The US environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s

Building frameworks of sustainability

Authored by: Erik W. Johnson , Pierce Greenberg

Routledge Handbook of the History of Sustainability

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  October  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138685796
eBook ISBN: 9781315543017
Adobe ISBN:


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The US environmental movement has been a vibrant agent of societal change for the past 50 years. Since the first Earth Day in 1970, the movement has grown dramatically in both size and the diversity of tactics, membership, and the issues it represents. 1 Over this period, the movement has achieved significant legislative gains, 2 environmental education has blossomed, the environment has gone “from Heresy to Dogma” among business organizations, 3 and public support for the environment has generally remained strong and broad based. 4 One key to sustained vibrancy and effectiveness within American environmentalism was the turn towards sustainability issues as an arena of focus and conceptual innovation. Within American environmentalism (and across much of the world), sustainability is an increasingly central organizing framework that operates across a wide variety of institutional domains. The elaboration and extension of various perspectives on sustainability represented in this volume, and the movement of these concepts across various social institutions and sub-cultures, has its intellectual roots in the “new” environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s. To better understand today’s sustainability movement, this chapter focuses on the groundwork laid during this emergent phase of a new national environmental movement. The late 1960s and 1970s environ mental movement changed cultural understandings about the interplay between human and biophysical systems. During this period, Americans began to see humans and human systems as fitting within natural systems, rather than seeing human society and economy as separate and nature an object to dominate. This shift was facilitated by a new environmental movement, which laid the intellectual groundwork for the sustainability focus that has grown in significance since the early 1990s.

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