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Clashing Environmentalists

Environmentalists all have the same end goal in mind: to save planet earth and sustain the environment that nourishes all biological life. However, just as in all fields, there are varying viewpoints regarding the most efficient method of achieving sustainability. According to the Paths text, most environmentalists can be categorized into four broad categories: Market Liberal, Bioenvironmentalist, Social Green, and Institutionalist. These are by no means harsh categories, most people tend to be a mixture of two of the categories.

240px-Sustainable_development.svgMarket Liberals are the economists. They see economic development as a key driver to environmental sustainability. They believe thoroughly that many of the Earth’s resources are limitless and that scientific and technological developments will be the main savior for the environment without needing humans to conserve their consumption patterns. As a society progresses economically, more attention and money can be put into improving the environment. This mindset often finds its logic in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; in order for people to satisfy their initial needs of safety, food security, and love, one needs a certain level of financial security.  As this level increases, what people’s desires expand. Only after a certain income is reached are 220px-Yangzhou_-_industrial_area_west_of_Wenfeng_Temple_-_P1130239people able to desire and demand a cleaner environment.

This logic is supported by the Environmental Kuznet’s Curve, a relationship between the average income per capita and the amount of a pollutant in nature. Pollution can be proportional to socioeconomic class depending on the income bracket considered; as incomes in an area increase, the amount of the pollutant there also increases.  Then a threshold income is reached, at which point the pattern in this new income bracket reverses and the amount of the pollutant begins to decrease and the income increases. This pattern is supported for most major pollutants, with the exception of carbon dioxide. As global warming is caused by such green house gases as carbon dioxide, many environmentalists question this method of thinking.

The most opposed would be bioenvironmentalists, who believe that the earth’s resources are limited and that humans must change their consumption and population habits in order to maintain the natural environment. Many believe it is already too late to return it to its original state, arguing that the best that can be done is to sustain the current environment.

On another spectrum are the social greens.  These people believe in a grass roots method to environmental sustainability. Many developing countries have horrible environmental problems as they have yet to go through a industrial era. By working within communities, and starting both social and environmental change at the lowest levels, this ideology hopes that change will gradually work its way to the hierarchy of governments and influence global environmental policy.

The institutionalists are more like moderates and find themselves in the middle of these principles.  They believe that the best way to achieve sustainability is through global policy changes that will influence both developed and developing nations. They look for routes that are more universally accepted. They do not directly interact with the environment, rather they look at policy changes as the best solution.

Each of these opinions is just as valid as others; they are all logical ways to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly earth.  However, many roadblocks are reached when environmentalists of different mindsets interact. It takes a great deal of work and willingness to understand different viewpoints and the logic behind the opinion.  Unless environmentalists can come together to deliver a plan that appeals to all points of view, the stagnant environmental situation we are in will continue.

To learn more about the varying viewpoints of environmentalists please see “Paths to a Green World” by Jennifer Clapp and Peter Dauvergne.

Jennifer Clapp and Peter Dauvergne. “Paths to a Green World.” MIT Press: 2011

Edited by: Ruby Halfacre and Shreya Singireddy