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The Importance of the Second-Wave Environmental Movement: A/J Pilot Issue Revisited

It started with a movement, then a magazine, then the whole country changed.

It is amazing to see how things change if you give it enough time. In our first issue, Perspectives on Society and Environment published in the summer of 1971, all five articles had to do with a variety of environmental issues that were all the rave in the time. It was a period of change and protest, the publication reflected that in its variety of topics ranging from revolutionizing economics to fit sustainability (a concept which was just beginning to cultivate) to concerns about new flight technology polluting the atmosphere. The article that caught my eye was named “Power and the Liberation of Nature: The politics of Ecology” by Henry Steck.

I considered the shift that environmental legislation had taken in the last fifty years and how much of that was due to the events in the 1970s. I wondered about the time period the article was based on and more specifically what it was fighting for. I thought I would conduct some research and reflect on the change that has happened pertaining to governance and the environment.

The second-wave of the environmental movement was in full force during the 1970s. It was different than the first initial movement in Canada, which was lead in part by early conservationists (naturalist groups) and indigenous groups when there was no clear policy in protecting forests, lakes, and wildlife—this lead to the development of national parks, including providing protected status to a monumental and significant feature known as Yellowstone National Park in Banff in 1872. However, the second-wave saw the introduction of the term “environmentalism”.

1960-1970 Environmental Movement

During this period ranging from the 1960s to the1970s, many Canadian residents began to worry about the effects of human development on nature. It was during this period of time protests, calls to action, and reporting on environmental issues became the main feature of society. This period of time saw the rise of many significant victories for the recognition of the biosphere, such as the creation of Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Much of the environmentalism was driven from the past years drenched in warfare and its effect on the environment; Americans and Canadians alike became aware of the effect of nuclear machinery that had cast its toxic shadow on natural spaces. The anti-war movement had also included the environmental movement in this case, as both considered peace and reflection as an alternative to war and progress.

In Canada, energy projects were scrutinized for the first time on their effect on ecological and cultural systems (including both its environmental impact and its impact on indigenous groups). A big project that was canceled due to the environmental movement in this time was known as the James Bay Project. This first phase of the project was based on the development of a pipeline in the coast of James Bay in Quebec, which had flooded natural land that was used by Inuit communities, caused contamination of fish populations in nearby reservoirs, killed over 10 000 caribou, and caused numerous other environmental catastrophes in local natural spaces. This lead to mass amounts of protest and legal battles to stop the second project (during the 1970s-1980s), in which the roots of environmental assessment were built (still used for reference in present assessments).

Additionally, environmentalism in the 1970s led to the establishment of the Canadian Wildlife Federation and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. It also allowed for new federal and provincial environmental legislation to be introduced and later passed into governance; the Environmental Impact Assessment was introduced in 1973 and formally passed into legislation in 1995. There were many other regulations that came into force due to the second-wave environmental movement, including The Department of Environmental Act (1971), Canada Water Act (1970), and many more.

Believe it or not, Alternatives Journal also began its work in the second-wave environmental movement. We were a part of it and so was the pilot issue. It is incredible to think that our publication started in a period of protest, change, and hope. However, that has always been the premise of A/J.

To allow for environmental activists to use their voice and create change. To actively hope for a better future. That is our philosophy from our first issue in 1971 and still goes strong in every issue we made since then.

Ishani Dasgupta is majoring in Environment, Resources, and Sustainability (ERS), while also pursuing a minor in English & Literature Studies, at the University of Waterloo. She is a dedicated environmental writer and has worked throughout the course of her career to write about the challenges faced by communities, natural spaces, and activists alike regarding the destruction of the natural environment–she is interested in exploring global inequities created by the current Anthropocene. In her free time, Ishani likes to make music, read, and go on nature walks. Ishani is taking on the role of an editorial intern for Alternatives Journal (A/J).