Environmentalism and the Enhancement of the Public Sphere

The argument that politics, or democracy more specifically, has been bolstered by the rise of environmental concerns from the 1960s onwards, is not novel herein. Although most commentators place the rise of environmentalism as a political concern starting in 1962 with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the heritage of environmental activism across numerous histories significantly predates Carson’s work. One example that this particular discourse usually leaves out is the activism of indigenous peoples who have, depending on which case we look to, been public advocates for the care of natural environments. An arbitrarily chosen case comes from Brian Schofield’s book entitled Selling Your Father’s Bones. In this work about the Nimi’ipuu (or Nez Percé/e) Nation which used to call parts of what are now the illegitimate territories of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming home, we find the individual Hinmahtooyahlatkekt (colloquially known as Young Joseph or more problematically as Chief Joseph).

He campaigned in the late 1800s and very early 1900s (died in 1904) for the preservation of natural environments for which the Nimi’ipuu and other close-by Nations carefully tended for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  But, a counter-argument to that point is that the mainstreaming of environmental activism in what is now known as North America and Europe for example did not pick up the attention it now has until popular works like Silent Spring began affecting broader publics. I, however, do reason that sustained indigenous and non-indigenous environmental activism over generations before 1962 have greatly helped in this regard. Wherever its origins have sprung – environmental activism is now undeniably a global political movement. And this movement, or concern with environments (places of ‘wilderness’, ‘wildlife’, ‘nature’, and so on), has most probably driven a large swathe of individuals into this kind of political and democratic participation.

Published in Political Reflection Magazine Vol. 3 No. 4


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