Edited by Peter Dauvergne
Chapter 33: After Nature: Environmental Politics in a Postmodern Age
Paul Wapner Environmentalism has been called the “most enduring and important social movement of the twentieth century.”1 It has mobilized activists on all continents, won worldwide public support, convinced most states to establish environmental ministries, and facilitated the signing of over 500 international environmental treaties. As the new century continues to unfold, it is worth asking about environmentalism’s staying power. How relevant will environmentalism be in the twenty-first century? Will it continue to excite and mobilize people throughout the world and translate that energy into significant political change? There are, of course, no simple answers to these questions. Environmentalism is a multifaceted movement operating in a complex world, so its future trajectory will always be a function of many elements. Part of its prospects, however, rests on how well it can anticipate and respond to changing socio-historical conditions. All social movements wither or thrive depending on their ability to speak meaningfully to people’s concerns about contemporary, public issues. Environmentalism is no exception. Can it speak to changing socio-historical conditions and widespread public concerns of the twenty-first century? Environmentalism has a relatively strong track record of twisting and turning with the times. Indeed, its very roots in the late 1800s and early 1900s lie in intellectual and political responses to a profound set of changes associated with industrialization. As the industrial revolution gained momentum and magnitude, proto-environmentalists such as William Wordsworth, William Blake, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau worried aloud about the incipient loss of pastoral and wild...
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