Major environmental movements around the world

Major environmental movements around the world

In the previous post we learned about 6 Major Environmental Movements in India 

This post provides an introduction to various environmental movements in both industrialised and developing nations.


  1. Introduction
  2. Environmental movements in developing countries
  3. The Green Belt Movement (Kenya)
  4. Rubber tappers movement (Brazil)
  5. Ogoni land struggles (Nigeria)
  6. Major environmental movements in developed countries
  7. Greenpeace
  8. Protecting Gorillas
  9. Campaigning against climate change


Diverse social movements that aim to address environmental issues make up the environmental movement, often known as the ecology movement. Environmentalists push for changes in public policy and personal behaviour that will result in the sustainable management of natural resources.

Environmental movements in developing countries

Environmental movements have taken varied paths in developed and underdeveloped nations. In local communities defending their right to utilise and manage forests, water, and land resources, the major Indian environmental movements first extended to broader areas. Environmental movements originated in numerous regions of Asia, Africa, and South America. Understanding these movements in other nations will help one develop a broader perspective and better understand how people in different cultures react to threats to their traditions and way of life.

The Green Belt Movement (Kenya)

A Kenyan woman named Wangari Muta Maathai learned about the negative repercussions of the government of Kenya's efforts to clear forests. The government's deforestation campaign accelerated Kenya's environmental degradation in the early 1970s. Food insecurity and soil erosion were caused by the conversion of forests for agricultural and residential purposes. Farmland quickly changed into parched soil resembling a desert. Numerous communities were left without the resources they needed to live as a result of these developments.

Kenyan women were traditionally active in gathering water and firewood, just like Indian women were. They suffered significantly as a result of the loss of these natural resources. On Earth Day in 1977, Maathai established the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots environmental non-governmental organisation. She began a lifelong effort to stop Kenya's environmental calamity and the loss of people's ability to live healthy, sustainable lives. The preservation of the environment was Maathai's primary concern, but she also sought to empower women by giving them the self-assurance to stand up for their rights and stop the destruction of their natural settings. To combat soil erosion and aid in the restoration of natural resources, Maathai and other women and farmers began to plant "greenbelts," or rows of trees. She said it best: "Women who begin to plant trees on their farms influence their neighbours. Eventually, their neighbours become involved. We can now see the government responding. The 2004 Nobel Peace Prize was given to Wangari Maathai "for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace."

The work of the Green Belt Movement has not just included planting trees; it has also focused on empowering women in Kenya. Together with the National Council of Women of Kenya, Maathai's group has offered family planning, nutrition, and leadership training sessions to Kenyan women and villages. The Green Belt Movement has helped to establish approximately 3,000 jobs and taught thousands of low-income women about forestry.

Rubber tappers movement (Brazil)

The Amazonian jungles of Brazil are regarded as the world's richest reservoirs of biodiversity. Numerous indigenous populations that have lived there for a long time and rely on the trees for food also call these places home.

In the state of Acre in Amazonia, the forested region that encircles the Amazon River, Chico Mendes was born in 1944 in Porto Rico. The rubber tappers who take latex from rubber trees and cure it before selling it to rubber manufacturers supported the Mendes family. The plantation owners, known as "rubber lords," feared a revolt due to the horrendous labour conditions. To guarantee that the labourers remained uneducated, they were not given the chance to learn to read.

One of the few tappers who could read, Mendes's father taught his son the skill. Mendes initially tried to effect change by making a direct plea. He wrote the Brazilian president a number of letters outlining the inhumane treatment meted out to the rubber tappers. As the popularity of synthetic rubber increased and the demand for latex fell globally, the 1970s and late 1980s were marked by periodic union violence in the jungle regions. As a result, the latex sector collapsed and the economy shrank. The regional government provided incentives to cattle ranchers to take over the rainforest grounds previously allotted for the cultivation of rubber plants in an effort to revive the economy. The rubber lords sold the rainforest area to the cattle herders. To create ranches for grazing, the ranchers cleared the forest. They uprooted the locals and rubber workers by clearing and burning the forests.

Unionism started to take root by the middle of the 1970s, and a coordinated movement grew in the region. More of Mendes' attention was spent forming the unions. The unions in many municipalities in the Acre state successfully teamed together and established a federation of unions in 1978.

Workers aimed to stop the destruction of the rainforest as their unions grew stronger. They employed a strategy known as empate, or blockade, to achieve this. It involved big groups of tappers going to the forest regions that were slated for impending annihilation. They took over the forest, destroyed the cutting teams' shacks, and drove the crews away. Despite the fact that few people died during the empates, the ranchers targeted and had hired shooters kill activist priests, lawyers, union presidents, and several squatters.

Mendes convinced the tappers to establish cooperative firms in 1981 so they could sell the latex directly to customers, cutting out the bosses and other middlemen who kept the majority of the earnings. This approach turned out to be very effective. Then Mendes' group used a daring strategy that brought global attention to their situation. Mendes urged the rubber workers to politicise for the preservation of the rainforest environment rather than the issue of diminishing rubber production and to emphasise to the world the worth of other forest products such as oils, nuts, and cocoa. The tappers requested a system of land reform that would designate portions of the rainforest for rubber and nut harvesting and establish extractive reserves. Mendes received the Global 500 Award and the Protection of the Environment Medal in 1987 in recognition of his environmental advocacy.

The livestock ranchers killed Mendes in 1988. The death of Chico Mendes attracted notice on a global scale. His untimely passing drew further attention to the predicament of the rainforest. Brazil authorised a plan to replant 2.5 million acres of lost forest and created rules to conserve the rainforest. Additionally, the government consented to establish extractive reserves in the Amazon region. The first, known as the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve, provided housing and safety for farmers and tappers. Today, local communities responsibly extract high-quality rubber, Brazil nuts, lumber, and other goods from the extractive reserves, offering an alternative to clearing forests.

Ogoni land struggles (Nigeria) 

Nigeria has a long history of resource-related conflicts. Numerous communities call the lush woodlands and wetland environments home. However, the area possesses significant oil reserves that were exploited by international organisations with the assistance of the military administration. In 1958, Royal Dutch Shell discovered oil on Ogoni territory in southern Nigeria. In response, the Ogoni farmers and fisherman who lived on this land saw oil spills contaminating their fields and a decline in fish and fauna.

The Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), an organisation created to defend the environmental and human rights of the Ogoni people who inhabit in the Niger Delta, was led by well-known Nigerian author and television producer Ken Saro-Wiwa. Saro-Wiwa organised 300,000 Ogoni for a peaceful march in January 1993 to demand a piece of the oil profits and some degree of political sovereignty. Additionally, MOSOP demanded that the oil firms start cleaning up the environment and make up for previous harm. Saro-Wiwa was imprisoned in May 1994 alongside other MOSOP leaders on fictitious murder allegations. After seizing control of Ogoniland, the Nigerian military subjected the population to widespread arrests, rape, executions, and village burning and looting. The prosecution of Saro-Wiwa was contentious, and it became increasingly clear that the accusations and supporting evidence were bogus as the trial went on. A military tribunal tried and found Saro-Wiwa guilty of murder in October 1995. Governments and civic organisations from all over the world denounced the trial as being rigged and pleaded with the Nigerian administration to spare Saro-life. Wiwa's

On November 10, 1995, Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other campaigners were hanged to death. In 2015, Shell admitted fault and reached an out-of-court settlement, offering around 86 million US dollars in compensation to about 15000 people. The whole amount of Shell's pollution in the Niger Delta has not yet been subject to an independent environmental assessment, and a complete clean-up has not yet taken place.

Major environmental movements in developed countries 

Environmental movements differ substantially between wealthy nations in Europe and America. Because of the need on natural resources for survival and subsistence, conservation was given more attention in developed nations than romantic and poetic ideas of pristine nature. Recently, ethical concerns have also been brought forward. Can we destroy something that we are unable to create? This question is frequently posed in support of the requirement for biodiversity conservation. A few movements to safeguard species have also brought up the subject of animal rights. The movements also include movements with a narrower purpose, such the fight against climate change. The Commons Preservation Society, the first well-known national environmental conservation organisation in England, was founded in 1865 to safeguard public access to open space, primarily so that the rapidly urbanising populace may find enjoyment in easy access to nature. Elite organisations and qualified scientists continued to dominate the field of environmental preservation.

New organisations with broader social basis formed after World War II. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) was established in Britain in 1961 through a newspaper appeal and subscription-based funding. The American release of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962 caused a media sensation and changed how environmental consciousness was being developed. For the first time, many people learned about and understood the effects of pesticides on the environment.


Greenpeace is an independent, international organisation that works to change people's attitudes and behaviours in order to safeguard the environment, preserve it, and advance world peace. A small group of activists departed in an ancient fishing boat from Vancouver, Canada, in 1971. They were sent to Amchitka, a small island off the coast of Alaska, to "bear witness" to the US's underground nuclear testing. Amchitka was the last remaining habitat for 3,000 critically endangered sea otters as well as a haven for bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and other wildlife.

Despite being stopped along the way, the team's journey aroused a lot of public curiosity. The same year that the last nuclear test on Amchitka was completed, the island was designated a bird sanctuary. Greenpeace has advocated for policies to stop climate change, forest loss, and pollution from dangerous products. It has received the anti-development moniker in numerous nations, including India. Although they demonstrate peacefully, many people frequently view their methods as being overly radical.

Protecting Gorillas

Western environmental movements are characterised by their leadership, which is typically comprised of subject-matter experts. Biologists in particular are heavily involved in the fight to preserve iconic species. Only 250 mountain gorillas remained in the Virunga Mountains, which are on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly known as Zaire). Over the course of 18 years, American primatologist Dian Fossey conducted a thorough study of mountain gorilla communities. Every day in Rwanda's mountainous forests, she studied them. Fossey established the Karisoke Research Center in 1967. It is a seclusion rainforest camp tucked away in Ruhengeri district. She made a significant contribution to science. Her attempts to discourage gorilla poaching, however, made her enemies in the neighbourhood. Despite her love for her work, she frequently broke the law and failed to win the local community's support for conservation. She was murdered in 1985, yet no one was ever held accountable for their crimes. Biologists have launched numerous campaigns to protect other species, including chimpanzees, orangutans, whales, and dolphins. There have always been clashes with the interests of local communities, despite the fact that none have been as contentious as Diane Fossey. In fact, many find it difficult to engage regional communities.

Campaigning against climate change

There have been some recent movements against climate change and global warming in affluent nations. Heat waves, melting glaciers, and an increase in natural disasters were the results of these. The 1990s saw the start of climate change activism as major environmental organisations got involved in the debate. The Global Call for Climate Action, Energy Action Coalition, and are just a few of the climate-focused groups that were created in the 2000s. The 2006 documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" follows former US Vice-President Al Gore's efforts to inform the public about global warming. The movie has increased public awareness of global warming on a worldwide scale and revitalised the environmental movement.

In order to pressure world leaders gathered for the UN Climate Summit in 2014, the climate movement assembled 400.000 demonstrators in New York for the People's Climate March (plus many more in other cities). Since then, a lot of people have been organising for a global response to combat climate change with the aim of drastically reducing carbon emissions and switching to only clean energy. The Climate Mobilization oversaw grassroots campaigns in the United States in 2015 and 2016.

Environmental movements around the world have consolidated under common banners over the past 20 years. The development of social media and international NGO conservation campaigns have made this possible. The national governments' responses to these have evolved as a result of ongoing political and economic considerations. Governments have sometimes responded by amending laws and policies in a positive way. However, there have also been instances where the government has harshly reacted against environmental groups and campaigners. However, environmental movements are still active in promoting their cause and, in some cases, collaborating with other social movements.


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