Academic journal article Environmental Law

Lessons for an Endangered Movement: What a Historical Juxtaposition of the Legal Response to Civil Rights and Environmentalism Has to Teach Environmentalists Today

Academic journal article Environmental Law

Lessons for an Endangered Movement: What a Historical Juxtaposition of the Legal Response to Civil Rights and Environmentalism Has to Teach Environmentalists Today

Article excerpt

Environmentalism and civil rights are the twentieth century's two most Important social movements, yet despite their divergent histories, they today share a common position--one where waning public support has placed both movements in potential peril. As environmentalists face the challenges of the new millennium, a careful examination of the movement's similarities to and differences from civil rights may yield important lessons for how environmentalists might reverse their apparent trajectory and reforge the backing needed to protect the planet's health. Embarking on this analysis by tracing the history of America's legal response to the two movements--from the first slave codes and Transcendental thought to Plessy v. Ferguson and the trifurcation of environmentalism, from Jim Crow and Hetch Hetchy to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1970 Clean Air Act, from increased judicial intolerance for both movements' tactics to Proposition 209 and Wise Use--Lessons for an Endangered Movement attempts to provide such guidance. Specifically, the Article concludes that environmentalists would do well to avoid zero-sum politics, shun being characterized as a fringe element of society, recognize the current paradigm of compromise in which they operate, revitalize the use of cooperative federalism in environmental regulation, seek other forums to enforce laws, and make environmental education one of the movement's highest priorities.

I. INTRODUCTION

In 1995, Dinesh D'Souza, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute In New York, proclaimed the Wend of racism" In the United States. He wrote, "all the evidence shows that young people today are strongly committed to the principle of equality of rights," and "they are not disfigured by the racism that afflicted earlier generations of America."(1) Yet in the same month D'Souza issued his 724-page decree, a rash of bombings struck a number of predominantly black churches across the South. By the end of 1996, the tally of such bombings had increased to thirty-four, and many of the targets had been left with racial epithets painted on their doors or walls.(2) At least from a brief glance at the social landscape, it seemed that D'Souza's assertion was somewhat overstated. The next year, however, California voters made their own statement on the issue. Passing the initiative with approximately fifty-four percent of the popular vote, California's Proposition 209 banned affirmative action in the state's public education, employment, and government contracting programs.(3) Within three years, a number of other states, including Washington, Texas, and Florida, chose to follow California's lead. Indeed, from all sides Americans seemed to be rising up, contending that the nation's racial solutions crafted in the late 1960s were no longer helpful, no longer acceptable, and no longer needed. Even if racism was not dead in America, the civil rights movement, as it had come to be known, perhaps was.

Curiously, environmentalism, the movement almost all Americans seem to love, by the end of the century also found itself perilously close to extinction. The movement still enjoyed incredibly wide support--over two-thirds of the public identified themselves as environmentalists(4)--but it was increasingly clear that no matter how broad this support was, it did not run deep. When the costs of environmental protection affect Americans individually, their support for the movement quickly wanes. Early in the decade, preservation of the endangered spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest quickly turned to a showdown between "jobs and birds," and a 1995 poll found that only a third of the public would be willing to increase taxes in order to protect the environment.(5) Likewise, the average size of the American house in 1996 had grown by nearly forty percent from 1971, resulting in increased demand for natural resources used to build, heat, and cool the homes.(6) And nearly half of the nation's car sales were accounted for by minivans, pickup trucks, and sport utility vehicles, all of which are less fuel efficient and contribute more to air pollution than smaller cars. …

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