Ms. Carson has gathered stories from across the country to uncover the dangers of indiscriminate pesticide use and the threat to life that contaminated land poses. She would spend the rest of her life fighting her accusations of caution in the chemical industry. But Silent Spring resonated with an increasingly skeptical public about the ethics and effectiveness of industrial society.
Mr. Carson’s critique of the cozy relationship between business and government reflected the notion of a power elite popularized several years earlier by New Left intellectual C. Wright Mills. In his assessment, American society was ruled by a bureaucracy that included not only large corporations but also organized workers.
Carson-inspired environmentalists vehemently opposed these vested interests. They were dropouts, opponents of the established system, or at least outsiders of it. By 1990, American environmental historian Richard White was asking the question, “Are you an environmentalist or do you work for a living?” White’s essay took aim at the environmental pretensions of white-collar professionals against manual workers employed in polluting industries.
Recent research builds on White’s insights and reveals such workers’ knowledge and respect for nature. Researchers stress that it is these communities that suffer the most from pollution and work-related injuries. In The Myth of Silent Spring, social historian Chad Montry describes a far more diverse coalition that shaped American environmentalism.
Montry emphasized the role of auto, petroleum, chemical and mining unions in campaigning for better the environment since the early 1960s, when Carson’s book made waves. United Auto Workers supports campaigns for fresh air and clean water in American cities such as Detroit, Michigan, and United Farm Workers supports Carson’s opposition to pesticides poisoning members in California’s fields. shared.
Montry also emphasized the role of civil rights activists in shaping demands for environmental justice among poor, working-class black Americans. and a campaign for cleaner air quality in Gary, Indiana. These groups worked with people closer to the Carson-inspired image of environmentalists.
My ongoing research on community and workplace experiences of the energy transition in the UK reveals something similar. It documented the testimony of middle-class environmental activists who participated in protests such as the 2008 campaign. Many of these people found fellow campaigners on college campuses, left-wing bookstores, and natural food stores. These locations also became important recruiting sites for the anti-nuclear movement. This environmental activist organized demonstrations against the construction of the Tornes nuclear power plant in Lothian, East Scotland, in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
These weren’t just concerns for college graduates. Tornes’ campaign received support from farmers who supported activists occupying the site of the power plant. They also provided the spectacle of a cavalry of tractors driving through the center of Edinburgh in support of the protests.
An example of working-class agitation for environmental action can be found in the recordings of the Scottish Trade Union Congress. At his 1972 annual meeting of the Confederation of Unions, he of the Union of Electrical Engineers, WB Blairford, introduced an anti-pollution resolution setting a class-conscious environmentalist agenda. He said that while environmentalism is seen as “a predominantly academic and middle-class trend”, “it is essential that workers’ interests are fully represented in this important debate”. rice field.
He focused on smelter workers suffering from industrial diseases, factory workers’ asbestos exposure, and the hazardous conditions endured by coal miners, and a contemporary study of pollution near the Durham steel works and Hampshire cement works. “It was the workers who suffered the most from the pollution,” he said. At home”.
These sentiments did not stop with the resolution of the meeting. In her one instance of industrial action affecting British policy on nuclear waste storage, in the early 1980s the National Seafarers’ Union refused to cooperate with the dumping of radioactive material into the sea.
These are formative trends in modern environmentalism in English-speaking societies and post-industrial economies. This makes sense in understanding the movement shaped by the popularity of Silent Spring. But it overlooks many of the communities bearing the brunt of environmental crises like climate change.
A more militant activism emerged in the activities of Latin American trade unionists and indigenous groups. In Ecuador, the movement against the oil industry extractionism: The rejection of economic models based on the extraction of resources illegally acquired by colonialism.
It rejects the old socialist claim of economic development by nationalizing oil and minerals, and finds common ground with activists in more recently formed groups such as the Extinction Rebellion. The fruit of potential collaboration is unknown. Extinction Rebellion has previously refused political affiliation.
These debates and others like them will determine the future of environmentalism. There is already a glimmer of what is possible. Visitors to Glasgow at the recent UN climate change summit saw Greta Thunberg as waste workers strike out of islands threatened by rising sea levels and landscapes damaged by oil and mineral extraction. or marching with activists.
Dr Ewan Gibbs is Lecturer in Global Inequality at the University of Glasgow.
This article originally appeared on The Conversation