The development of a nation's environmental policy is very much dependent on its economic level, politics and the environmental knowledge of its citizens. In general, economic development to improve the standard of living calls for rapid expansion and construction at low cost, which sometimes comes at the expense of damage to the environment. Third World countries, whose citizens are often struggling to obtain the basics of day-to-day living, may chose to place economic development ahead of environmental concerns. For example, a country that has the possibility of building factories near the seashore to provide badly needed jobs for its citizens immediately may be less likely to examine the effect that the factories will have on the ocean as they dump the waste products of the manufacturing process into it. Throughout the world, many leaders focus on the short-term goals of providing for today's needs of their populace without considering the long-term results of damage to the environment.
Politics play a large role in the legislation passed to protect the environment, whether to restrict the disposal of toxic wastes, to set acceptable levels of air pollution, to prohibit deforesting large areas, to encourage or discourage the building of nuclear power plants to generate energy or to regulate strip mining practices. Businesses that contribute toward election campaigns often expect that their candidate will pass legislation favorable to their industry. In general, many businesses consider ecological concerns as "add-ons" rather than "build-ins." Whether ecology can flourish within a green capitalist framework or whether high-consumption industrial societies should be replaced with small-scale, self-reliant sustainable communities are merely two viewpoints along the green scale.
The environmental sophistication of a country's populace can also influence environmental policy development. Citizens who lobby their elected officials and stage demonstrations to protect natural resources are giving the message that the preservation of the environment is of definite concern to them. Starting after the industrial revolution, which resulted in sudden environmental pollution from factories and the burning of great quantities of coal, conservation efforts focused on encouraging legislative bodies to pass laws to restrict practices that damaged the natural world. These conservation attempts (the term environmentalism came into being during the 1950s) by Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau and John Muir succeeded in popularizing the idea that humans have a responsibility to refrain from destroying the world's ecology. Muir persuaded Congress to establish Yosemite National Park and formed the Sierra Club.
Founded in 1892, the Sierra Club has hundreds of thousands of members in the United States and Canada. Its mission is to "explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources; to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives." Aside from arranging nature hikes, the Sierra Club's activities have included fighting against dams, taking out advertisements to prevent the proposed flooding of the Grand Canyon and protesting the construction of nuclear power plants. Other famous organizations that focus on the environment are Greenpeace International and the Audubon Society.
Securing an effective environmental policy is often a difficult process due to the complex nature of environmental problems, the fact that often the results of certain industry practices aren't immediately recognized and that, sometimes, even the government lacks the capacity to correct the damage to the environment caused by accidental or purposeful pollution. Founded by U.S. President Richard Nixon, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) writes and enforces regulations established to protect human health and the health of the environment. Some legislation that the EPA has dealt with includes governing air pollution (for example, the Clean Air Act of 1963), the quality of America's drinking water (such as the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974), conservation of land (the Wilderness Act of 1970), endangered species (for example, the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972) and the dangers of hazardous waste (such as the Nuclear Waste Repository Act of 1982). The 18,000-member EPA consists of computer specialists, engineers, environmental protection specialists, financial specialists, lawyers and scientists.