Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Environmental Movement in Quebec

Although my PhD research focuses rather narrowly on environmentalism in Toronto, I am more broadly interested is how the movement came together across Canada. While the literature on this subject is still in its infancy, an early and indispensable study exploring the Quebec story is Jane Barr's "The Origins and Emergence of Quebec's Environmental Movement: 1970-1985." Completed in 1995, this MA thesis argues that "Unlike its parallel in the United States, Quebec's movement had few historical or ideological links with efforts to preserve wilderness and it developed social - rather than nature - protection principles." An interesting argument that is worth a perusal if you're interested in the subject.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Paper at the forthcoming World Congress of Environmental History 2009

I recently received news that my paper, "Ideology and the Environmental Movement in Canada: An Analysis of Pollution Probe, 1969-1979", has been accepted for presentation at the World Congress of Environmental History to be held this coming August in Copenhagen, Denmark. I have also received one of seventeen travel grants provided by NiCHE for Canadian scholars attending this event. I notice that one of the other presenters, Jon Clapperton of the University of Saskatchewan, will be presenting on "Environmental Colonialism?: Environmental Protest and Logging in Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia." You can find a complete listing of the seventeen presenters receiving travel grants from NiCHE here.

I've included a copy of my paper abstract below. If you have any comments, please don't hesitate to pass them along.

Ideology and the Environmental Movement in Canada:
An Analysis of Pollution Probe, 1969-1979

Ryan O’Connor
The University of Western Ontario

The Canadian environmental movement is commonly associated with the confrontational and anti-corporate tactics of Greenpeace. Despite Greenpeace’s international renown, its brand of environmentalism does not reflect the broader movement within Canada. In an effort to expand our understanding of the ideological origins of the environmental movement in Canada, this paper will explore the activities of the country’s most influential organization, the Toronto-based Pollution Probe.

Founded in 1969 by students and faculty at the University of Toronto, Pollution Probe rose to prominence with a series of impressive accomplishments. Canada’s oldest and most successful environmentalist organization, Pollution Probe also assumed an early leadership position insofar that it helped develop and support similar groups across the country. While Canadian historians typically depict environmentalism as a left-wing movement, the Pollution Probe example demonstrates that the movement was built on a wide spectrum of ideologies. While Pollution Probe’s leadership maintained a centrist approach, internal factions maintained highly divergent ideological views. Most notable were the conflicting views of the teams responsible for urban and energy issues. The urban team focused on issues affecting the welfare of inner-city residents, such as tenants’ rights and the opposition of development plans that negatively affected existing neighborhoods. Consisting of community-minded activists, the urban team maintained a solidly leftist belief that the welfare of people must prevail above market forces. This contrasted sharply with the team responsible for energy issues, which believed a strict adherence to free market principles was the only way to resolve the mounting environmental crisis. This tension ultimately resulted in the energy team splitting off to form a separate entity.

In addition to reassessing outdated and overly simplistic notions regarding the ideological underpinnings of Canada’s environmental movement, this paper provides insight into the activities of Pollution Probe, the organization most closely associated with many of the country’s early environmental victories. As such, this will enable a more accurate understanding of environmentalism in Canada.
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