environmentalism

   Environmentalism has developed from the 1960s as both an extensive body of thought and an important cultural and political movement in Britain. Philosophically, its roots can be traced to aspects of eastern and Presocratic thought, while medieval doctrines can be seen as an important basis for many elements of contemporary ‘green’ theory. There exists a spectrum of environmentalist thought ranging from the ‘deep’ to the ‘shallow’, with the former representing the most radical strands of ecocentrism. Environmentalism has had a significant impact on British and other (predominantly western) value systems, previously premised upon technocentric and anthropocentric assumptions and underpinned by cornucopian images of the natural world as a source of great riches to be freely exploited by humankind. The impact of environmentalism on contemporary cultural movements in Britain and elsewhere is apparent. The postmodernist movement (see postmodernism) has highlighted the significance of New Age values and lifestyles and has incorporated the concept of ‘ecological crisis’ into its critique of the philosophy, social theory, art, architecture and literature associated with the Enlightenment. In addition, essentialist feminists have connected ancient images of the earth as ‘goddess’ and giver of life to current images of women and female values as a counterposition to the aggressive, competitive and destructive values associated with men, militarism and the industrial age.
   Beyond its philosophical and intellectual impact, environmentalism has contributed to changes at the level of cultural practice and symbolism. The British Green movement encapsulates the full spectrum of environmentalist thought ranging from radical and often high-profile groups dealing in ‘direct action’ such as the ‘sabs’ (hunt saboteurs) and other animal rights activists to the stereotypically ‘middle-class’ conservation groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and a host of other such mainstream organizations.
   The British Green Party has had less of an electoral impact than some of its sister parties in continental Europe, although environmental pressure groups have played their part in the growth of cause-oriented and often class-dealigned politics in Britain. Green consumerism has also been a very visible byproduct of the widespread impact of environmentalist ideas, representing an attempt to introduce the notion of sustainability into a changing marketplace. The current concern with ‘sustainable cities’ reflects the impact of environmentalism on the architectural and urban planning professions with a clear shift apparent in the form, aesthetic values and materials used in many major British cities.
   Further reading
    Pearce, D., Markandya, A. and Barbier, E.B. (1989) Blueprint for a Green Economy, London: Earthscan.
   DAVE EGAN

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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