Environmentalism in the United States: An Evolving Perspective

Mary Snow, Western Kentucky University


The purpose of this study is to investigate environmentalism in the United States. The dimension of perspective receives considerable attention. The prevailing perspective by a society regarding the importance of the health of the natural world greatly influences the degree of support of environmental organizations, environmental policy, as well as the direction charted for the future of that society. The perspectives of the Native Americans and the dominant European cultures which arrived in North America are presented and contrasted. It is supposed that the perspective which prevails in the United States regarding the importance of the natural world is evolving. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Manifest Destiny and the American Industrial Revolution exacted a steep cost from the nation's natural resources. Previously perceived as "raw materials," today the unmanipulated environment is viewed in terms of its recreational, aesthetic, ecologic, and spiritual worth. This evolving perspective is demonstrated qualitativelythrough case studies featuring methods of sustainable agriculture, by an ecological restoration project, and by grassroots eco-poltical activism. The changing perspective is quantified by measuring the growth of some of the nation's leading environmental organizations. It is hypothesized that those organizations have experienced significant growth over the study period, or from 1980-1994. It is concluded that there has been phenomenal growth of the leading environmental organizations during the study period. The prevailing perspective by the citizens of the United States is indeed evolving toward a view that is more sustainable since the missions of the nation's leading environmental organizations are endorsed by the financiers of those organizations Environmentalists, now more than ever, must remain encouraged and vigilant in order to increase the chances that the newly evolved perspective will become policy. Increased participation in the political process is facilitated by the personal computer which allows both the monitoring of environmental voting records of the individual Members of Congress while making those legislators accessible by electronic mail systems. Finally, the optimal sustainable perspective is reflected in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Each step toward the ultimate environmental perspective indicates genuine progress for America.