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Environmentalism: 19th and 20th Century Environmentalists

Environmentalism: 19th and 20th Century Environmentalists

Author: Jensen Morgan

Recognize the contributions of 19th and 20th-century environmentalists.

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Video Transcription

Hi, I'm Jensen Morgan. We're going to talk about some great concepts in environmental science. Today's topic is environmentalism. So let's get started. We're going to talk about the difference between environmentalism and environmental science.

We're going to do an overview of the history of environmental writings and figures, and finish up with a discussion of environmental organizations. There's a distinct difference between environmentalism and environmental science. All scientific disciplines have a goal of objectivity, and environmental science seeks to do so in its study of humans and the relationship with the natural world.

Environmentalism takes what environmental science discovers, and makes a subjective appraisal of the goodness or badness of those interactions. Environmentalism is essentially an ethical movement evaluating how humans impact or are impacted by the natural world. In the end, environmentalists often use environmental scientists findings in their arguments. But that does not mean that every environmental scientist is an environmentalist.

I'll provide you with an example of a single topic and how each group might approach it. Environmental scientists might say that the US population makes up about 5% of the world total and produces approximately 19% of global greenhouse gas emissions as of 2008. An environmentalist might say the US only makes up 5% of the world's population as of 2008, yet produces almost 1/5 of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is a problem that needs to change.

Another example would be on the environmental scientist saying fossil fuels used for electricity generation accounts for about 38% of carbon dioxide emissions in 2012. While an environmentalists might say, we must reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from its current level by 25%.

The modern US environmental movement was largely inspired by written works in the 19th and 20th century by authors who are concerned with human impacts on the environment. For example, in 1798 Thomas Malthus wrote an essay on the principles of population. He warned of famine and disease caused by overpopulation.

Henry David Thoreau lived from 1817 to 1862, and is thought of as one of the founders of the modern environmental movement. He sought to address many environmental issues, advocating in particular for wildlife areas to be protected. 1838 to 1914 spanned the life of John Muir, who is author and founder of the still present Sierra Club. Muir was an environmentalist to argue that the environment had inherent value beyond human use and advocated for its protection.

Gifford Pinchot lived from 1865 to 1946 and was the first chief of the US Forest System. He advocated for environmental management to protect humans' use of it into the future. He called for efficient and sustainable extraction and use of resources.

In 1949, Aldo Leopold published A Sand County Almanac, which was a collection of nonfiction essays arguing that humans must protect the natural world as a system, not just as individual parts. He said that humans are a part of what would eventually be called ecology, and must protect it for their own survival as well as for ethical reasons.

Rachel Carson published A Silent Spring in 1962, attempting to generate awareness around the negative environmental impacts of agricultural chemicals. It spurred a national environmental movement, and led to laws regulating the use of agricultural chemicals.

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich wrote A Population Bomb. In it he discussed the potential impacts of population growth such as food shortages, war, disease, and environmental damages. EO Wilson produced book On Human Nature in 1979. He loved to study the interaction between living beings, including humans. And in doing so, he bridged the gap between biology and social sciences by examining societies from an evolutionary standpoint.

Throughout the 1960s, a national environmental grassroots movement grew. And by April 22nd 1970, the first annual Earth Day was announced in the US, and has been celebrated ever since.

Environmental organizations are typically formed to design or implement environmental initiatives, or to advocate and promote a particular cause. They tend to focus on protection, research, and policy on a wide range of environmental issues. An example of such an organization would be the Nature Conservancy, which is a nationwide US non-profit dedicated to protecting wilderness areas and natural life. Another organization,, is an international organization dedicated slowing climate change worldwide.

Environmental organizations appear at every scale. The PROUT Institute is an organization in Eugene, Oregon focused on various socioeconomic and environmental issues at the neighborhood level. Heal the Bay is a regional organization based in Santa Monica, which is trying to protect and restore the health of the bay's ecology.

The Sierra Club is a national scale environmental organization attempting to protect the planet within many arenas. The World Green Building Council is an international organization trying to promote green building practices worldwide. Environmental organizations vary in approaches using tactics such as research, creating awareness, education, lobbying policymakers, funding projects, protesting, and even extreme acts of personal harm and/or property damage.

Now let's have a recap. Today we talked about environmentalism and its difference from environmental science. We talked about a brief history of environmentalists authors, as well as various environmental organizations. Well, that's all for this tutorial. I look forward to next time. Bye.