The period of awakening

It was in the immediate postwar era that the traditional concerns with nature preservation and resource conservation began to be transformed into a new kind of environmental consciousness. It has become customary to think of this consciousness emerging in the 1960s, inspired primarily by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, but we can actually see the new environ-mentalism being shaped somewhat earlier by some of the leading figures in the older conservation "movement," particularly in the United States and Britain.

Julian Huxley, a naturalist and the first director of Unesco, played an important part in bringing conservation issues into the United Nations system, and he was also one of the key actors in the creation of IUPN, the International Union for Protection of Nature which, in 1956, would become IUCN, the International Union for Societies for the Conservation of Nature. Meetings arranged by both organizations were extremely important as fora for the articulation of a new environmental perspective to supersede the somewhat more limited nature-protection perspective that had characterized conservation circles since the late nineteenth century (McCormick 1991). The new environmentalism differed from the old both in terms of the issues addressed, but also in terms of the underlying social-cosmological, or world-view assumptions: the way in which nature-society interaction was represented. Particularly important was the recognition that something fundamental had taken place with the emergence of a more active exploitation of the land. What was needed, according to Aldo Leopold, writing in the 1940s, was a new stage in human ethical development to correspond to the material changes: "there is as yet no ethic dealing with man's relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it. Land, like Odysseus' slave-girls, is still property. The land-relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations" (Leopold 1949: 203).

Fairfield Osborn, director of the New York Zoological Society and founder of the Conservation Foundation, was one of the first to put this new ecological perspective into print in his Our Plundered Planet, which was published in 1948 and subsequently was translated into thirteen languages (Jamison and Eyerman 1994: 74-82). In 1953 Osborn published Limits of the Earth, and he continued throughout the 1950s to foster a more international and ecological perspective among nature-lovers and biologists. He was perhaps the most successful of the conservation movement's new "organization men," people who arranged meetings and research projects, lobbied for funds, and gradually altered the agendas in nature societies and natural history institutions.

In the United States the transformation of conservationism into envi-ronmentalism was a gradual process that was brought to a head and to a larger public primarily through the eloquent prose of Rachel Carson. But there were others in the postwar period - writers like Joseph Wood Krutch, activists like David Brower of the Sierra Club, established figures like the American Supreme Court Justice William Douglas, and the nature photographer Ansel Adams - whose activities helped to pave the way (Fox 1985). In particular, the development of a "mass culture" of television and popular science brought the natural world into the home and with it the importance of "saving nature" from further degradation could be spread to a mass audience. In 1961 the World Wildlife Fund was established to give this new conservation message a more professional form in terms of fund-raising, public relations, and dissemination. The WWF was started with the express purpose of bringing more resources into the hands of the nature organizations.

Within the WWF, and then more scientifically in the International Biological Program established in the mid-1960s, the "imperialist" tradition took on a more modern or contemporary manifestation. On the one hand, it became more explicitly international, as scientists and other conservationists came to take part in transnational research and development networks, particularly within the IBP projects (Kwa 1989). On the other hand, the imperialist tradition was brought up to date technologically with the new cybernetic and computer-based approaches to research that were developed by the new breed of ecosystem ecologists led by Eugene and Howard Odum (Taylor 1988). Particularly in the energy-flow schema-tizations of Howard Odum, the mathematical modeling of nature was presented in an ambitious and sophisticated manner that was to have a major importance on the emerging environmental consciousness.

It was to be the eloquent writings of biologist-turned-science-writer Rachel Carson that would do most to give the arcadian tradition a modern voice. "Over increasingly large areas of the United States spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song" (Carson 1962: 97). Silent Spring served to awaken the industrial world from its postwar slumbers, and Carson was soon followed by other writers - Barry Commoner, Georg Borgstrom, Rene Dubos, Barbara Ward, and Paul Ehrlich - who, with their scientific authority and sober tone, had a somewhat different impact on the public consciousness.

In the 1960s a new range of environmental problems were identified -industrial pollution, atomic radiation, urban sprawl - that tended to supplant conservation issues from most national political agendas. And as these problems came to be discussed in popular books and the mass media, a new socio-economic developmental perspective gradually came to be articulated: an ecological paradigm in contrast to the industrial paradigm that had guided postwar development (Cotgrove 1982). As more books were published, so awareness grew and diagnoses of the problem became more alarmist, so that by the late 1960s when Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb, which was an even bigger bestseller than Silent Spring, a kind of doomsday, or at least crisis, mentality had emerged, giving the problems a new urgency. When combined with the philosophical critiques of modern technology published by Jacques Ellul, Herbert Marcuse, and Lewis Mumford, as well as the record of their spiritual journeys to the east and beyond by the beat poets and their hippie disciples, environmentalism became a broader movement of social and political opposition.

We can think of this period - from the late 1940s to the late 1960s, with a rather long period of latent interest in the 1950s - as a period of awakening. It was primarily a time of public education, and it took place almost exclusively in the industrialized countries. What was involved was the enunciation by biologists, nature lovers, and writers of a new range of issues and eventually a new ecological perspective. In the 1950s and 1960s a cluster of new societal problems were identified, from chemical risks to automotive air pollution, which gave rise to widespread public debates and eventually to a number of policy responses. The postwar mode of techno-economic development, with its dependence on science-based innovations and its relatively unproblematic view of science and technology, was shown to have serious "side effects"; and the 1960s ushered in a period of questioning, criticism, and reexamination of the dominant doctrines, or paradigms, of socio-economic development, and science and technology policy (Salomon 1977).

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment