chapter
8 Pages

Introduction

Although environmental issues and forms of environmental concern have a very long history, awareness of the environmental consequences of economic development was given an increasingly political character from the 1950s onwards (Young 1990). Individuals produced provocative studies warning of particular threats to the environment, as with Rachel Carson’s well-known criticism of the increased use of DDT as a pesticide. Groups formed to press for solutions to particular or local problems or sought to get the political system to respond. Think-tanks, such as the Club of Rome, published accounts dramatising the potential depletion of the Earth’s resources. International agencies, including the United Nations Environment Programme, began holding international conferences and promoting detailed studies of issues as part of an effort to get more coordinated and effective responses to increasingly global environmental problems. Later, protest movements, linking up with late 1960s student radicalism and with various anti-war mobilisations, took to the streets and forests in efforts to get a political response. In some places the mainstream political parties began to respond; in others, environmental concern was mocked and marginalised. In West Germany, a history of radical protest in the midst of obvious environmental problems and the nuclear threat of an active phase in the Cold War produced the formation of a radical Green Party (Die Grünen), which from 1980 to 1982 had enough electoral support to be represented in various state parliaments and in 1983 to enter the Federal Parliament in Bonn (Young 1990: 171). The image of the German Greens strolling into parliament in casual clothes, carrying potted plants and announcing that they were there to represent the politics of life was a sufficiently dramatic symbol to suggest that new forms of environmental politics were starting to challenge routine assumptions about the workings of the ‘normal’ political process. At the time of writing (mid 2000), the post-unification Greens are actually governing Germany in partnership with the SDP.