More to `Green' Than Meets the Eye

FOR most people, the environmental movement is about spotted owls and whales and grizzlies - essentially ``green'' with an emphasis on protecting wilderness and wildlife. Nature is at its core and pretty much defines its boundaries.

But a fuller and more accurate definition of environmentalism would have to include the social and urban aspects of American history - not only since the first Earth Day in 1970 or the conservation efforts of Teddy Roosevelt in the early part of this century, but also back to the Industrial Revolution.

An examination of this history, as well as its impact on present-day environmentalism, would have to recognize issues of gender, race, and class as key factors.

This is the premise and purpose of Robert Gottlieb's thoughtful and well-written survey of American environmentalism from the late 19th century to the present. ``Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement'' is an important work, providing for general readers as well as specialists the background to an emergent way of thinking that goes beyond activism to define values that have quietly begun to affect politics and society at all levels.

``The problem with the story historians have told us is whom it leaves out and what it fails to explain,'' writes Gottlieb. ``A history that separates resource development and its regulation from the urban and industrial environment disguises a crucial link that connects both pollution and the loss of wilderness.''

Gottlieb devotes chapters to gender, class, and ethnicity as factors in the growth and evolution of environmentalism. With many examples, he illustrates, for example, how women have played the leading role in grass-roots activism on environmental issues like toxic waste.

The author also contrasts the membership, goals, and tactics of Washington-based ``mainstream'' environmental groups with those organized at the local level. And he shows the importance of tracking race and ethnicity in gauging the impacts of environmental degradation, which is what the relatively new ``environmental justice'' movement is all about.

Those fighting for a cleaner environment in neighborhoods and workplaces, he writes, ``can be seen as inheriting the mantle of the new social movements, or at least the tradition of social claims about equity, empowerment, and daily life concerns.'' Gottlieb teaches environmental policy in the UCLA urban planning program, and comes out of an activist background himself.

Some may categorize him as a ``social green'' or ``leftist green'' for whom human beings (rather than other species) are the prime concern. But if his analysis of environmentalism is correct -

and I believe it is - then such classification is not really very useful.

As he asserts, ``The connections among the workplace health and safety movement, the labor movement, and the environmental movement are made in the industrial choices and practices out of which contemporary environmental problems arise.'' This is as true for the logger or mill worker in the Pacific Northwest as it is for the chemical plant employee along the Gulf Coast.

``Forcing the Spring'' (a phrase taken from President Clinton's inaugural speech), addresses a movement - and movements move, that is, they continue to evolve. Understanding what this evolution entails and where it's headed is the task Gottlieb takes on and largely succeeds in accomplishing.

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