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SurroundingsA History of Environments and Environmentalisms$
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Etienne S. Benson

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226706153

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226706320.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 27 September 2021

The Evolution of Risk: Toxicology, Consumption, and the US Environmental Movement

The Evolution of Risk: Toxicology, Consumption, and the US Environmental Movement

(p.135) Chapter 5 The Evolution of Risk: Toxicology, Consumption, and the US Environmental Movement

Etienne S. Benson

University of Chicago Press

This chapter describes the adoption of the concept of environment by environmental activists in the United States between the 1950s and the 1980s. It argues that the modern environmental movement’s roots lie as much in consumerism as they do in nature protection or conservation. In the postwar United States, economic growth, technological advances, and social changes confronted consumers with numerous products whose origins and characteristics were obscure and unfamiliar, including plastics, pharmaceuticals, and pesticide-treated fruits and vegetables. At the same time, new techniques of chemical analysis and toxicological testing were revealing that the harmful side-effects of many products were not confined to those who directly purchased or consumed them. Drawing on the evolutionary theory of the day, physicians, scientists, writers, and activists such as Rachel Carson, Wilhelm Hueper, and Murray Bookchin argued that humanity might not be able to adapt quickly enough to the changes it was making to its own environment—a threat that they argued demanded radical technological, social, and legal responses. The chapter concludes by describing the rise of the environmental justice movement, which challenged the universalism of earlier environmentalists by calling attention to the unequal distribution of environmental risks.

Keywords:   United States, consumerism, risk, toxicology, evolutionary theory, environmental movement, environmental justice, Rachel Carson, Murray Bookchin, Wilhelm Hueper

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