Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Shared Roots of Environmentalism and Democracy EARTH SUMMIT

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Shared Roots of Environmentalism and Democracy EARTH SUMMIT

Article excerpt

ALONGSIDE new catch words such as bio-diversity, ozone depletion, and global warming, there's a well-worn word that is frequently heard during the Earth Summit, and likely to play a growing role in world environmental issues: democracy.

In the last decade environmental action has been a strong contributing factor in the spread of democracy, according to activists and government officials at the Earth Summit. The growing role of environmentalists in politics was clearly seen here, when hundreds of non-governmental organizations held meetings parallel to the United Nations conference, and then funneled their conclusions and treaties into the UN framework.

"One of the real marks of the growing democratization in Latin America - in fact, one of the groups that has been a leadership element behind that - is the growth of environmental organizations," says William Reilly, administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and former president of the World Wildlife Fund.

"That was true in Brazil, under the previous government. That was true in Chile. It's something that I think is a mark of societal maturity and growth," he says. "And it's a very important wedding of democratic principles with environmental protection. They almost always go together. If the people have influence, they want health and protection for their environment."

Environmental action has also been an important result of the adoption and deepening of democratic government, in the former Soviet bloc, Latin America, and Africa. Activists here say their groups often push for greater participation in policymaking, and rights to free speech and a free press, as part of their efforts to improve environmental conditions. The result is renewed vigor, for both natural resources and political development.

In Tunisia, for example, environmentalists say much has changed under the multiparty reforms of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who became president in 1987 after 31 years of autocratic rule. …

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