibly it is precisely this shift of loyalty that a profound and deepening sense of our shared and inter-dependent biosphere can stir to life in us" (ibid.: 298).

In this period there was also, in a broader, and more generalized sense, a reorientation of science and technology policies to what might be termed a "societal" agenda. In the influential report Science, Growth and Society of 1971 (the so-called [Harvey] Brooks report), the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) proposed a range of new areas, or social sectors, for state support for scientific research and technological development, as well as a new kind of "assessment" activity that was suggested be included in science and technology policy (Elzinga and Jamison 1995). One of the most important of the new science and technology policy-sectors, as they came to be called, was environmental protection. And many countries followed the lead of the United States in establishing an Office for Technology Assessment.

In the early 1970s there was also a range of "grass-roots" engineering initiatives that emerged in the fledgling environmental movement. In the United States a group of self-proclaimed "new alchemists" moved from the university out to the country to experiment with ecological agriculture and energy technology (Todd 1977). In many European countries, but perhaps especially in Britain, Denmark, and the Netherlands, a number of research centers and projects in alternative or radical technology were established. At some of the hippie communes and production collectives that developed at the time there was often an interest in renewable energy and organic or biodynamic agriculture, and there were also, among architects and planners, attempts to develop more environmentally friendly approaches and techniques (Dickson 1974; Boyle and Harper 1976).

An interest in alternative technology developed as an integral part of the environmental movement in several countries, and it was given special importance in development assistance, where E. F. Schumacher proposed a new kind of appropriate or "intermediate" technological development that would use modern and traditional techniques in creative combinations (Schumacher 1973). In several United Nations agencies - from UNEP to ILO - appropriate technology became an important priority area, and in countries like India a wide-ranging appropriate technology movement developed in the countryside (Elzinga and Jamison 1986). In retrospect, we can see that the environmental movement opened a public space for experimentation with a collective mode of ecological engineering - or what Ivan Illich called at the time "tools for conviviality" (Illich 1973) - in relation to energy, agriculture, housing, and transportation. The particular technical interests have diffused widely into society - for are we not all a bit more "ecological" in the ways we garden, and decorate our homes, and move ourselves around? - while the collective creativity has largely dissipated. Rather quickly, however, the environmental movement was forced to confront political reality; its visionary outlook, its naïve utopianism was challenged by the coming of the oil crisis, and what might be thought as the age of ecological innocence came to an abrupt end.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
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.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment