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A Brief History of  Environmentalism

Environmentalism isn’t a product of the post-War era and most certainly isn’t limited to Europe and America. Though considered a new concern, an interest in the environment existed centuries before the modern age. Read on to learn a brief history about this fascinating and consistently current theory!

9th – 13th centuries: Arabic medical scholars produced many works that are related now to the environmental sciences: pollution, solid contamination and environmental impact assessments.

14th century: In 1388, the English Parliament forbade the disposal of garbage into waterways while the city of Cambridge passed the country’s first urban sanitary laws.

16th century: In 1500, zoos were opened in many Indian cities by Akbar the Great that were large reserves and spacious enclosures outdoing any European menageries. From 1560, The Industrial Revolution in England caused mass deforestation and the unprecedented burning of fossil fuels.

17th century: In 1640, the Mauritius Dodo became extinct due to hunting and new predators to the island (cats, dogs and rats). The Dodo became an icon in animal extinction. In the mid-17th century, the Little Ice Age was a period of cold weather, rebellions and wars where advancing glaciers wiped out villages and famines killed millions of people. This is a primary historical example of the catastrophes caused by climate change.

Flickr | CIFOR

A global awareness of environmental issues was only established after a period of exploration and colonialism. The intensive activities carried out by imperial traders and settlers in early island colonies were unsustainable and instigated thought about finite resources and conservation.

18th century: In 1720, hundreds of Hindus in India died trying to protect trees from the Maharaja who required fuelwood to produce cement for his palace. This event could be the origins of the Chipko movement.

19th century: In 1820, the world population reached 1 billion. In 1862, John Ruskin published the effects of unrestricted industrial expansion on humans and the natural world. In 1864, George Marsh published ‘The Earth as Modified by Human Action’ – the first analysis of anthropogenic environmental destruction that kick-starting the conservation movement. In 1895, the Stockholm Physical Society addressed ‘the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground’ which was the first scientific work concerning CO2 emissions.

Flickr | Joe Brusky20th century: Between 1903 and 1909, US President Roosevelt created the first National Bird Preserve in Florida and convened the North American Conservation Conference in Washington DC. In 1961, the WWF was registered in Switzerland. Ten years later, Greenpeace was founded in Canada. In 1992, the UN Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro which included a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (later amended as the Kyoto Protocol), an international Convention on Biological Diversity and World Oceans Day. In 1999, the world population reached 6 billion.

21st century: In 2003, the 'Black October' massacre in Bolivia over natural gas development sentenced many government officials and military officers to imprisonment. In 2010, The Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico and in 2011, the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan highlighted the dangers of oil extraction and nuclear energy as an alternative fuel to stave off climate change. In 2012, the UN climate talks in Qatar closes with general acceptance that rich nations must compensate poor nations for climate losses.

As you can see, the strain of environmental thought dates as early as the Arab and Mogul empires where the discipline was in its early stages. Only after European colonisation did environmentalism enter mainstream discourses and establish itself as a major consideration in economic development. But is it a primary focus in 21st century policy making? Let us know you opinion in the comments.

By Anaka Nair - Online Journalism Intern

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