In this article, You will read Environmentalism – Human Geography for UPSC (Geography Optional).

It is an offshoot of Welfare Geography where many of the problems were related to environmental issues such as human impact, global ecological issues, etc. Welfare Geography focuses on issues relevant to Society and for the welfare of human beings.

Eventually, environmentalism also became radical & came under the influence of Radical Geography. Environmentalism refers to the movement on issues related to Environment – about environmental protection, particularly the consequences & causes of the harmful impact of man on the environment.

The debate of the man-environment relationship, its causes, and consequences has always been a theme in Geography & it was natural that geography should move towards assessing & dealing with the problems related to the environment.


Environmentalism, the political and ethical movement that seeks to improve and protect the quality of the natural environment through changes to environmentally harmful human activities; through the adoption of forms of political, economic, and social organization that are thought to be necessary for, or at least conducive to, the benign treatment of the environment by humans; and through a reassessment of humanity’s relationship with nature.

It advocates for the discussion of environmental statutes and regulations, including international conventions and also environmental Law.

Environmental thought and the various branches of the environmental movement are often classified into two intellectual camps:

  • those that are considered anthropocentric, or “human-centred,” in orientation,
  • and those considered biocentric, or “life-centred.”

This division has been described in other terminology as “shallow” ecology versus “deep” ecology and as “technocentrism” versus “ecocentrism.”

Anthropocentric approaches focus mainly on the negative effects that environmental degradation has on human beings and their interests, including their interests in health, recreation, and quality of life.

Thinkers & Works related to Environmentalism

  • The American Association of Geographers (AAG) in the 1970s set up a commission as a part of a Government initiative to study environmental issues & to promote environmental education.
  • It also sponsored a task force to deal with issues related to environmental quality.
  • The works could be broadly classified under 2 heads –
    1. The traditional geographical approach of description & analysis on the problems of the environment and the study of man’s impact was extensively documented
    2. The issues of environmental management where the emphasis was on dealing with the causes & suggesting societal responses on how to deal with environmental hazards. This was a trend popularized by O’RIORDAN
  • O’ Riordan identified 2 types of approaches which were more like public debates in dealing with environmental issues
  • Thinkers like Paul Ehrlich (wrote a book – “Population Bomb”) who believed that the primary reason for all environment problem had its roots in the Population increase.
    • e.g. Pollution in Urban Areas is attributed to large population growth, Ganga and Yamuna rivers are polluted in Plains due to high population density, etc
  • He promoted the concept of Zero Population Growth (Stabilisation of Population)
  • Ehrlich’s Concepts have their roots in Malthusian ideas & he is considered a Neo-Malthusian
  • Malthusian theory focusses on population stabilization and achievement of the optimum population which is in sync with the resources available
  • Thinkers like COMMONERS who believed that the problems lies in technological advancements, exploitative economic systems that have caused depletion of Natural Resources & Pollution
    • e.g. Fossil Fuels cause pollution, deforestation, etc
  • Both the above approaches have strong geographical relevance and were taken up during the social relevance phase
  • Environmentalism became a trend because of 2 monumental works –
    1. RACHEL CARSON’s book “The Silent Springs” that detailed the effect of pesticides & insecticides in Agriculture
    2. The Limits to Growth published in 1972 by The Club of Rome headed by DANIS MIDDOWS, as unsustainable growth will have a negative impact on the environment
  • In the US, the History of Environmentalism is even older & some trace it to GIFFORD PINSHET & GEORGE PERKINMARSH (as early as the 1860s)
  • According to O’ Riordon, Environmentalism encompasses a wide range of ideas & practices.

Forms of Environmentalism

Broadly, there are 2 forms of Environmentalism

  1. ECOCENTERISM, where the solutions are focussed around ecological initiatives
    • In many ways, it includes the concept of Sustainable development
      • e.g. eco-tourism follows the eco-centric approach
    • The concept of Man’s adaptation within the limits of the environment is the central theme
      • e.g. The School of Gaianism which believes that earth is a self-contained, self-adjusted system like a living organism and can act as a self-regulating entity. It always strives for balance and the consequences may not always be conducive for human survival i.e. Earth – the Gaia, will survive but not necessarily the human species if Gaia readjusts itself
  2. TECHNOCENTRISM is an approach that seeks a solution in Technological & Scientific options
    • It believes that all human problems can be addressed by innovations & scientific interventions
      • e.g. BS emission standards
    • This is the Neo-Classical approach that believes in the maxim that “Necessity is the mother of Invention”
      • e.g. Svalbard Global Seed Vault aims to preserve genes to prevent them from extinction.

Today, almost all environmental-based interventions, environmental planning & even those related to disaster management have a mix of ecocentrism & Technocentrism approaches.

  • e.g. Biodiversity Conservation can focus on Biosphere Reserves (ecocentrism approach) and Population management through Radio collars, Artificial Breeding (Technocentrism Approach).

Environmental Movement

The world’s first green parties—the Values Party, a nationally based party in New Zealand, and the United Tasmania Group, organized in the Australian state of Tasmania—were founded in the early 1970s. 

The first explicitly green member of a national legislature was elected in Switzerland in 1979;

By the late 1980s, environmentalism had become a global as well as a national political force. Some environmental non-governmental organizations (e.g., Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the World Wildlife Fund) established a significant international presence, with offices throughout the world and centralized international headquarters to coordinate lobbying campaigns and to serve as campaign centers and information clearinghouses for their national affiliate organizations. 

  • Although a small number of bilateral and multilateral international environmental agreements were in force before the 1960s, since the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm,
  • The changing nature of the public debate on the environment was reflected also in the organization of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which was attended by some 180 countries and various business groups, nongovernmental organizations, and the media.

Kyoto protocol, SDGs, and Paris Agreement are the result of this movement. In India Green Plant, Green City, Eco-tourism, EIA, and like this other environmental friendly schemes came into effect after Environmentalism

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Mohammad Faheem