Development of the envionmental movement

Influential persons and periods

In 1972 Anthony Downs developed the so-called 'Issue-Attention Cycle' (IAC) model (fig. 1). This model shows the five phases of public attention to an environmental problem: the pre-problem stage, the alarmed-discovery stage, the stage of realizing costs of progress, the decline of public interest and the post-problem stage.

Pre-problem stage – an unwanted environmental problem exists, but the public has not yet been notified of its existence. Experts and organizations are already discussing the problem.

Alarmed-discovery stage – the environmental problem receives media attention and is therefore noticed by the public. People start pressuring the government to solve the problem.

Stage of realizing costs of progress – the public now realizes that solving the problem will cost them money and the attention to the problem and possible solutions is increased. Actions include implementing (partial) solutions to the problem, such as new legislation.

Decline of public interest – the media will direct its attention to other topics and subsequently, public interest declines.

Post-problem phase – the solutions that have been implemented led to a certain degree of institutionalization, such as new legislation or new organizations.


Figure 1: the Issue-Attention Cycle

The IAC model has led to a description of the development of the environmental movement in three periods of raised environmental consciousness in the 20th century:

The first period of raised environmental consciousness began in 1900 and ended in 1910. the most influential environmentalists of that decade where the founders of the American Sierre Club and other environmental organizations.
In this period the central aim of the environmental movement was to achieve a high rate of environmental protection. There were no a-political movements or protest organizations that were anti-industrial or anti-capitalist. These organizations began to develop in the second period of raised environmental consciousness.

The second period of raised environmental consciousness started at the end of the 1960s and ended around 1973. It was the result of ‘Silent Spring’, the famous book by Rachel Carson published in 1962. In this book Carson discusses environmental and health problems caused by pesticides, among other things. The publication of the book resulted in a widespread criticism on modern-day industry and capitalism. The second period of raised environmental consciousness was mainly noticeable in industrialized countries.
In the middle-class small environmental organizations began to form, which were soon called NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations). Theories such as ‘Limits to Growth’ by the Club of Rome and ‘Small is Beautiful’ by Schumacher led to widespread environmental discussions.
Governments started introducing environmental legislation, such as the Clean Air Act. In 1972 the first environmental conference took place in Stockholm, Sweden.
The second period of raised environmental consciousness ended in 1973 when the oil crisis took place. Little money was left for environmental purposes after that.

The third period of raised environmental consciousness started in 1987 with the publication of the Brundtland report, titled ‘Our Common Future’, written for the United Nations by the Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. The report was about sustainability and sustainable production. According to this theory, environment and economy should develop simultaneously, causing a decrease in economic pressure on the environment.
Contrary to the second period of raised environmental consciousness, the third period involved developing countries in the process. International environmental policy was formulated.
In 1992 the UN-CED (United nations Conference on Environment and Development) was held, leading to the formulation of Agenda 21. The UN-FCCC (United Nations Conference on Climate Change) was also convened. Biodiversity became part of the international environmental agenda.
The third period of raised environmental consciousness ended in 1993, when the environment became less of a hot topic.

The periods of raised environmental consiousness become increasingly shorter. It is thought that increasing media dynamics causes this. The introduction of radio and television caused people to be informed of situation quicker. This caused media attention for environmental topics to become more and more brief.

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