Protecting the Planet
Week 8: the environmental movement.
These notes discuss the composition of the environmental movement, and controversies concerning its strategy and goals.
1. The theory of social movements – a concept that belongs to the study of politics:
The study of politics has many aspects and covers, for example, the study of institutions (governments, parliaments etc), concepts (democracy, totalitarianism etc), philosophy (what is a “just” regime? why should we obey the law? etc), and behaviour (how/why do people vote the way they do, what determines the behaviour of political representatives, etc).
When we study political behaviour, or action, we could focus on individuals, or on groups. With Social Movements we are dealing with political action by groups or collectives (rather than with individuals). It is worth noting that the concept of social movements was mainly developed in the 1960s an ‘70s, when the youth movement, anti-war movement, and feminism were flourishing. (Kate Stevens, NLR 102, reviewing ‘The Age of Ecology’ by Joachim Radkau, Cambridge 2014, and Environmentalism by Ramachandra Guha, 2000).
A social movement is a "collective endeavour to promote or resist change in the society of which it forms part" (Bottomore 1979).
However, it is clear that there are many ways in which groups act to get political change: people may protest, or riot, or carry out a rebellion or a revolution; they may form a pressure-group or a political party, and this definition does not distinguish a social movement from, say, a political party.
On the other hand, Heywood (1997) defines a social movement as: “A collective body distinguished by a high level of commitment and political activism, but often lacking a clear organisation”.
The key difference is that social movements are not organised in the way that parties or pressure groups are: they do not (usually) have “membership”, central staff, offices and suchlike. They act in a more diffuse, perhaps episodic, way than organised political formations – as Bottomore puts it. On the other hand, I would say that their actions are more deliberate than riots or mobs, since they usually have goals and carefully chosen methods of action. Some social movements may be revolutionary – others want less radical change.
Giddens (1989 ch 19) makes an important point when he says that they are "a collective attempt to further a common interest, or secure a common goal, through collective action outside the sphere of established institutions" (my emphasis).
Bottomore makes another significant point: social movements, if successful, "establish preconditions for changes of policy or regime, by bringing into question the legitimacy of the existing political system (in part or in whole), creating a different climate of opinion, and proposing alternatives."
Finally (Alain Touraine (e.g. 1977) says a social movement is a large number of people taking part in the construction and reconstruction of their society.
2. Is there an environmental ‘social movement’?
‘Yes’: the term ‘protest or social movement’ is appropriate, then, because (i) there are many different components, yet they are not bound together; and (ii) they all share the view that existing practices and institutions need to be altered, (though they disagree as to the degree of change that is needed); and (iii) they all say that we need a new philosophy, and/or set of new values (thus leading the way towards a fundamental change in society) – i.e. we must recognise the value of nature, and give it a higher priority.
One explanation as to why there is a ‘green movement’ (an explanation used by such as Rudolf Bahro, and derived from Marxism, and especially from the failure of the working class to take up Marxist ideas) - is that as the environment is increasingly damaged it will affect all of us, rich and poor, capitalists and workers, people from developed and from developing countries; consequently we are bound to see a growing and widespread movement to protect the environment.
‘No’: On the other hand, we could say that the ‘green movement’ is not a real united movement, and/or that it will not last (is it a passing fad?). For example:
(i) There is the argument (Barratt Brown, Michael, 1984,: Models in Political Economy, Penguin 1984) that the scientific accounts of damage to the environment are not in agreement with each other, and it is difficult for non-experts to be motivated by complex scientific arguments (just as it was difficult to stir the workers with the complex theory and the arcane disputes amongst Marxists);
(ii) Whilst many in the movement agree that it requires new forms of action, there are very different organisations within the movement, and they differ significantly on action and on philosophy (see Yearley, S. 1993 Social Movements and Environmental Change, in Redclift, M. and Benton, T. (eds): Social Theory and the Global Environment, Routledge), so perhaps the green movement is not a social movement. As Stevens says: ‘Is ‘movement’ even the right term for something so vast and shapeless as global environmentalism, often more a conviction than a practice, which encompasses not only widely divergent goals - wildlife conservation, cycle lanes, solar panels, - but seemingly incompatible agents [the people involved]: on the one hand, myriad local confrontations over toxic dumps or logging rights, and on the other, inter-governmental conferences, NGO lobbyists, carbon traders?’
In an analysis based on the USA, McCarthy and Zald (1987) look at the number of different groups concerned with the environment, comparing their different forms, their ability to organise, and their internal dynamics, etc. They conclude that there is a number of “Social Movement Organisations” (SMOs) which, although they might campaign together on some issues, also differ on other issues. For example, Greenpeace is not involved in the anti-roads movement, and opposes the Green Party on the question of law-breaking. These SMOs also compete for membership, backers, and coverage (as do businesses...) – so it is not correct to talk of a ‘social movement’.
(iii) From a ‘European’ point of view, Berger (1987 Berger, Peter: The Capitalist revolution, 1986, Basic Books) argues that what is happening is the rise of a new “knowledge class” rather than a social movement.
(iv) Finally, we can also see (and this may serve to underline several of the points just made) a growth in the voices of ‘sceptics’ – who could be right?! In which case the ‘movement’ will fizzle out... Though I would say that these sceptics are usually a small group, and in the case of climate sceptics a group of non-scientists, who – consciously or not – are actually speaking for the interests of industry.
3. Brief History of the movement (recap of week 1):
(i) Goodin (Goodin, D. 1990: Green Political Theory, Polity) points out that the movement has been through several stages: first there was concern with issues such as pollution and pesticides (Rachel Carson) – but solutions were seen as local or national; nowadays there is more recognition of a global problem and a need for global action.
(ii) Ii is clear that industrialisation caused perhaps the first signs of serious environmental damage – and this arose from new technology of course, but also from a changed attitude to the relationship between man and nature (and I would argue that this is key, with the development of Francis Bacon’s attitude that nature is there to be conquered...). On the other hand Radkau (The Age of Ecology) argues that globalisation has caused the ‘deepest rupture’: as Stevens puts it: ‘glut has replaced scarcity as the main danger facing humanity. The insatiable exploitation of fossil-fuel and groundwater reserves, over-fertilisation of the soil, irreversible loss of land beneath asphalt and concrete, plastics clogging the oceans, mass tourism and air travel despoiling the shores and the skies – all this stems from a doomed attempt to generalize the expansionist American model, [which is] notoriously wasteful of space and resources...’
(ii) There have also been several changes in the broad theoretical justification for environmental protection: first there was a notion of ‘stewardship’ i.e. we were entrusted by the Creator to take care of his creation – and note the (to my mind) perversion of this in America, where ‘wild’ nature was to be protected from ‘sinful’ humankind – which meant that the first peoples had to be evicted from the ‘nature reserves’ (and put into their own ‘reserves’ of course...).
Later came an awareness that care for the environment was needed in order to protect ourselves – a utilitarian view. As suggested above, the damage to the environment is so widespread that it is affecting people. Everywhere – and this awareness is bringing about a movement.
Now, Goodin says, greens have a view involving a set of ecological values that are centred on nature for itself.
(iii) The movement is international: this is inevitable, it can be argued, because of the nature of the problem, especially of climate change/global warming - and because international organisations have now been involved (e.g. IPCC). Are international bodies such as the UN perhaps best able tackle the environmental crisis?
Some examples of the international dimension of the movement:
The first World Climate Conference was as long ago as 1979! (The functioning of greenhouse gases had been understood since 1896…). In 1990 the IPCC says climate change is a concern and human activities are likely to be involved. 1992 saw the Rio Earth Summit – The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is drawn up – the US, under Bush, refuses to sign. 1997: the Kyoto Protocol is signed by 141 countries, designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions. (Bush Junior opposes it). In 2002 the Larsen B ice shelf breaks up, dropping a piece of ice a quarter of the size of Northern Ireland into the Antarctic sea. In 2007 the IPCC and Al Gore share the Nobel Peace prize, and Al Gore’s film wins an Oscar.
4. What are the components of the movement?
(ii) pressure groups,
A pressure group – obviously – acts to put pressure on responsible bodies (government, business/industry) for a specific goal. They are usually single-issue groups. Some may be based on self interest (though a green group is not likely to be, because its members don’t necessarily benefit – for instance, green policies may lead to cuts in the standard of living - cf. below under anthropocentrism), many are altruistic. A pressure-group is not a (political) party – it does not (usually!) seek to get someone elected, and it does not have a manifesto covering a variety of issues. On the other hand, of course a pressure-group may turn into a political party, as has happened with a number of ‘green’ groups (e.g. Die Grünen).
(iii) NGOs: Non-Governmental Organisations: a broad term, used by the United Nations (where NGOs have representatives and can influence discussions).
The first of these date back to the 19th century, and they tend to be conservation-based, e.g.:
1865: the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society
1889: RSPB (now the largest conservation group in the UK – 400,000 members)
1892: Sierra Club (USA) to protect national parks...
1926: Council for the Protection of Rural England
WWF, WDCS – and many others.
More recently, more ‘specialized’ groups have been set up e.g. WDCS (whale and dolphin conservation), alliance to save the rainforests etc., as well as the (much) more militant Animal Liberation Front. The more extreme members of this group – and perhaps the movement as a whole – have been accused of putting animal lives before human lives.
The radical wing of the movement may well have joint activities with other groups e.g. over the Iraq war, nuclear weapons, or even poverty and human rights.
Green groups may also have interesting relationships/overlaps with other old-established groups and movements: National Anti-Vivisection Society (1875), the BUAV (1898, also against vivisection), and the League Against Cruel Sports (1924).
An early example of environmental action, based on protecting the right to ramble, was the Kinder Scout Mass trespass, 1932 - 2017 marks the 80th anniversary of the ‘illegal ramble’ on Kinder, an area of common land that had been taken over by wealthy landowners to cultivate grouse for shooting – the ‘trespassers’ were arrested and given jail sentences for riotous assembly!.
Worth mentioning as well are organisations such as Earth First (who have taken direct action to stop cutting down of trees and building of roads), Reclaim the Streets (formed out of the fight against the M11 extension and to defend Twyford Down). RTS has held ‘street parties’ to fight the ‘rule of the car’. FOE (see below) has got involved in these protests too.
Recently-formed organisations that have hit the headlines include: Climate Camp, and Climate Rush (the latter based on a suffragette tactic of ‘rushing’ on Parliament).
Two best-known organisations:
5. Greenpeace, formed in Vancouver, Canada, in 1971. Its British branch was set up in 1978, and International Greenpeace in 1979. Its key aim is to ‘bear witness’ to environmental abuses through non-violent direct action interventions. Its membership grew in a dramatic way up to 1995 when it had 5 million members, spread around over 32 countries. It now has offices in over 40 countries. Current membership/supporters 2.9 million. There are some 15,000 volunteers globally.
Does not accept money from corporations or governments.
Campaigns on world-wide issues: climate change, deforestation, over-fishing, commercial whaling, genetic engineering, nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
In the late ‘60s the US wanted to test (underground) an atom bomb on a peninsula in Alaska (Amchitka) and there were fears of earthquakes and/or tsunamis. In 1969 7,000 people blockaded a border in protest. Two Quaker members of the Sierra Club of Canada were involved, but the latter didn’t like the publicity given to the direct action plans, and this led to meetings which eventually established Greenpeace. There was one more test, of a bigger bomb, and a lot of protests after which the US decided not to test any more at Amchitka.
Later, a ship Greenpeace III sailed into the exclusion zone round Moruroa, where the French were testing their bomb. A member of the crew was badly beaten, which was then publicised, and the French stopped testing in the atmosphere.
In the ‘70s they disrupted whaling by getting between the harpoons and the whales.
Greenpeace aims to affect the views of governments and multinational companies, and has therefore also been involved in lobbying (some critics say this is making it into a more traditional, bureaucratic organisation). Has general consultative status with ECOSOC.
There is (has to be?!) a division between its ‘front-line activists’ and its wider membership, and the operations it undertakes have to be planned with almost military precision (and secrecy). This is especially true since the attack by the French secret services, who put a bomb on the ship Rainbow Warrior, leading to a photographer being killed – this was an attempt to stop Greenpeace demonstrating against French nuclear tests.
Its methods, including breaking the law, have been criticised – as has its stance on GM (over 100 Nobel laureates wrote an open letter asking it to end its campaign on this).
Effective protests include the boarding of the Brent Spar oil rig, 1995, leading to Shell abandoning the plan to ‘dump’ the rig at sea. Direct action has also been taken against coal power plants and shipments, and oil sand operations.
In 2007, after direct action at Kingsnorth power station six protesters were taken to court. David Cameron, Zac Goldsmith and James Hanson were witnesses – along with an Intuit leader from Greenland – to argue that climate change was a serious threat and the actions of the demonstrators were justified, on the grounds that preventing climate change provides a ‘lawful excuse’ for breaking the law...
In campaigning against nuclear power – especially after Fukushima and Chernobyl – they argue that it would only provide marginal reductions in CO2: an IEA scenario said that an increase from 2,608 TWh in 2007 to 9,857 by 2050, requiring 32 nuclear reactors per year being built until 2050, would only reduce greenhouse gases by less than 5%.
The main question raised by this organisation’s activities is whether it is right to be so non-democratic – it doesn’t believe that the winning round of public opinion will prevent serious environmental damage, and that this approach is too slow, especially to stop specific incidents – and maybe even to stop global warming?.
Tony Juniper was prominent in
It argues that there is an ecological debt owed by the rich countries to those they have exploited.
Its structure is decentralised, and non-hierarchical, but it aims to be professional in the sense of being well-informed about issues – so it carries out research, and has used the public enquiry system to oppose nuclear power stations, roads etc. It has produced alternative Bills and green papers to those promoted by government. Jonathan Porritt was director from 1984 – 1990, and at the same time advised Prince Charles on environmental issues.
Former director Tony Juniper (now senior associate at Cambridge University Programme for Industry - to improve sustainability - and works with the Prince’s Rainforest Project) has said: ‘Now, dealing with all the crunches – resource depletion, population growth, global warming and mass extinction of species – requires getting down into the fundamentals of the economy. It requires culture change… but it also needs political change.’ He supports the ‘Green New Deal’ (see later).
Policy: ‘Friends of the Earth exists to create a just world where people and nature thrive.’
It has policy position statements on:
- climate change adaptation
- cutting greenhouse gases
- democracy and devolution
- economic growth
- EU membership
- feeding the world
- GM crops
- Nuclear power
- Sustainable diets
See the footnote (*) for extracts from some of these policy statements.
Campaigns cover the following broad areas:
- climate change
- environmental justice (danger to farmers of rushed trade deal with US, refugees welcome, protesting murder of Honduran environmental activist, opposing plans to force fracking on communities, Nigerian farmers to sue Shell, danger of the privatisation of planning, Indonesian fires, human rights abuses, protesting open-cast mining in Wales)
- economics and resources (recycling coffee cups, renewable energy vs Hinkley, implications of leaving EU – beaches, wildlife and waste, for a ‘climate budget’, against solar cuts, TTIP
- nature (bees, leaking landfills danger if seas rise, Norway dumping toxic waste in its fjords
- land, food and water
Examples of campaigns:
The Food Chain Campaign (2009) – as £700 million
of taxpayers’ money props up factory farming in the UK through the EU CAP,
- trying to get agreement to reduce forest loss from agricultural expansion;
- making sure healthy food is provided in schools, prisons etc;
- researching sustainable farming;
- make UK supermarkets etc accountable for their environmental impact;
- ensuring greater priority is given to the environmental impacts of global trade.
Current campaigns: clean air, protecting bees, opposing fracking.
- reform of the World Bank to address environmental and human rights concerns,
- stopping more than 150 destructive dams and water projects worldwide,
- getting regulations on strip mines and oil tankers
- banning international whaling.
Tony Juniper identifies the main successes as:
Forest Stewardship Council labeling scheme, Countryside and Rights of Way Act
The Big Ask helped to lead to the Climate Change Act 2008.
Recent Successes (from www.foe.co.uk):
(i) The EU has agreed an historic commitment to halve food waste across Europe, following campaigning by Friends of the Earth supporters and others.
60,000 of you joined us and almost 50 other organisations to demand that countries across Europe commit to tackle the scandal of wasted food – and our voices were heard. For the first time ever, members of the European Union have formally pledged to try and cut their food waste by 50% by 2030, in line with global Sustainable Development Goals.
There are about 55 million people in food poverty in Europe – and the food wasted throughout the continent could feed them over 9 times over. Food poverty means people are not able to afford healthy, nutritious food, or can’t get the food they would like to eat.
(ii) Nature laws that protect our most precious places and wildlife have been saved – thanks to record-breaking public support.
The EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives – known as the nature laws – have been under close scrutiny, and under threat, for nearly two years. But now the European Commission has decided to keep the laws and set out an action plan to make sure they are used properly to protect and restore nature.
The nature laws protect some of our most precious natural places including Dartmoor, the North York Moors and Epping Forest.
The same laws have led to the recovery of iconic British species such as the bittern and red kite. And some rare bee species are now dependent on nature sites protected by these laws.
Conclusion: Byrne (1992) says that most environmentalists vote for the Green Party,
support Greenpeace, but join and participate in
Some extracts from FoE Policy positions:
1 Europe’s biofuel target could lead to up to 56 million tonnes of extra CO2 emissions per year, equivalent to 26 million additional cars on Europe’s roads, according to a report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP).
2 If the land used to produce biofuels for the EU in 2008 had been used to produce wheat and maize instead, it could have fed 127 million people for the entire year.
The EU must scrap its 2020 target for 10 per cent of all transport fuels to be biofuels.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change has developed a bioenergy carbon calculator (called BEAC). It shows that the burning of biomass is not carbon neutral because of changes to forest carbon stocks.
Adaptation to climate change:
1 The Committee on Climate Change says the UK Government needs to spend at least £500 million a year more on flood defences. Some 5 million homes are already at risk of flooding.
2 For every degree rise in the global temperature, rainfall intensity increases by 5-10%, causing more flash floods.
4 Without adaptation to climate change food yields could fall by 2% every year, yet demand will increase as the global population increases.
The World Meteorological Organisation has reported a 20% increase in lives lost due to extreme weather compared to just a decade ago.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that “People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally, or otherwise marginalised in society are often highly vulnerable to climate change” whereas “privileged members of society can benefit”.
Adopt resilient farming systems. Largescale, intensive farming practices are very vulnerable to climate change. We need to adopt more diverse agriculture systems that are more resilient and also provide important services such as carbon dioxide capture and flood protection.
3 The EU could benefit by €1.8 trillion if it developed a circular economy that reuses and recycles resources, as opposed to the traditional linear economy of make, use, and dispose.
Action is needed to:
Deal with advertising.
Design education for empathy.
Build ‘creative community activity’ for people to get their sense of identity, rather than having an identity according to what they consume.
2 Nobel Prize-winning economist,
Joseph Stiglitz says: “
We need to adjust our
priorities and use
Feeding the world:
1 Producing food on land uses 70% of all the fresh water that people consume. It uses 38% of available land and releases 19–29% of all manmade greenhouse gases.
2 A third of the world’s soil is already moderately to highly degraded. This is because of soil erosion, loss of nutrients, changes in the acidity of soil and water, urbanisation, and chemical pollution.
3 Fish provide more than 4 billion people with an important source of protein, but around a third of fisheries have collapsed because of over-fishing, and 40% are said to be over-exploited.
4 Healthier diets containing more plants, less meat and less junk food are more sustainable. If those of
us in wealthier countries reduced our meat consumption, we could feed several billion more people. A shift to healthier, low-meat diets in the UK could prevent 45,000 early deaths each year.
5 A small number of multinational corporations steer the world’s food industry. Just three companies control more than 50% of the global market for crop seed, and the four biggest supermarkets in the UK dominate 75%
of our food sales.
The world’s poorest people suffer most. Enough food is produced to feed everyone yet billions of people are still hungry. Small-scale farmers, who supply the bulk of the world’s food, struggle to compete in markets rigged to favour mass production, despite the damage it causes. Many small farmers are simply kicked off their land to make way for big business.
Protect ecosystems – We should not use land for industrial-style agriculture, and must better protect our oceans. In the UK many protected areas can co-exist with offshore wind farms, bringing a dual benefit.
Make our diets sustainable – We need to eat less meat and dairy. Globally meat consumption needs to halve and for wealthy countries like the UK, reductions of 80% are necessary. Fish we eat needs to come from sustainable fisheries.
Use ecological farming practices – Farming should be rich in diversity, protect soils, manage water sustainably and use natural fertiliser and pest control before chemical solutions. Farms must treat livestock humanely – intensive meat production is cruel and relies on using antibiotics that endanger our health.
Promote rights – The right to a healthy and sustainable diet should be enshrined in international and national laws and be a focus of global political action. Small-scale and subsistence farmers’ land rights must be protected from land grabs. Protecting the sexual and reproductive rights of women and ensuring all boys and girls go to school is also important and will slow population growth.
1 GM crops are typically designed for monoculture use, where industrial-scale farms grow a single crop over a large area. The GM crops that the industry and some politicians want to use in the UK are engineered to be tolerant to a specific herbicide, which will only affect competing weeds and in theory lead to increased crop yields. But in the USA, such crops have led to greater use of weed-killing herbicides, and herbicide-resistant weeds have emerged while crop yields have not increased. In other words, theoretical yield increases haven’t materialised.
2 The active ingredient in
Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, used on all its herbicide-tolerant GM crops, is
World Health Organisation’s cancer agency
3 The GM industry has promised new GM crop traits such as drought tolerance and nitrogen fixation. Politicians often cite these as reasons to support GM crop use, but these developments are still poorly understood and any crop is likely to be decades away from commercial use.
Meanwhile, improved conventional plant breeding technologies are increasingly making GM approaches redundant.
We should welcome advances in genetic knowledge and their potential for positive, beneficial change, for example in healthcare. Our understanding of genetics has helped us to make rapid progress in conventional plant breeding methods. However, we need to use our new knowledge cautiously – the more we learn, the more we realise how much we still do not know.
Feeding a predicted 9 billion people by 2050 requires a revolution in how we farm and how we eat, moving away from intensive farming towards more ecological approaches. We must resist the use of GM crops that come hand in hand with more chemicals, reduced wildlife and the continued degradation of our soils.
1 People worldwide are having fewer children. The populations of 43 developed countries and 32 developing countries are decreasing or set to decrease in size as fewer babies are being born to replace the numbers of people dying. These countries, which include China, account for almost half the world’s population.
2 Damaging carbon emissions have risen 15-fold in the past 100 years. But the world’s population increased by only 4 times in the same period. This shows we also need to look at how and why we consume, not just at population growth.
3 Data from all over the world shows the health of mothers and their babies has improved. It also shows that birth rates drop as a direct result of primary and secondary education.
4 More than 200 million women in the world want to avoid pregnancy but don’t have access to modern contraceptives, according to the United Nations. Many countries lack family planning services, and some cultures restrict women’s choices as part of male-dominated societies, marriages, and religions.