Local Environmental Movements: A Comparative Study of the United States and Japan

By Pradyumna P. Karan; Unryu Suganuma | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Local Environmental Movements
An Innovative Paradigm to Reclaim the Environment

Pradyumna P. Karan and Unryu Suganuma

The environment is under siege nearly everywhere. Residential, commercial, and industrial development threatens national parks, streams, wildlife habitats, tidal flats and coral reefs, urban landscapes, and farmland in both Japan and the United States. No single private or public entity can counter this trend; the answer lies in a creative partnership involving local people, citizens’ groups, and governments at all levels. Strengthening local environmental groups and local governments can help protect and preserve the environment as a whole.

There are many local movements organized to pursue through collective action a variety of goals. The focus of this volume, however, is on those movements in Japan and the United States organized in response to environmental problems. These local environmental movements have geographic attributes. They originate in particular places. Their planning processes and subsequent campaigns occur in specific locales. The very existence of a local organization is rooted in notions of space and place—particularly of place. People develop strong emotional attachments to their local environments (Tuan 1974; Buttimer and Seamon 1980). Their sense of place is often especially acute when beloved environments—rivers, tidal flats, traditional urban landscapes, natural landscapes, or farmlands—are threatened or under attack. The chapters in this volume argue that local activism (1) creates a new focus on environmental concerns and ecosystem protection, (2) integrates a complex set of local issues that contextualize local movements, making it easier for such movements to coalesce with and strengthen national and regional environmental organizations, and (3) starts a process of local mobilization that propels future activism and appears to be effective in redirecting development policies toward both protecting the environment and enhancing social opportunities.

Local communities in Japan and the United States are facing a number of similar environmental issues, including the loss of farmland, the disposal of chemical waste, the problems associated with the use of nuclear power, and the preservation of historicalcultural landscapes and wildlife habitats. All these issues are being tackled by local groups, as evidenced, for example, by myriad local newspaper reports and, more specifically, a recent guidebook of citizens’ movements in Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture that includes contact details for seventy-five environmental groups (Sendado Kurabu 1991). The environmental movements discussed in this volume represent very diverse networks of people. Some of them are relatively loosely organized and some very highly organized. Most of them promote a holistic view emphasizing the preservation of nature and the restraint of unsustainable development. Many had their origins in the 1970s and 1980s.

Environmental issues are no longer the preserve of a few visionaries or intellectuals, having begun to engage the consciousness of the millions in the United States and Japan who fear the excessive cost of uncontrolled

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