The idea is not new in the oriental countries, as the idea found a place in their ancient texts also, but the nature-as-nurture view became popular with the Western academics only in the 1960s. The idea is rooted in the belief that the very survival of human agency is dependent upon a healthy environment where a perfect ecological balance is maintained.
Currently the debate related to environmentalism revolves around two basic issues: first, for human survival, the exploitation of resources is inevitable but it is followed by problems like global warming; secondly, there is hope for a better future when human instinct of acquiring narrow personal gains will be replaced by human consciousness about the preservation of nature.
The Contemporary Explanation of Environmentalism:
There are two contemporary views on environmentalism: one, the conservative view that perceives nature as a guide teaching us the rules of conduct, and two, the radical and manipulative perspective in which the spirit of competition in skill dictates the terms of ethics and conduct.
There is also a basic difference between the conservative and the manipulative views of environmentalism based on the perceived relation between God, Nature and Man.
According to the conservative perspective, God is perceived to be the creator of nature and then human beings. The view is originally rooted in the Hebrew view of Genesis which was later adapted by the romanticists of the nineteenth century Europe.
According to the manipulative perspective, also called the ecocentric approach, the order of precedence is God-Man-Nature: it believes that man is the creation of God; and that nature was created for human beings to exploit for their use. So, man according to this concept is primary, and nature is secondary.
Manipulative ideas are also called ‘technocentric’ or ‘interventionist’, because of their emphasis on scientific, skill, market operation and managerial resourcefulness. A somewhat milder version of the technocratic approach is the accommodative approach, which has its basis in social adaptability vis-a-vis environmental demands.
The ecocentric approach is rooted in the belief that the earth maintains its own law which is “deeper than human enactments and beyond repeal”. Nowadays such a faith is commonly called Gaianism—the term originates from the Greek goddess Gaia who is believed to have created all the means of livelihood on this earth.
Scientists like W. Fox, W. Devall, G. Sessons and M. Tobias advocated the deep ecology concept in the 1980s which justifies the sacredness of life on earth and seeks to promote equal respect for all living beings originating from the common cosmic force.
The Concept of Sustainable Development:
The concept was popularised by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987. The concept of sustainable development is a compromise between the developers who endorse development at the expense of resources and the environmentalists who want to conserve environment in toto. The World Commission defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs”.
The concept has its basis on the utilitarian concept of resource management, the emphasis of which is on the complex interrelationship between the physical and the social aspects of life. The concept involves an ecological basis to economics and self-reliance at local level.
T.O’ Riordan (1989) has drawn a distinction between the concepts of sustainability and sustainable utilisation. The concept of sustainability is derived from the Gaia tradition. O’ Riordan believes that the concept of sustainability is a reformist idea nurtured in the neo-Marxist radical tradition of liberalising the policies related to economic investment and resource development, whereas the term sustainable utilisation was used in 1980 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to define a rate of resource exploitation which is more or less equal to the rate of renewal and replenishment of resources.