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Date: 2022
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 689 words
Content Level: (Level 3)
Lexile Measure: 1040L

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Adolescents Planting Trees Adolescents working in a volunteer group plant trees. Adolescents working in a volunteer group plant trees. Dmytro Zinkevych/

Environmentalism is a social movement that works to protect the natural environment. This includes the plants, animals, and non-living matter that naturally occur in an area. As humans have spread throughout the world and as industry has advanced, the natural environment has been badly damaged. Human actions have caused countless species to go extinct, and have drastically changed the landscape of many regions. To combat this, environmentalist organizations work to raise awareness of the dangers that the natural world faces. They also lobby the government to draft laws and regulations that protect the environment from future damage.

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Fast Facts

  • One of the most efficient ways to reduce environmental waste is to recycle metals, plastics, and paper products.
  • Many of Earth’s rainforests are being rapidly destroyed to clear land for farming.
  • Global populations of fish have severely declined in the last century.

History of Environmentalism

Humans have been aware of their relationship with the environment since before the beginning of recorded history. Some cultures had a detrimental impact on their environment, causing other species to go extinct. However, other cultures protected their environments. Many ancient texts show a strong appreciation for nature.

Despite a strong appreciation for the natural world, humans throughout history did not understand the true scale of their impact on Earth. During the eighteenth century, public awareness about pollution and other forms of environmental damage began to grow. The famous inventor and statesman Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) petitioned Philadelphia businesses to stop damaging air quality within the city. During the early nineteenth century, the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) encouraged governments to preserve the wilderness for future generations by limiting human expansion. Additionally, many scientists of the era worked to preserve the natural world by ensuring the survival of wild plants and animals.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, John Muir (1838–1914) founded the Sierra Club, an early organization dedicated to the protection of the natural environment. Throughout the twentieth century, the field of ecology rapidly developed. Soon, organizations across the world pushed for the protection of nature. This led to the creation of many environmental protection laws. However, modern activists believe that further action is needed to protect Earth from pollution. They continue to work to protect the natural world from humanity.

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Connections: Global Climate Change

Many modern human activities, such as driving vehicles with combustion engines and running factories, produce greenhouse gasses. When released into the atmosphere, these gases cause Earth to warm at an accelerated rate. Though the planet goes through natural warming and cooling cycles, this process is occurring faster than ever before. Warming has caused severe weather patterns and the melting of the global ice caps. This is causing environments to rapidly shift. Scientists warn that if global climate change is not quickly corrected, it may cause a mass extinction of plants and animals.

What Is Environmentalism?

Environmentalism is a specialized social movement. It deals with interactions between humanity and the natural world. In many ways, the advancement and spread of humanity has harmed the natural environment. As humans required more land, they cut down forests, altered the landscape, and hunted more animals. This caused many species of plants and animals to go extinct.

Additionally, as humans advanced technologically, humanity’s developments released more pollutants into the air, earth, and water. For example, the combustion engines that power most cars release pollutants into the air. These pollutants are a large portion of the smog that is found surrounding many large cities. For these reasons, environmentalism seeks to preserve that natural environment.

Environmentalists believe that without intervention, many of these habitats will continue to be destroyed. Because of this, they campaign for laws supporting the protection and maintenance of native plants and animals. This may mean funding national parks and forests, restricting human settlement in natural areas, or passing laws that harshly punish industries that heavily pollute. It is important to note that environmentalists do not simply raise awareness of the beauty and importance of the natural world. They also pursue actionable change on behalf of the environment.

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Words to Know

The process of burning something.
Economic activity that involves the processing of raw materials into goods.
social movement
A campaign in support of a social goal.

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|EIFUVG025564869