Environmental activism has developed over the decades as a movement that advocating the conservation of and the improvement of the environment. Its origins may be traced back to the time of the Industrial Revolution in England, wherein increased coal mining gave rise to extremely high levels of pollution. This spurred a ‘back to nature’ movement as a result.
As industrial growth has expanded and the need to expand in terms of venturing into new territories for resources, cutting down more forest land to make way for industries and taking away agricultural land for industrial or housing purposes, we see a conflict arising between economic growth and environmental conservation. This conflict is felt most severely by those inhabiting these new acquired spaces. The indigenous populations, confined mostly to forest areas as well as farmers whose land is taken over for economic development are the ones who face not only a loss in terms of livelihood but also are uprooted from their homes and pushed into new spaces.
However, these are also the people who benefit the least from the economic development and industrial growth for which they gave up their land.
Mineral resources are what drive a country’s economic development. However, we see that in countries and states rich in minerals fare poorly on the Human Development Index. This may be seen in various parts of the world such as in India, wherein mineral rich states such as Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh fair poorly in terms of the Human Development Index. This holds true for several mineral rich countries of Africa as well such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Ghana. While the economy may benefit from exporting the minerals, the people do not necessarily have a share in that benefit.
It is due to this, that sustainable development initiatives become increasingly important. It is essential for people to be shareholders of the benefit of development and it is equally essential for economic development to be carried out in a sustainable way.
This must be done to prevent damage to the local livelihoods of the indigenous people. A recent example of this conflict may be seen in the case of the Arctic. While the melting ice brings new prospects of oil resources for several countries, it also could prove to endanger the local Inuit tribe in Greenland and their existence in the region. Hence, the importance of environmental activism becomes even more pressing.
In order to pursue a profession in this upcoming field, one must bear in mind that a passion for environmental causes is essential. This means that one must be ready to participate in protests surrounding issues of environmental concerns. Greenpeace is well known for its activism and it protests. As a starting point, one could consider just becoming a member or volunteering and participating in these protests to get an idea of the issues, the organization as well as the kind of work to look forward to.
With regard to courses, TERI University, New Delhi, offers several Masters’ courses dealing with sustainable development, public policy and sustainable development as well as environmental studies and resource management to name a few. In addition to this, University of Michigan, University of Arizona, Yale University, Columbia College, and the University of Liverpool, all offer courses in environmental science (links below). Exeter University also offers an online course in Sustainable Development.
Organizations such as Greenpeace, TERI, Centre for Science and Environment, Environmental Defense Fund, Conservation International, WWF are among many avenues that one can approach to start a career in this field. As a starting point, one could also perhaps consider the internship regularly offered at WWF, New Delhi. A good place to start would also be the free online Diploma offered in Sustainable Development to get familiar with the basic issues
While courses specific to environment studies do prove to be beneficial, they are not mandatory. A course in development studies also provides a holistic approach to understanding the various factors affecting environment policy and sustainable development. However, what remains most significant is being a good communicator to put your ideas across, being passionate about the cause and most importantly, getting others involved by careful planning and organization.
Lastly, environmental activism has come a long way as a movement from when it once started. This is due to the rapid changes in our environment, coupled with reckless economic development that is now being seen as being at odds with sustainable development. It is, therefore, the need of the hour for more and more people to join this field and be part of a greater cause. This is the time to take action. It is now or never.
Links for courses/ internship