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FORCING THE SPRING by Robert Gottlieb


The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement

by Robert Gottlieb

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 1-55963-123-6
Publisher: Island Press

 An earnest dissertation on environmentalism as a complex social movement that began in response to industrialization, urbanization, and the closing of the frontier. Gottlieb (A Life of Its Own, 1988, etc.), an environmental activist and lecturer at UCLA's Urban Planning Program, rejects as too narrow the view of the environmental movement as one rooted in the struggle to preserve nature. This view, he claims, overlooks environmentalism's urban and industrial ancestry: the social-reform movements of the 19th century that sought to improve the daily lives of working people. Gottlieb diligently traces the history of this more broadly defined environmentalism from the 1890's on. He selects Earth Day 1970 as a transitional event, marking the emergence of a new mainstream environmentalism as a powerful force in shaping policy at the federal level, and he scrutinizes the conflict between this professional, institutionalized environmentalism and alternative, community- based, direct-action groups. Unlike mainstream environmentalists, whom Gottlieb describes as working closely with government and industry, alternative groups are more confrontational, and the issues they tackle are often ones in which gender, race, and class play significant roles--e.g., exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace, with its disproportionately greater impact on blue-collar workers. The picture that emerges is one in which mainstream environmentalism has lost its way, with new direction coming from the alternative groups, the true descendants of 19th-century champions of social justice. By recognizing its social-reform roots and by redefining itself in broad terms, Gottlieb asserts that environmentalism can transform itself into a more democratic movement, one concerned with the total human environment. Impressive research and a clear message--if somewhat tedious in the telling.