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The question of the relations between man in society and the geographical environment in which he lives is a very old one. Hippocrates (fifth century B.C.) wrote a treatise, “On Airs, Waters, and Places,” which is generally regarded as the first formed expression of an environmentalist doctrine, although in view of the limited data available to him it is not appropriate to regard this as a statement sufficiently definitive for a serious critique of environmentalism, as Toynbee does (1934). Environmental considerations, especially climatic ones, play a considerable role in Montesquieu (1748) and perhaps reached their peak in the mid-nineteenth century, with Victor Cousin’s “give me the [physical] map of a country … and I pledge myself to tell you, a priori, … what part that country will play in history, not by accident, but of necessity; not at one epoch, but in all epochs” (quoted in Febvre [1922] 1925, p. 10). Such extreme necessitarianism could hardly go unchallenged, and the first serious attack on geographical determinism is associated with the name of Paul Vidal de la Blache, who about the turn of the century became in effect the founder of an opposed doctrine known as “possibilism.”

Possibilist doctrine is perhaps best, or at least most characteristically, summed up in a dictum of Lucien Febvre ([1922] 1925, p. 235): “There are nowhere necessities, but everywhere possibilities; and man, as master of the possibilities, is the judge of their use.” A protest against crude predestinar-ianism was certainly in order; but Vidal’s own qualifications are perhaps not always faithfully mirrored by his disciples, and Febvre’s epigrammatic statements distracted attention from the real task of assessing the probabilities posed by the indisputable fact that the possibilities are distributed over the face of the earth with great inequality. This has recently been elegantly demonstrated by Lukermann (1965). It is also, perhaps, insufflciently noted that French possibilism was itself to some extent determined by a reaction to what we would now call an expansionist Geopolitik, expressed in Friedrich Ratzel’s Politische Geographic of 1897 (Febvre 1922; cf. Spate 1957).

Be that as it may, the French school of geography, particularly noted for its meticulous and luminous style of regional description, was by that very technique often able, quite plausibly, to evade the issue, while more general works, such as those of Brunhes (1910) and Vallaux (1911), tempered possibilism by some allowance for the “influences,” although not the “controls,” exercised by the physical environment. In Germany, also, the broad strokes of Ratzelian anthropogeography were gradually succeeded by the more subtle chorographic analyses of Landschaft, and already in 1907 Alfred Hettner had arrived at a formulation not dissimilar from Febvre’s (cf. Hartshorne 1939, p. 123).

In English-speaking countries the evolution was different. With the popularization, or (in both senses) vulgarization, of Ratzel’s basically deter-minist outlook by Semple’s Influences of Geographic Environment (1911), a somewhat naive view of environmental “controls” became paramount among geographers in the United States and Britain, and this is what is generally known as “environmentalism.” Another powerful influence was that of Ellsworth Huntington, whose numerous works attached a preponderating role to broad climatic factors. But the antienvironmentalist reaction, if much later than in France and Germany, was all the more complete. To some extent both the acceptance and the reaction stemmed from a rather uncritical empiricism, and this was especially notable in Britain. While in Britain possibilism in its purest form held undisputed sway in the 1930s, in the United States environmentalism was not so much negated as simply sidetracked. There were indeed plenty of overt rejections (Sauer 1925; Platt 1948—an extremist case), but on the whole the emphasis was on geography as simply the study of areal differentiation. This, of course, has clear analogues with the German development, and Hettner in particular was a strong influence, especially through the comprehensive methodologic study of Richard Hartshorne (1939). In Britain there was no comparable searching out of fundamentals, and indeed possibilism fitted well into a rather superficial and characteristically “English” empirical distrust of theory. The qualifications, subtle and unstressed but nonetheless significant, of the French school were ignored, and geography became in effect an entirely idiographic study in which it would be indecent to draw conclusions. There were, of course, heretics: in the United States, Peattie (1940); in Britain, Markham (1942); but they had no effect.

The old view of geography as primarily a study of man-environment relations is now outmoded, and it is probable that a reasonable consensus would be found in favor of Hartshorne’s formulation (1959, p. 21): “accurate, orderly, and rational description and interpretation of the variable character of the earth surface.” However, relationships vary with the distribution of the phenomena that are in relation, and provided that we do not prejudge the issue by insisting that they are confined to those between man and natural environment or are one-way only, there is still ample scope for the examination of environmental problems. It is not, as Toynbee says (1961, p. 635), modern arrogance, but humility in face of data still inadequate, which refuses to take his refutation of Hippocrates as a final judgment. Moreover, while it may be true that external demands (as from history and sociology) for environmental assessments may represent a hangover from days when geographers were all too ready with crude causal explanations (and they got the habit from historians), it yet remains true that very often historical, sociological, economic, anthropological, political, and even religious and aesthetic phenomena cannot be properly comprehended without careful attention to environmental considerations.

Thus, the question is by no means so decisively closed, in an antienvironmentalist sense, as it seemed two or three decades ago; and as we shall see, it has taken on an entirely new aspect with the application of new techniques to geographical inquiry. While there have always been individual divergences from the general trend and, not infrequently, internal inconsistencies in the work of individuals, whether styling themselves environmentalists or possibilists, the question (as in many controversies) has been bedeviled by the assumption by both sides of a too rigid dichotomy. Whether tenable in strict logic or not, a more balanced probabilistic hypothesis seems warranted. This seems avoidable only if, as Hartshorne hints (1959, p. 55), we altogether abandon any distinction between man and nature; and this repudiation, dubiously metaphysical as it is, in practice seems impossible to maintain (Spate 1963a, pp. 255-259). In practice, except on an absurdly mechanistic plane, it is impossible to hold that all man’s activities are absolutely conditioned or determined by his natural environment, even if we resort to intricate rationalizations as to its expression through social institutions. But it is absurd, also, to take Febvre’s dictum at face value and so slide into the position of ignoring the fact that possibilities vary greatly from milieu to milieu and, hence, in any given milieu are in fact limited. One may in a sense overcome this by saying that anything is possible anywhere if only one is willing to pay the price; but then, paying the price is itself a compelled adjustment to the environment. The flight from “controls” into a denial of “influences” takes us nowhere; or, if anywhere, into solipsism.

A reaction against possibilism became apparent around 1950. It avoided the crudity of the earlier concept of environmental control, as well as the dead end of possibilism, by stressing in any given situation the balance of probability, as, of course, both environmentalists and possibilists had often done in practice without admitting it. Some signs of rapprochement are found even in contributions avowedly committed to one side or the other (Tat-ham 1951; Taylor 1951). Perhaps the first really vigorous reassertion of geographic determinism was that of Martin (1952).

This newer and more cautious environmentalism gives more play to social factors than did the old. It recognizes that the geographical environment is only a part of the total environment and allows for the modifications of environment introduced by human activity; geographical influences act through society, and cultural tradition has a certain autonomous and reciprocal effect. Strands of causation may therefore be extremely subtle, and dogmatism is avoided. At the same time, it is firmly held that there is a larger irreducible minimum of influence by the physical environment than possibilism allows for. Although the impact of this will vary with the converse impact of human technological levels, nevertheless there will always be at least the adjustment by price and very often a much more direct adjustment.

The mandates of the geographical milieu are, however, often more negative and permissive than positively imperative. Thus, a total of 200 frost-free nights does not enforce the growing of cotton but does permit it, and fewer frost-free nights inhibit it. Further, while in a given situation the general cast of development may be very strongly influenced or conditioned by geographical factors, the detail may be dependent on quite other factors. This introduces a margin-of-error concept and may be illustrated by the difference between the general location of a frontier zone or a communications node (given the existence of a society with these features), which may be fully conditioned by geography, and the precise siting of a boundary within the frontier zone or of a city near the node, which may depend on historical accident and which may, perhaps, in turn become a geographical factor in a new chain of relationships (Spate 1957).

This revival of methodological debate in geography owes much to the general increase in sophistication in the social sciences. This is perhaps more particularly true of the newer, quantitative approaches, but is by no means confined to them. It may fairly be said that the net result of the debate has been a material change in the general temper of geographical writing. If there has been no return to the compulsions of the older environmentalist school, as exemplified perhaps not so much in Ratzel himself as in Semple’s rendition of him in the Influences of Geographic Environment (1911), it is equally true that pure possibilism, in the Febvre version, seems also to be dead. Stimulating as a protest, it was in the long run stultifying. Perhaps its most valuable residuum is that, indirectly at least, it helped to break away from the static concept of environment as a once-and-for-all given thing in itself, and it raised the question, Environment for what? This, however, seems to have no necessary connection with a possibilist view, and it may indeed have gone too far in the direction of a metaphysical identification of man with nature. The newer, probabilistic approach in regional writing is more likely to draw conclusions of general import than possibilism did, or at any rate to draw them more consciously and responsibly.

The debate has not been entirely internal to geography. One factor was the interest aroused by Toynbee’s somewhat cavalier direct treatment of environmentalism and by the large if sometimes erratic importance he attached to it in such concepts as “the stimulus of New Ground” and the effects of a Volkenvanderung by sea (1934). Toynbee’s analyses are of great interest, although vitiated by unfamiliarity with the main current of geographical writing and lack of a sense of scale; but both negatively and positively he contributed to putting environmentalism on the map again. The environmental component in such studies as Wittfogel’s Oriental Despotism (1957) or, on a different scale, Sahlins’ Moala (1962) is obvious.

The new trend has not, of course, gone unchallenged. As has been noted, it places some stress on probability, and the almost accidental introduction of the rather clumsy term “probabilism” (for which this writer must regretfully accept responsibility) has naturally attracted some dialectical criticism. Important contributions to the debate are those of Montefiore and Williams (1955) and the Sprouts (1956; 1957; 1965).

The former appear to approach the problem from the standpoint of logical positivism. Their criticism of a too naive acceptance of cause and effect as the only way of looking at scientific explanation is acute and vigorous, and they end with calling a plague on both houses: “… there can be no further point in their continuing a dispute which has virtually no bearing on their activities as working geographers.” However, it may be suggested that this does not dispose of the issue. Belief does normally have some bearing on activity, and the dichotomy has been resurrected in a new (and, to some, alarming) fashion by quantifiers of the type of Warntz and Isard. The fundamentally important papers by the Sprouts include a very careful semantic analysis of hypotheses under the categories “environmental determinism,” “mild environmen-talism,” “environmental possibilism,” “environmental probabilism,” and “cognitive behaviorism.” They point out the logical residuum of environmentalist thinking implied in the possibilist approach and give at least a qualified blessing to probabilism; but it may be said that to a geographer their possibilism looks more like probabilism, and their probabilism seems in turn to hold a more predictive element than those who would not call themselves environmentalists tout court would allow.

The rise of applied and quantitative geography has in some respects given a new emphasis to environmental studies. One may instance Soviet geography, in which there is theoretically no problem : the laws of nature govern physical geography but are entirely separate from the social laws which govern man, and therefore there can be no unified geography (which is the essence of environmental-ism) but only physical and economic geographies. Practice, and large-scale planning do, however, compel very meticulous attention to environmental factors, and even “influences” are not altogether banned, as they are in pure possibilism (Spate 1963b). In practically all fields involving the physical application of technology, whether under Soviet or Western auspices, very careful attention to problems of the physical environment is essential, if only as part of estimating costs.

It is often stated that the impact of modern technology has minimized, even annihilated, the significance of the environmental factor. However, on analysis it will frequently appear that the role of the physical milieu, if less “brutal” than it may be for a primitive-subsistence society, is pervasive in a more subtle way. It may be theoretically possible to grow anything almost anywhere, at a price; but the effect of price itself, in alliance with modern communications, may well be not to widen the range of a given crop but to narrow it to the area physically best suited for it: witness the formerly wide and presently restricted extent of flax growing in Europe and cotton growing in India. Large-scale technical installations may often depend for their economic efficiency on a nice balance of environmental considerations.

The basic assumptions of the new, quantifying schools have strong determinist, if not mechanistic, overtones, as suggested by the very title “social physics” (Stewart & Warntz 1958). At the least, they are strongly probabilistic, as is well demonstrated by Burton (1963). They aim at being nomo-thetic rather than idiographic, as were possibilism and much of the work of the chorographic approach standard in the Hartshorne era. They avowedly seek out laws with a capital L, as did Semple (Dodd & Pitts 1959). They work largely in models, and a high degree of prediction is regarded as the ideal. A culmination of this attitude is that of Isard (1956) in his desire for a “true” set of regions suitable for all purposes. There is often a tendency, as in the concept of population potential (Stewart & Warntz 1958), to abstract all but one or two factors, considered determinative; but these, also, are considered as some sort of summing up of the essence of the total environment.

It cannot, therefore, be assumed, as it was only a few years ago, that the ancient debate regarding the role of environmental factors is played out. That role changes with every change in technology, but it also must enforce technological changes, if the full and effective deployment of technical potential is to be made possible. Nor would the conquest of space necessarily mean the supersession of environment; there may be other than terrestrial environments for man, and these will compel special adjustments, social and technical. Meanwhile, the study of environment on this earth is far from complete; and while claims that it would provide an all-embracing rationale of society are justly dead, its significance must always be reckoned with in such studies as anthropology, archeology, sociology, and political science, to say nothing of history, and it forms an essential bridge between these social studies and the natural sciences.

O. H. K. Spate

[See the entries listed underGEOGRAPHY. See alsoREGIONAL SCIENCEand the biographies ofFEBVRE; HETTNER; HUNTINGTON; RATZEL; VIDAL DE LA BLACHE.]


Brunhes, Jean (1910) 1924 Human Geography. London: Harrap. → First published in French. A fourth French edition was published in 1934 by Alcan.

Burton, Ian 1963 The Quantitative Revolution and Theoretical Geography. Canadian Geographer 7, no. 4:151-162.

Dodd, Stuart C.; and PITTS, FORREST R. 1959 Proposals to Develop Statistical Laws of Human Geography. Pages 302-309 in International Geographical Union, Regional Conference in Japan, Tokyo and Nara, 1957, Proceedings of IGU Regional Conference in Japan, 1957. Tokyo: Science Council of Japan.

Febvre, Lucien (1922) 1925 A Geographical Introduction to History. New York: Knopf. → First published as La terre et devolution humaine.

Hartshorne, Richard (1939) 1964 The Nature of Geography: A Critical Survey of Current Thought in the Light of the Past. Lancaster, Pa.: Association of American Geographers.

Hartshorne, Richard 1959 Perspective on the Nature of Geography. Association of American Geographers, Monograph Series, No. 1. Chicago: Rand McNally. → A restatement and, in part, an extensive revision of Hartshorne 1939.

HIPPOCRATES On Airs, Waters, and Places. Pages 54-59 in Eric H. Warmington (editor), Greek Geography. London: Dent, 1934.

Huntington, Ellsworth (1915) 1924 Civilization and Climate. 3d ed., rev. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

Huntington, Ellsworth 1945 Mainsprings of Civilization. New York: Wiley; London: Chapman.

Isard, Walter 1956 Location and Space-economy: A General Theory Relating to Industrial Location, Market Areas, Trade and Urban Structure. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press; New York: Wiley.

LUKEHMANN, F. 1965 The “Calcul des Probabilites” and the Ecole Francaise de Geographic. Canadian Geographer 9:128-137.

Markham, Sydney F. (1942) 1947 Climate and the Energy of Nations. 2d American ed., rev. & enl. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Martin, A. F. 1952 The Necessity for Determinism. Institute of British Geographers, Publications 17:1-11.

Montefiore, A. C.; and WILLIAMS, W. M. 1955 Determinism and Possibilism. Geographical Studies 2:1-11.

Montesquieu, Charles (1748)1962 The Spirit of the Laws. 2 vols. New York: Hafner. -> First published in French. See especially Book 14, Chapters 12 and 13.

Peattie, Roderick 1940 Geography in Human Destiny. New York: Stewart.

Platt, Robert S. 1948 Environmentalism Versus Geography. American Journal of Sociology 53:351-358.

Ratzel, Friedhich (1882-1891) 1921-1922 Anthropo-geographie. 2 vols. Stuttgart (Germany): Engelhorn. → Volume 1: Grundzüge der Anwendung der Erd-kunde auf die Geschichte, 4th ed. Volume 2: Die geographische Verbreitung des Menschen, 3d ed.

Ratzel, Friedrich (1897) 1923 Politische Geographie. 3d ed. Edited by Eugen Oberhummer. Munich and Berlin: Oldenbourg.

Sahlins, Marshall D. 1962 Moala: Culture and Nature on a Fijian Island. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

Sauer, Carl O. (1925) 1963 The Morphology of Landscape. Pages 315-350 in Carl O. Sauer, Land and Life: A Selection From the Writings of Carl Ortwin Sauer. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Semple, Ellen C. 1911 Influences of Geographic Environment, on the Basis of Ratzel’s System of An-thropo-geography. New York: Holt.

Spate, O. H. K. 1952 Toynbee and Huntington: A Study in Determinism. Geographical Journal 118: 406-428. -> Contains four pages of discussion.

Spate, O. H. K. 1957 How Determined Is Possibilism? Geographical Studies 4:3-12.

Spate, O. H. K. 1963a Islands and Men. Pages 253-264 in Francis R. Fosberg (editor), Man’s Place in the Island Ecosystem: A Symposium. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press.

Spate, O. H. K. 1963b Theory and Practice in Soviet Geography. Australian Geographical Studies 1:18-30.

Sprout, Harold H.; and SPROUT, MARGARET 1956 Man-Milieu Relationship Hypotheses in the Context of International Politics. Princeton Univ., Center of International Studies.

Sprout, Harold H.; and SPROUT, MARGARET (1957) 1964 Environmental Factors in the Study of International Politics. Pages 61-80 in William A. D. Jackson (editor), Politics and Geographic Relationships: Readings on the Nature of Political Geography. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. -> First published in Volume 1 of the Journal of Conflict Resolution.

Sprout, Harold H.; and SPROUT, MARGARET 1965 The Ecological Perspective on Human Affairs, With Special Reference to International Politics. Princeton Univ. Press.

Stewart, John Q.; and WARNTZ, WILLIAM 1958 Macro-geography and Social Science. Geographical Review 48:167-184.

Tatham, George (1951) 1957 Environmentalism and Possibilism. Pages 128-162 in Thomas G. Taylor (editor), Geography in the Twentieth Century: A Study of Growth, Fields, Techniques, Aims and Trends. 3d ed.. enl. New York: Philosophical Library.

Taylor, Thomas Griffith (1951) 1957 Introduction: The Scope of the Volume. Pages 3-27 in Thomas G. Taylor (editor), Geography in the Twentieth Century: A Study of Growth, Fields, Techniques, Aims and Trends. 3d ed., enl. New York: Philosophical Library.

Toynbee, Arnold J. 1934 A Study of History. Volume 2: The Geneses of Civilization. Oxford Univ. Press.

Toynbee, Arnold J. 1961 A Study of History. Volume 12: Reconsiderations. Oxford Univ. Press.

Vallaux, Camille 1911 Geographie sociale: Le sol et I’etat. Paris: Doin.

VIDAL DE LA BLACHE, PAUL 1902 Les conditions gáogrephiques des faits sociaux. Annales de geographic 11:13-23.

Wittfogel, Karl A. 1957 Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. -> A paperback edition was published in 1963.

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Environmental protection in Russia traces its roots to seventeenth-century hunting preserves and Peter the Great's efforts to protect some of the country's forests and rivers. But environmentalism, in the sense of an intellectual or popular movement in support of conservation or environmental protection, began during the second half of the nineteenth century and scored some important victories during the late tsarist and early soviet periods. The movement lost most of its momentum during the Stalin years but revived during the 1960s and 1970s, peaking during the era of perestroika. After a decline during the early 1990s, environmentalism showed a resurgence later in the decade.

early history

Sergei Aksakov's extremely popular fishing and hunting guides (1847 and 1851) awakened the reading public to the extent and importance of central Russia's natural areas and helped popularize outdoor pursuits. As the membership in hunting societies grew in subsequent decades, so did awareness of the precipitous decline in populations of game species. Articles in hunting journals and the more widely circulated "thick" journals sounded the alarm about this issue. Provincial observers also began to note the rapid loss of forest resources. Noble landowners, facing straitened financial circumstances after the abolition of serfdom, were selling timber to earn ready cash. Anton Chekhov, among others, lamented the loss of wildlife habitats and the damage to rivers that resulted from widespread deforestation. By the late 1880s the outcry led to the enactment of the Forest Code (1888) and hunting regulations (1892). These laws had little effect, but their existence testifies to the emergence of a Russian conservation movement.

In contrast to the environmentalism around the same time in the United States and England, the main impetus for the movement in Russia came from scientists rather than amateur naturalists, poets, or politicians. Russian scientists were pioneers in the fledgling field of ecology, particularly the study of plant communities and ecosystems. While they shared with western environmentalists an aesthetic appreciation for natural beauty, they were especially keen about the need to preserve whole landscapes and ecosystems. During the early twentieth century when the Russian conservation movement began to press for the creation of nature

preserves, it did not adopt the U.S. model of national parks designed to preserve places of extraordinary beauty for recreational purposes. Instead, Russian scientists sought to preserve large tracts of representative landscapes and keep them off limits except to scientists who would use them as laboratories for ecological observation. They called these tracts zapovedniks, a word derived from the religious term for "commandments" and connoting something forbidden or inviolate. The Permanent Commission on Nature Preservation, organized in 1912 under the auspices of the Russian Geographical Society, proposed the creation of a network of zapovedniks in 1917, shortly before the Bolshevik Revolution. Its primary author was the geologist Venyamin Semenov-Tian-Shansky (18701942). His brother, Andrei (18661942), a renowned entomologist, was an important proponent of the project, along with the botanist Ivan Borodin (18471930), head of the Permanent Commission, and the zoologist Grigory Kozhevnikov (18661933), who had first articulated the need for inviolate nature preserves.

These scientists also sought to popularize a conservation ethic among the populace, especially among young people. Despite their many educational efforts, however, they were unable to build a mass conservation movement. This was at least partly because their insistence on keeping the nature preserves off limits to the public prevented them from capitalizing on the direct experience and visceral affection that U.S. national parks inspire in so many visitors.

soviet period

The early Bolshevik regime enacted a number of conservation measures, including one to establish zapovedniks in 1921. The politicization of all aspects of scientific and public activity during the 1920s, together with war, economic crisis, and local anarchy, threatened conservation efforts and made it difficult to protect nature preserves from exploitation. In 1924 conservation scientists established the All-Russian Society for Conservation (VOOP) in order to build a broad-based environmental movement. VOOP organized popular events such as Arbor Day and Bird Day, which attracted 45,000 young naturalists in 1927, and began publishing the magazine Conservation (Okhrana prirody ) in 1928, with a circulation of 3,000. An All-Russian Congress for Conservation was convened in 1929, and an All-Soviet Congress in 1933. By this time conservationists had lost their optimism, overwhelmed by the Stalinist emphasis on conquering nature in the name of rapid industrial development. The government whittled away at the idea of inviolate zapovedniks over the ensuing decades, turning some into game reserves, others into breeding grounds for selected species, and opening still others to mining, logging, and agriculture. In 1950 the government proposed to turn over more than 85 percent of the protected territories to the agriculture and timber ministries.

Environmentalism of a grassroots and broad-based variety finally began to develop after Stalin's death. VOOP had expanded to some nineteen million members, but it existed primarily to funnel extorted dues into dubious land-reclamation schemes. The real impetus for environmentalism came during the early 1960s in response to a plan to build a large pulp and paper combine on Lake Baikal. Scientists once again spearheaded the outcry against the plan, which soon included journalists, famous authors, and others who could reach a broad national and international audience. The combine opened in 1967, but environmentalists gained a symbolic victory when the government promised to take extraordinary measures to protect the lake. Similar grassroots movements arose during the 1970s and early 1980s to protest pollution in the Volga River, the drying up of the Aral Sea, riverdiversion projects, and other threats to environmental health.

Under Leonid Brezhnev, environmentalists were able to air some of their grievances in the press, especially in letters to the editors of mass-circulation newspapers. As long as they did not attack the idea of economic growth or other underpinnings of soviet ideology, they were fairly free to voice their opinions. By and large, the environmentalists called for improvements in the central planning system and more Communist Party attention to environmental problems, not systemic changes. Their arguments took the form of cheerleading for beloved places rather than condemnations of the exploitation of natural resources, and it became difficult to distinguish environmentalism from local chauvinism. In contrast to its counterpart in the West, environmentalism in the Soviet Union was often closely aligned with right-wing nationalist politics. Furthermore, environmental activism had little impact on economic planners. Although, as official propagandists boasted, the country had many progressive environmental laws, few of them were enforced. Activists were further hampered by official secrecy about the extent of environmental problems. In 1978 a manuscript entitled "The Destruction of Nature in the Soviet Union" by Boris Komarov (pseudonym of Ze'ev Wolfson, a specialist in environmental policy) was smuggled out and published abroad.

Environmentalism left the margins of soviet society and took center stage in the period of glasnost. After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, everyone became aware of the threat soviet industry posed for the environment and public health, and also of the need for full disclosure of relevant information. Environmental issues galvanized local movements against the central government, and nationalist overtones in the environmental rhetoric fanned the flames. In Estonia, protests in 1987 against a phosphorite mine grew into a fullblown independence movement. Environmental issues also helped initiate general political opposition in Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, and elsewhere. Environmentalists began to win real victories, closing or halting production on some fifty nuclear plants and many large construction projects. There were thousands of grassroots environmental groups in the country by 1991, and the Greens were second only to religious groups in the degree of public trust they enjoyed.

post-soviet activism

After 1991 the influence of Russian environmental organizations declined. As the central government consolidated its power, public attention turned to pressing economic matters, and pollution problems decreased as a result of the closing of many factories in the post-Soviet depression. Later in the decade the government became openly hostile to environmental activism. It arrested two whistleblowers, Alexander Nikitin and Grigory Pasko, who revealed information about radioactive pollution from nuclear submarines. President Vladimir Putin dissolved the State Committee on the Environment in 2000 and gave its portfolio to the Natural Resources Ministry.

Environmental organizations survived by becoming professionalized nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on the Western model, seeking funding from foreign foundations and appealing to world opinion rather than cultivating local memberships. Among the most influential of these are the Center for Russian Environmental Policy under the direction of Alexei Yablokov (former environmental adviser to Boris Yeltsin), the St. Petersburg Clean Baltic Coalition, the Baikal Environmental Wave, the Russian branch of the Worldwide Fund for Wildlife (WWF), and Green Cross International, of which Mikhail Gorbachev became president in 1993. A few radical environmental groups emerged during the early 1990s, notably the Rainbow Keepers and Eco-Defense, which promote more fundamental societal change. Beginning during the late 1990s, there was a revival of grassroots activism on local issues of air and water quality, animal welfare, nature education, and protection of sacred lands. Such efforts rely on local members and on the resources of preexisting (i.e., Soviet-era) institutions and networks, and they tend to cultivate local bureaucrats and political leaders.

See also: chernobyl; russian geographical society; thick journals


Goldman, Marshall I. (1972). Environmental Pollution in the Soviet Union: The Spoils of Progress. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Henry, Laura. (2002). "Two Paths to a Greener Future: Environmentalism and Civil Society Development in Russia." Demokratizatsiya 10(2):184206.

Komarov, Boris (Ze'ev Wolfson). (1978). The Destruction of Nature in the Soviet Union. London: Pluto Press.

Pryde, Philip R. (1991). Environmental Management in the Soviet Union. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.

Stewart, John Massey, ed. (1992). The Soviet Environment: Problems, Policies and Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Weiner, Douglas R. (1988). Models of Nature: Ecology, Conservation, and Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Weiner, Douglas R. (1999). A Little Corner of Freedom: Russian Nature Protection from Stalin to Gorbachev. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Yanitsky, Oleg. (1999). "The Environmental Movement in a Hostile Context: The Case of Russia." International Sociology 14(2):157172.

Ziegler, Charles E. (1987). Environmental Policy in the USSR. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Rachel May

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The environmental movement in the United States was born in the 1960s and it gathered strength in the 1970s, when a growing populace took interest in curbing the effects of industrial and agricultural practices on the natural environment and on public health. The literature written and the legislature passed during this period led to many changes in the way that manufacturing and farming were conducted throughout the country. Federal regulations and agencies were established to restrict the use of harmful chemicals and their release into the environment. While certain companies found that they had to resort to costly measures in order to comply with these regulations, other manufacturers managed to find inexpensive or even money-saving solutions. Nevertheless, the new emphasis placed on environmental awareness altered the way in which many businesses were to operate nationwide.

Scientist and author Rachel Carson was a key figure in the early environmentalist movement: Her groundbreaking 1962 book Silent Spring alerted U.S. citizens to the hazards of several widely used pesticides and herbicides. Her arguments caused uproar among chemical manufacturers and created a stir in political circles around the country. Carson named specific chemicals responsible for contaminating the natural environment, for spreading disease among humans, and for killing birds, fish, and other wildlife. She painted a chilling futuristic picture of a world unfit to support lifeof the silence of a spring without songbirds.

In addition to the appearance of this highly influential book, three events contributed to the rise of environmentalism in the 1960s United States: an oil spill in the Santa Barbara channel blackened the shoreline in Southern California; the chemically contaminated Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio spontaneously caught fire; and an active afternoon at the steel mills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania caused a temperature inversion in the city, which grew so dark and polluted that street lights and drivers' headlights were turned on at midday. Media coverage of these incidents increased public awareness about the dangers of certain chemicals and toxic substances widely used by industries. Concerned citizens and legislators called for action, asserting that industrial practices throughout the country would have to change.

In 1969 lawmakers passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the first of a series of legislation designed to protect the environment. The NEPA required federal agencies to submit statements about the environmental effects of their activities. In the same year Congress established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which monitored federal agencies' compliance with the NEPA and with later legislation. The following year Congress introduced both the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which conducted research on workers' exposure to harmful substances in the workplace, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which set on-site business standards for health and safety. The Clean Air Act (1970) called upon manufacturers to safeguard against the release of air pollutants in their vicinity and the Clean Water Act (1972) forbade manufacturers from contaminating nearby bodies of water. Many more acts and agencies were introduced throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and all were born out of the tremendously effective environmentalist movement.

After the regulations went into effect, the United States saw much improvement in air and water quality, as well as in the management of toxic substances, pesticides, and waste. In "Twenty-Five Years of Environmental Progress at a Glance" the EPA reported that between 1970 and 1994 emissions of six common air pollutants decreased by 24 percent and emissions of lead dropped by 98 percent. The EPA also noted that during the same period wastewater standards prevented more than one billion pounds of toxic substances from contaminating bodies of water. Considering that in the same amount of time the nation's economy grew by 90 percent; the population increased by 27 percent; and the number of motor vehicles driven rose by 111 percent, the environmental improvements achieved were quite dramatic.

Because environmental legislation targeted corporations in particular, many manufacturers had to spend a lot of money creating devices and conducting tests that would control the use and release of harmful substances. The EPA estimated that in 1997 U.S. corporations spent $170 billion in efforts to comply with federal regulations. Critics of environmentalism noted that this figure represented 2.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, a proportion that exceeded what was spent on environmental safety in other countries. Whether or not the benefits of the regulations merited this considerable expense was becoming a topic of heated debate.

Throughout the 1990s economics played a growing role in environmental policymaking, as powerful corporations had a great impact on the passing of legislation. Environmental policymaking became a struggle between big business, which wished to curb the spending required by federal regulations, and the proponents of environmentalism, who strove to continue improving air and water quality and enhancing public health. Those who straddled between economic and environmental interests believed, perhaps idealistically, that the two forces would keep each other in check and that taking both interests into account would lead to cost-conscious approaches to environmental protection in the United States.


Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. 1962. Reprint, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

DiLorenzo, Thomas J. "Federal Regulations: Environmentalism's Achilles Heel." USA Today, September, 1994.

"Silent Spring Revisited," [cited May 25, 1999], available from the World Wide Web @

Portney, Paul R. "Counting the Cost: The Growing Role of Economics in Environmental Decision making." Environment, March, 1998.

The Reader's Companion to American History. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1991, s.v. "Conservation and Environmental Movements."

"Twenty-Five Years of Environmental Progress at a Glance," [cited May 25, 1999], available from the World Wide Web @

we are subjecting whole populations to exposure to chemicals which animal experiments have proved to be extremely poisonous and in many cases cumulative in their effects. these exposures now begin at or before birth andunless we change our methodswill continue through the lifetime of those now living.

rachel carson, silent spring, 1962

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environmentalism, movement to protect the quality and continuity of life through conservation of natural resources, prevention of pollution, and control of land use. The philosophical foundations for environmentalism in the United States were established by Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. In 1864, George Perkins Marsh published Man & Nature, in which he anticipated many concepts of modern ecology.

Organized environmentalism began with the conservation movement in the late 19th cent., which urged the establishment of state and national parks and forests, wildlife refuges, and national monuments intended to preserve noteworthy natural features. Early conservationists included President Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club. Conservationists organized the National Parks and Conservation Association, the Audubon Society, the Izaak Walton League, and other groups still active. After World War II increasing encroachment on wilderness land evoked the continued resistance of conservationists, who succeeded in blocking a number of projects in the 1950s and 1960s, including the proposed Bridge Canyon Dam that would have backed up the waters of the Colorado River into the Grand Canyon National Park.

The New Environmentalism

In the 1950s and 1960s, the public was becoming aware that conservation of wilderness and wildlife was but one aspect of protecting an endangered environment. Concern about air pollution, water pollution, solid waste disposal, dwindling energy resources, radiation, pesticide poisoning (particularly as described in Rachel Carson's influential Silent Spring, 1962), noise pollution, and other environmental problems engaged a broadening number of sympathizers and gave rise to what became known as the "new environmentalism." Public support for these issues culminated in the Earth Day demonstrations of 1970.

The new movement had a broader goal—to preserve life on the planet. The more radical groups believe that continued industrial development is incompatible with environmentalism. Other groups, notably Greenpeace, which advocated direct action to preserve endangered species, often clashed violently with opponents. Less militant organizations called for sustainable development and the need to balance environmentalism with economic development.

Environmental Legislation

The environmental movement generated extensive legislation, notably the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), signed into law in 1970, which established an Environmental Protection Agency and a Council on Environmental Quality; the Clean Air Acts of 1970 and 1990; the Water Pollution Control Act, as amended in 1972; other laws regulating noise, pesticides, toxic substances, and ocean dumping; and laws to protect endangered species, wilderness, and wild and scenic rivers. NEPA requires all federal agencies to file impact statements assessing the environmental consequences of proposed projects such as highways, jet runways, bridges, dams, and nuclear power plants. Moreover, the new laws provide for pollution research, standard setting, monitoring, and enforcement. Citizens are empowered to sue both private industry and government agencies for violating antipollution standards. Subsequent legislation includes the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly known as the Superfund Act (1980). In the 1980s under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush many acts were allowed to expire and the scope of environmental protection was curtailed.

Environmental Organizations and Conferences

Several environmental organizations, among them the National Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, specialize in bringing lawsuits. Other environmentalist groups, such as the National Wildlife Federation, World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth, the Nature Conservancy, and the Wilderness Society, disseminate information, participate in public hearings, lobby, stage demonstrations, and purchase land for preservation. A smaller group, including Wildlife Conservation International and the Worldwide Fund for Nature, conduct research on endangered species and ecosystems. More radical organizations, such Greenpeace, Earth First!, and the Earth Liberation Front, have more directly opposed actions they regard as environmentally harmful. While Greenpeace is devoted to nonviolent confrontation, the underground Earth Liberation Front engages in the clandestine destruction of property, the release of caged or penned animals, and other acts of sabotage.

On an international level, concern for the environment was the subject of a UN conference in Stockholm in 1972, attended by 114 nations. Out of this meeting developed the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (1992).


For a general introduction, see C. Merchant, The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History (2002). See also R. J. Dubos, So Human an Animal (1970); R. M. Chute, Environmental Insight (1971); Environmental Action Association, Earth Tool Kit, ed. by S. Love (1971); P. R. Ehrlich, comp., Man and the Ecosphere (1971); Population, Resources, Environment (with A. H. Ehrlich, 2d ed. 1972), and Human Ecology (with others, 1973); J. L. Sax, Defending the Environment (1972); G. J. Marco et al., ed., Silent Spring Revisited (1987); D. A. Dunnette and R. J. O'Brien, ed., The Science of Global Change (1992); P. Shabecoff, A New Name for Peace (1997).

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See Ecology; Ecology, Ethics of; Ecology, Religious and Philosophical Aspects; Ecology, Science of

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