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Eco-journalist, activist Emily Hunter presents the ‘next eco movement’

< convocation speech last Friday, environmental activist Emily Hunter called environmental movements “unlike any other social movement.”

The inherently political character of such movements has allowed them to gain momentum both in America and around the rest of the world, she said in her talk focusing on the future of environmentalism and the need for its transformation.

According to Hunter, activist, journalist and author of “The Next Eco-Warriors,” some people “think the environmental movement is dead and needs to be reborn into something completely new and more effective.”

She detailed the history of the environmental movement in North America, outlining its four distinct movements that spanned over two centuries from the mid-1800’s to the present day.

Important milestones included the first Earth Day in 1970, when the second wave began to lose momentum with the institutionalization of the environmental movement. Hunter’s father Robert Hunter is co-founder of Greenpeace.  When the organization started accepting tax breaks from the government, she said, it subsequently kicked out its more radical members.
She characterized the third wave – from the 80’s to 1992 – as featuring a diverse group of members from different levels of society, as well as various organizations who performed “environmental sabotage,” aiming to combat environmental degradation without harming human life.

Hunter also cited other movements such as the environmental social justice movement and how they galvanized members from different racial and social classes. It was this expansion of the movement to a wider range of actors that gave birth to the fourth movement in 2006, where the sense of urgency surrounding climate change further exacerbated existing social injustices.
This expansion “allowed more than just privileged Americans to relate to these global issues,” she said.

Hunter described a key quality of the most recent wave of environmentalism: its youth-based membership, which is “both powerful and creative.”

The internet and social media facilitate the global reach of the environmental movement, “connecting many across the world into networks of resistance.”

Hunter noted that 2009 was really when the green movement “was in vogue,” and there was strong social backing for the environment.

2012, then, is a crucial turning point.

“We can either wait for a fifth wave to come along and pick us up, or we go further and revolutionize the revolution,” she said.
One of the biggest objectives for Hunter is to rethink the term “environment.”

“This is far too narrow a definition, and entails something ‘out there’ and ‘in the wilderness’ and ignores the social, urban and human element of the issue,” she said.

She also stressed the need to find common ground between other movements – such as food and farming, economic or social justice movements – in order to find common solutions.

“We can connect the dots with other visions and other issues, in order to form something truly new and more effective,” she said.

Hunter compared the current environmental movement to a young child.

“It’s messy and confused, but it’s here and ready to be nurtured into what our generation needs.”

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