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The Origin of Environmental Ideologies Essay

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Updated: Oct 17th, 2021


Environmental politics is associated with the early ideologies of preservation and conservation of nature. The preservation of natural resources especially wilderness was the most significant in those days. Conservationism advocated for the restrained exploitation of resources for future use and development. This is the basis of ecologism. Thus this paper discusses the origin of environmental ideologies, the tension behind them, and the dilemmas in which the environmental groups are faced when advocating for environmental challenges.

Environmental Politics

Environment and politics are two different aspects by interrelated. His environment encompasses the nature in which people live and politics describe the policies of ruling elites. Political ideologies and environmental ideologies differ and are also similar in many aspects. When discussing environmental politics we look at the fundamental ideas that generated the current environmental behavior among societies(Carter 2007). The ideologies of environmental politics originated from early theories about such as the biblical theory and utilitarianism theory. Under utilitarian theory emphasizes that the actions should b judged depending on their effects such as pleasures and pain. The utilitarian concept defined that non-humans should receive the same treatment as humans. This is because they have the capacity to suffer and that they need to have a full life expectancy. Thus without sentience, there will be no interest in extending to them (Carter 2007).

This has brought about the moral extensions advocated by ideologies based on consciousness, sentience, and rationality. Contemporary environmental activities are based on early thinking in the environmental issues advocated by preservationists and conservationists. Hence the rise of animal liberalism championed the rights of the animal and supported vegetarianism.

Preservationist and conservationist movements of the early 19th and 20th centuries advocated for resource conservation and preservation. Resource conservation was mainly based on land management such as that wasteful exploitation should be avoided and sustainable use of resources by the entire society unlike to be used by few individuals. Similarly, the preservationist ideology argued that there should be reverence to nature such as wilderness and that nature should be preserved as it is.

The approaches advanced by conservationists and preservationists were anthropocentric of which preservationists viewed humans as having no value and that resources should be preserved without any disturbance but the conservationist argues that resources should conserve for future use and can be developed. Due to human population increase, several challenges have been posed by resource allocation. Policymakers have had to make necessary step s allocate resources to ever-increasing humans. The natural resources are limited and the conservation and preservation ideologies are challenged. This should be done to avoid the dangerous effect that may render life difficult. Human activity is characterized by a change in economic levels and social dimensions which are an effect of political ideology and pursuit. The limits in growth have acted as a catalyst in debates and discussions of political philosophy and justice from generation to generation.

This brings us to the action taken by environmental groups who call for sustainable utilization of natural resources. Political leaders have come up with ideologies and policies that are contrary to what academicians and environmental groups have advocated for. For instance, According to Carter (2007), one ex-environmentalist advanced the notion that what current environmentalist support for loss of natural biodiversity, and pollution as a result of lack of consideration to the environmental health is inaccurate, creates fear, and is unnecessary because the current situation of humankind survival is better than the past. People are living longer food is abundant and the environmental policies made are bad for good governance. This resulted in sharp criticism from an environmentalist who opposed the idea as misleading and dishonest.

In the current environmental movements, sustainable use of resources is advanced through the so-called green program. This is based on ecological ideology developed on preservation and conservation ideologies. Ecological principles are fundamental and distinct from earlier discourses of ecologism. The main principles include ecological responsibility, social justice, grassroots democracy, and non-violence.

Ecological responsibility is primary to a sustainable society that is capable to support the entire components. It reinforces the fact that for human society to survive economic, social, and political development must be self-sufficient. The principle of social justice is core to ecologism in that is environmental measures have a significant detrimental effect on social justice. The government of the time should be able to compensate the disadvantaged. This is due to the considering equity to all otherwise the benefit of sustainability will be compromised where poverty alleviation, decentralization, and democratization are not achieved. The cal for social justice is paramount for a sustainable society and that participatory democracy intertwined with decentralization and social justice are essential.

From this aspect, the ecologism ideology advocates for all citizens to participate which is ecological citizenship. Thus the support of citizens gives the next principle of grassroots democracy where citizens are educated and empowered to be aware of their responsibility toward actions and choices they make. This should be done at all levels of democracy which will affect the policies and social activity of the citizens (Doyle & McEachem 2001).

Political ideologies have been shaped by the cause of the green challenge. The ecologism principle has been re-conceptualized to deviate slightly from the anthropocentric concept and limits of growth ideas. Traditional political ideologies pursued individualism and materialism but the social order has shaped it to conservatism, liberalism, and authoritarianism. In contemporary society emerging social order of socialism, feminism and anarchism are preeminent (Brand 1999).

The relationship between ecologism, neo-liberalism, and conservationism has taken divergent views. Environmentalists have been accused of being doomsayers and devising regulatory measures that are contrary to free trade. The rise of market environmentalism reflects the extent of economic strife. The environmental problem of today is a result of a lack of enforceable and tradable property rights.

Liberalism condemns the environmentalist social justice principle based on equity. Conservative critics argue that environmentalist is radicals that disguise as socialist. The green power politics are dubbed as watermelons because they look green on the outside but red inside. However, there are similarities between conservatism and the green principle. Both have approaches based on enlightenment of ideas, rationality, and pre-industrial vision. They both respect stability and traditional approaches towards the environment and only change to occur at the organic level and gradually evolve to suit the situation (Paehlke 1996).

The green principle of precautionary dos not go well with conservatism values of radical and social experimentation. Conservatism sees human nature as less likely to change and cannot mutate but ecologist sees that it is possible to transform people to adapt to new nature principles.

Conservatism demand for the protection of the status quo whilst ecologist advocate for transformation in economic, political and social systems. Participatory approaches in democracy, egalitarian and nonviolence approaches have a divergent line of contention with the preference for the authoritative, hierarchical, and coercive nature of political order. Whereas conservation is silent in the lits of growth and climate value to humans (Connelly & Smith 2003).

Classical liberalism is incompatible with ecologism whereby liberalism is unable to appreciate nature as important. It has opposite views of holistic independence of nature where the individualistic approach is core. Liberalism advances notions of the free market and personal development which opposes the approach of ecologism that require state intervention where disadvantaged are oppressed, collective intervention for amicable solutions, and restraint in lifestyle. The political order has tried to devise a mechanism that can solve the divergent approaches through ecosocialism (Tranter 1996).

Authoritarianism has close links with ecologism although there have been arguments about the link with fascism. The Nazi ideas conflict with ecologism where authoritarian calls for survival tactics. But the emergence of ecologism was the direct opposite of authoritarianism (Cramer 1975).

Socialism and Marxism have a commitment to non-constraint economic growth as advanced by the socialist group in the soviet union. On the other hand, socialists condemn environmentalists as failures in criticizing capitalists as the prime cause of environmental degradation. They argue that environmentalists failed to protect wilderness when the middle class invaded the countryside. Although we have similarities between socialism and capitalism as both have enlightenment ideas to base their ideologies. This given rices to the ideologies of ecosocialism and ecofeminism in which the latter has the involvement of the female gender in ecological issues (Connelly & Smith 2003; Brand 1999 ).

Lastly, anarchism has been influenced by ecological concepts whereby it has adopted ecological principles in its ideologies. The anarchist has advanced grassroots democracy and formed extra-parliamentary organizations. The theory of anarchism has a correlation relationship with social ecology and ecocommunalism (Doyle 2000; Torgerson 1999). As a matter of fact, the grassroots movement has been formed as the voice of the people against the government. They play a crucial role in giving feedback to policymakers about the issue of concern to the public. These Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) movements have a special interest in wide areas of society’s needs such as environment, welfare, and social justice. In this case environmental groups, NGOs have advanced thinner causes and involvement with politics and receive public criticism. For instance, in Australia, the environmental groups include World Wide Fund for Nature Australia

(WWF-A), Human Society International (HSI), Queensland Conservation Council (QCC), Tasmanian Conservation Trust (TCT), Australian Conservation Fund (ACF), The Wilderness Society (TWS), and Greenpeace (Hamilton & Macintosh 2004; Prakash 2000).

These NGOs have been involved in championing the rights of environmental protection in Australia. The NGOs are expected to be independent of political independence because the public vests more trust in them more than the political class. They are supposed to be critical of bad environmental policies and educate the public about the dangers of certain policies. But there has not been true concern about the cause of action of some the environmental groups (Hirsch & Warren 1998).

According to Hamilton & Macintosh (2004), a section of the environmental groups have associated themselves closer to the government arm of the day. For instance, before 1996, ACF and TWS were closely linked with the federal labor government. After 1996, WWF-A, HSI, and QCC supported the Howard government (Mc Allister 1994).

WWF-A was involved in the drafting of the EPOBC Act of 1996 and when the Howard government took power WWF-A and associates were awarded government contracts to promote environmental policies among other environmental groups and the public. The revenue and expenditure of WWF -A rose significantly by over five times from the 1990s to 2003 (Mc Allister & Vowles 1994; Doyle & McEachem 2001). This was reverse to environmental groups that opposed the Howard government’s environmental policy. The public grants were skewed distributed in favor of pro-government policies NGOs.

In the same line, the government used the WWF-A name to get credit and promote environmental policies through a public press statement. On the contrary, critical NGOs were denied financial support, they were threatened, intimidated, and coerced to validate government policies. It is only in few cases that WWF-A has criticized the government such as the energy policy but has remained positive on government environmental policies (Doyle 2000; Crook & Pakulski 1995; Huston, P. 2002).

With these scenarios, the perception of Ngo’s independence has been jeopardized and has an effect on all other environmental groups with regard to where they receive financial support. The credibility and survival of such NGOs are subject to reduction from the public, followers, and supporters alike (McAllister & Vowles1994). However, it is possible for NGOs to operate independently from the influence of government if they stick to their core principles of independence, integrity, and charitable cause (Pattberg 2005; Fischer 2000; Kidner 2001).


This paper has discussed the origin of environmental politics. It is based on biblical and utilitarian theories. The ideas of major concepts in environmental politics and have been developed throughout the enlightenment ideas. Preservationism and conservatism are the foundation of modern environmental movements. Ecologism borrowed fundamental facts from conservationism and preservationism of which its four core principles of ecological responsibility, social justice, grassroots democracy, and nonviolence are based. The contemporary environmental group’s movement has an ideological relationship with ecologism. The political ideologies have been influenced by ecological ideology. Environmental groups have had a cordial and antagonistic relationship with the government policies to a varying degree. Some are losing their credibility and the trust of the public.


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