Environmentalists have created and described themselves by a variety of terms to explain their varying schools of thought and practice. Helping children- and even adults- understand the differences in environmental thought can encourage green lifestyles and increase the number of environmental viewpoints in a classroom.
Because the term “environmentalist” was not yet common, early eco-friendly efforts in the 1700s and early 1800s were marked by naturalists. Naturalists served a dual role as early environmental crusader and pre-modern scientist. These individuals kept detailed journals about the plants and animals that they discovered. They were often great artists and frequently sketched nature in addition to taking samples.
Explorers like Lewis and Clark could also be considered naturalists. During their exploration of new frontiers, they collected thousands of species of animals and plants to send back to the president for further study.
Journals of naturalists became popular among the general public, which encouraged naturalists to write novels based off of their adventures. Blending scientific fact with whimsical fiction, naturalists were able to help the general public become excited about the environment in a way similar to modern movies with environmental messages.
Conservationism and the Anthropocentric Mindset
Conservationists hold an anthropocentric view, meaning that these individuals view nature as a means for human development. The ultimate goal of the conservationist was to protect the environment so that humans could reap the benefits of well-maintained forests and large game.
From the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s, conservationism efforts grew in both the social and policy realms. Conservationists sought to conserve or preserve aspects of the environment for human use including planted trees for hedge protection, forests for lumber, pure water for drinking, and proper water use for irrigation. For conservationists, preserving nature was necessary to properly use natural resources for the good of humankind.
The creation of a national Arbor Day arose from conservationist thought. With the pioneer-frontier mindset still firmly planted in the minds of Americans, J. Sterling Morton encouraged the public to plant trees. Pioneers needed trees to sustain their farms and livelihoods because of their ability to root soil in place and keep the wind from devastating crops.
In the early 1900s, President Theodore Roosevelt led a top-down conservationist movement. By focusing his political efforts on forest conservation, game protection, water conservation, and reclamation and irrigation, Roosevelt was able to preserve America’s natural resources and increase public awareness of environmental issues.
Despite massive efforts to preserve the natural environmental, Roosevelt was not a preservationist. Roosevelt’s policies established several key national parks, including Yosemite and Yellowstone, yet preserving nature for nature’s sake was not at the top of his agenda. Roosevelt’s policy revealed that the natural resources were meant to be used by humans, thus placing him in the conservationist school of thought.
Preservationism and the Biocentric Viewpoint
Preservationists hold a biocentric view, one that emphasises the protection of nature for nature’s sake. In general, preservationists believe that the Earth’s natural resources should not be managed for human benefit. For preservationists, attempts to conserve the environment for the benefit of humankind are misguided because the conservationists place the individual at the centre of Earth’s priorities.
Instead of creating alarm within the population about their own wellbeing, writers such as Thoreau and Emerson called on individuals to develop a relationship with nature so that the human soul could be spiritually cleansed and at the same time hold a reverence for nature for its own sake.
Preservationism rejected human manipulation of the environment; however, the roots of preservationism advocated for a much deeper look into the environmental cause. Some radical preservationists subscribe to a belief known as “deep ecology.” In its simplest form, deep ecology rejects the man-centre view of conservationism and embraces a philosophy that focuses on the interconnectedness of animals, people, and nature.
Understanding the differing types of environmental advocates can foster a child’s own growth towards an environmentally friendly lifestyle, opening up a world of knowledge and a lifetime of eco-friendly living.