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10-08-2015, 22:27

The Environment and the Green Movements

Beginning in the 1970s, environmentalism became a serious item on the political agenda throughout the Western world. By that time, serious ecological problems had become all too apparent in the crowded countries of Western Europe. Air pollution, produced by nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions from road vehicles, power plants, and industrial factories, was causing respiratory illnesses and having corrosive effects on buildings as well as on historical monuments such as the Parthenon in Athens. Many rivers, lakes, and seas had become so polluted that they posed serious health risks. Dying forests (such as the famous Black Forest in southern Germany) and disappearing wildlife alarmed more and more people. Although the environment movement first began to gain broad public attention in the United States (see Chapter 10), the problem was more serious in Europe, with its higher population density and high levels of industrial production in such countries as Great Britain and West Germany. The problem was compounded by the lack of antipollution controls in the industrial sectors of the Soviet satellite states to the east. Growing ecological awareness gave rise to Green movements and Green parties throughout Europe in the 1970s. They came about in various ways. Some grew out of the antinuclear movement; others arose out of such causes as women’s liberation and concern for foreign workers. Most started at the local level and then gradually extended their activities to the national level, where they became formally organized as political parties. Most visible was the Green Party in Germany, which was officially organized in 1979 and eventually elected forty-one delegates to the West German parliament, but Green parties also competed successfully in Sweden, Austria, and Switzerland. As in the United States, however, the movement has been hindered by concerns that strict environmental regulations could sap economic growth and exacerbate unemployment. National rivalries and disagreements over how to deal with rising levels of pollution along international waterways such as the Rhine River also impeded cooperation. Nevertheless, public alarm over potential effects of global warming has focused attention on the global character of environmental issues.