16 Nisan 2013 Salı

The Birth of Environmentalism and The Stockholm Conference

Environmentalism is a broad philosophy, ideology and social movement regarding concerns for environmental conservation and improvement of the health of the environment, particularly as the measure for this health seeks to incorporate the concerns of non-human elements. Environmentalism advocates the preservation, restoration and/or improvement of the natural environment, and may be referred to as a movement to control pollution. For this reason, concepts such as a land ethic, environmental ethics, biodiversity, ecology and the biophilia hypothesis figure predominantly. At its crux, environmentalism is an attempt to balance relations between humans and the various natural systems on which they depend in such a way that all the components are accorded a proper degree of respect. The exact nature of this balance is controversial and there are many different ways for environmental concerns to be expressed in practice. Environmentalism and environmental concerns are often represented by the color green, but this association has been appropriated by the marketing industries and is a key tactic of greenwashing. Environmentalism is opposed by anti-environmentalism, which takes a skeptical stance against many environmentalist perspectives.

According to the Oxford dictionary the words «ecology» and «environment» first took on their modern meanings in the early 1960s. The words existed before, but with scientific definitions. It was in 1963 that Aldous Huxley gave the word «ecology» its current sense in a paper called «The Politics of Ecology» - a title which, however banal it may seem today, was linguistically innovative then. At this time too, environmentalism ceased to connote a scientific theory about the relative weights of nature and nurture and entered common parlance as a major new force in public affairs. This does not mean that there was no action on what we now describe as environmental issues before the 1960s, only that there was no word for it.

Perhaps the first major antipollution action of the industrial era was UK’s Alkali Act of 1863. The history of cooperative action by groups of countries to tackle environmental problems whose effects extended across international borders goes back almost as far. It was in 1872 that the Swiss first proposed the establishment of an international commission to protect migrating birds. Probably first ever international environmental agreement was the 1900 Convention for the Preservation of Animals, Birds and Fish in Africa, signed in London by the European colonial powers with the intention of preserving game in east Africa by limiting ivory exports from the region. The late 19th and early 20th century also saw an international convention to protect fur seals and a US-Canadian agreement on the protection of migrating birds. The newly born clutch of international organizations of the first half of 20th century often took on environmental responsibilities: the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for conservation of natural resources, the International Labour Organization (ILO) for worker protection against occupational environmental hazards and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for marine pollution control. The first effort at global environmental management may date from 1909 with an unsuccessful US initiative to convene a world conference on natural resource conservation. Probably the first global resource management instrument actually agreed was the whaling convention of 1931, which led to the establishment of the International Whaling Commission in 1946. The most striking feature of this prehistory of international environmental activity is its emphasis on conservation and wildlife problems. This stemmed from the early rise of nature preservation movements in the UK and US.

The first pollution problem to receive extended attention at the international level was the discharge of oil from tankers into the oceans. This was already a source of concern in the 1920s, largely because of its effects on birds and beaches. After a number of failed international initiatives on the subject, the British government prompted by special interest groups such as bird protection societies, convened a meeting in London in 1954 which agreed upon the first ever international instrument to tackle pollution: the International Convention for the Prevention of Oil Pollution. This agreement was prophetic in a number of ways. Its principal negotiators and early signatories were the developed countries of the North Atlantic, with developing countries joining much more slowly. A key motivation driving the parties to seek progress through international agreement rather than domestic legislation was their determination that their tanker fleets should not be placed at a competitive disadvantage by being subjected to tougher domestic regulation than that imposed by other countries on their fleets. The agreement was strengthened by rounds of amendments in 1962, 1969 and 1971. Statistics suggest than it made a significant contribution to the reduction of deliberate oil discharges into the oceans. A 1981 IMO report concluded that such discharges fell by about 30 % over the 1970s, a period when the amount of oil transported by sea increased by about 17 %. The oil agreements were very much the product of a government driven process which attracted little public interest except among special interest group like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Public concern played a much larger part in the other international agreement of the period which had a significant environmental component: he Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963. But while public interest in this treaty was to some extent motivated by growing fears about the effects of radioactive fallout, this was clearly only a subsidiary consideration in the minds of both publics and governments by comparison with the military and security applications.

In the early 1960s, the genuinely new phenomenon of widespread public fears on the general subject of pollution emerged and the concept of environmentalism entered the language. The catalysing event which is often taken as marking the birth of this new environmental consciousness was the publication of Silent Spring in 1962. Rachel Carson’s book stands at the head of and has in many cases been the inspiration for the long stream of environmentalist literature which has followed it. It sold half a million copies in hardback, was on the US bestseller list for 31 weeks and was published in 15 other countries. Once incorporated into the vocabulary, the environment moved with extraordinary rapidity up the agenda of public concern. In the US, the number of opinion poll respondents who identified pollution as among the most important problems for government quadrupled between 1965-70. The period also saw the establishment of a spate of new, and in general much more radical environmental groups, notably the Environment Defense Fund (1967) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (1970). The US pattern was broadly repeated throughout the developed world. Studies on France, Germany, the UK, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands all showed a significant rise in public concern about environmental issues through the 1960s and early 1970s. The first national «Green Party» was established in New Zealand in 1972. The case of Japan is particularly interesting. In a polity with a well-earned reputation for public passivity and conformity, the first ever explosion of citizen activism was driven by concern about environmental pollution. By 1973, about 3000 environmentally concerned citizens’ movements had come into existence.

1. First and foremost, pollution had in fact been rising. The period since Second World War had seen an unprecedented growth of material wealth. Gross world product more than doubled between 1950 and 1970 and a lot of this growth took place in highly effluent industries.
2. World population increased by about 40 % between 1950 and 1970, thus causing anxiety about whether the planet could support or tolerate the pollution from, the exponentially rising number of people living on it.
3. Western press took up the issue. The quantity of press coverage was in fact boosted by a number of significant disasters, which, as any journalist will confirm, always make a good copy.
4. A counter revolutionary culture was developed in the 1960s.
5. Nuclear risks (1963-Cuban missile crisis).

During the 1980s the growing awareness of global warming and other climate change issues brought environmentalism into greater public debate. In 1986 the international conservation organization the World Wildlife Fund renamed itself the Worldwide Fund For Nature to reflect a shift to a more strategic approach. WWF brought together religious authorities representing the 5 major world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism) to prepare the 1986 Assisi Declarations. Today environmentalism has also changed to deal with new issues such as global warming, overpopulation and genetic engineering. Many youth of todays society have become more aware of the state of the planet and are deeming themselves environmentalists. In the future, many of the jobs opening up will have environmentalist aspects.

Sweden first suggested to ECOSOC (United Nations Economic and Social Council) in 1968 the idea of having a UN conference to focus on human interactions with the environment. ECOSOC passed resolution 1346 supporting the idea. General Assembly Resolution 2398 in 1969 decided to convene a conference in 1972 and mandated a set of reports from the UN secretary-general suggested that the conference focus on "stimulating and providing guidelines for action by national government and international organizations" facing environmental issues. 1970-1972 period was preparatory and each country was expected to prepare a comprehensive report on its environmental situation and the policies it was putting into place to deal with the problems. Finally, 110 such reports were received. The Western enthusiasm for conference was not shared elsewhere in the world. The communist bloc took the position that pollution was the product of capitalism, and consequently a problem from which they did not suffer. The USSR and the East Europeans then dropped out of the preparatory process and the conference itself because of a separate Cold War dispute hinging on the international status of East Germany. Stockholm was the first high-profile political attempt to draw the developing countries into international discussion of environmental issues. It thus put on display for the first time the central tension which has dogged global environmental discussion ever since. The major developing countries approached the conference with caution bordering on hostility. Indira Gandhi of India for instance said that it’s the poverty, not the pollution was major problem for her country.
The conference, in striking contrast to most UN meetings, seems to have generated a feeling of excitement and anticipation. This was the first UN theme conference. Many of the participants were young, and as yet uncynical about the tortuous and wearisome ways on international negotiation. Many hoped that the conference would mark a breakthrough on the environment and a major step towards effective international action to succour the biosphere. Stockholm had two other features which were to become highly characteristic of international environmental business. The first was the extent of media interest. There were over 100 journalists present, and the substantial coverage which they produced further raised the public profile of environmental issues, both in the West and more widely.
The second distinctive feature of Stockholm was the involvement of non-governmental organizations. The rapid growth of the environmental NGO movement in the West, and its international character from an early date, has already been mentioned. The movement was such an evident force in Western environmental policy-making that the conference organizers decided to give it a major role at Stockholm, and throughout the preparatory process. They therefore organized an ‘environmental forum’ for non-governmental debate and activity to run in parallel with the conference proper.  Some 500 NGOs participated. These included all the mainstream Western environmental organizations as well as a huge variety of scientific groups and other special interest groups concerned with the environment. There were also a few NGOs from developing countries.
The Stockholm process was designed to produce what we have defined as a level one response to world environmental problems – political statements intended as a basis for later, legally binding, action at levels two and three. The key products of the conference were three in number:
  1. The Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (The Stockholm Declaration), consisting of 26 principles (next page) as a foundation for future development.
  2. The Action Plan for the Human Environment, consisting of 109 recommendations for governmental and intergovernmental action across the full range of environmental policy ranging through species conservation, forests and atmospheric and marine pollution to development policy, technology transfer and the impact of environment on trade.
  3. Resolutions agreed by the conference to set up a new UN environment body and fund.

1. Human rights must be asserted, apartheid and colonialism condemned.
2. Natural resources must be safeguarded.
3. The Earth’s capacity to produce renewable resources must be maintained.
4. Wildlife must be safeguarded.
5. Non-renewable resources must be shared and not exhausted.
6. Pollution must not exceed the environment’s capacity to clean itself.
7. Damaging oceanic pollution must be prevented.
8. Development is needed to improve the environment.
9. Developing countries therefore need assistance.

10. Developing countries need reasonable prices for exports to carry out environmental management.
11. Environment policy must not hamper development.
12. Developing countries need money to develop environmental safeguards.
13. Integrated development planning is needed.
14. Rational planning should resolve conflicts between environment and development.
15. Human settlements must be planned to eliminate environmental problems.
16. Governments should plan their own appropriate population policies.
17. National institutions must plan development of states’ natural resources.
18. Science and technology must be used to improve the environment.

19. Environmental education is essential.
20. Environmental research must be promoted, particularly in developing countries.
21. States may exploit their resources as they wish but must not endanger others.
22. Compensation is due to states thus endangered.
23. Each nation must establish its own standards.
24. There must be cooperation on international issues.
25. International organizations should help to improve the environment.
26. Weapons of mass destruction must be eliminated.

Finally, there are the resolutions agreed at the end of the conference. These marked the end of a long and difficult debate. One of the aims of Stockholm was of course to set guidelines for future handling of environmental issues by the international system. A number of UN agencies already had environmental responsibilities of one sort or another: the IAEA for atomic energy, FAO for agriculture and forests, UNESCO for science and WHO for environmental health. In the manner of such organizations they tended to see the upsurge of Western political interest in the environment as a justification for expanded activity in their particular areas and, they hoped, for larger budgets. Other multilateral organizations, notably the big development funds, found their activities being examined from a point of view which was deeply dubious about the developmental philosophy which they had hitherto been pursuing. In assessing the overall consequences of Stockholm it is helpful to distinguish between the formal and the informal products of the conference. With regard to the formal products, and with the partial exception of UNEP, it is difficult to argue that they have had more than a marginal effect on the subsequent history of international environmental action. The Stockholm Declaration has not become the guiding hand for international law that it was intended to be. The action plan provided material for the early work plans of UNEP and other relevant UN agencies, and references to it appeared for a short time in a variety of national and international fora. But it is very hard to argue that it did more than catalogue existing environmental concerns and activities, rather than redirect them or push them forward in any significant way.

In terms of its formal product it is difficult to view Stockholm as much more than a cosmetic event. It demonstrated to Western publics that their governments were taking the international environment seriously. It exposed developed countries and developing countries to the gulf between their respective views of the environmental issue and demonstrated the impossibility of conducting global discussions on environmental problems without also facing the developmental issues linked to them. This lack of fundamental agreement meant that many of the conclusions were vacuous or doomed to non-implementation. The institutional and financial outcomes, while eye-catching were marginal. Over subsequent years, international activity on the environment would depend far more on political pressures in individual states than on any agreement or machinery that Stockholm created. On the other hand, Stockholm was the first full-scale display of the new environmental diplomacy, conducted largely in the open with intense media and NGO attention.


- Brenton, Tony. 1994. The Greening of Machiavelli. London: Earthscan Publications Ltd., pp. 1-35.
- “Environmentalism”, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmentalism.
- “Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment Stockholm, 16 June 1972” by Günther Handl, http://untreaty.un.org/cod/avl/ha/dunche/dunche.html

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