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Ecotrends in history: Every era has its paradigm

Manos levantando una bola del mundo en un bosque

In the 1970s, ecology was the stuff of hippies. It was closer to a return to the almost spiritual origins of humanity than to a sustainable development that would make society's existence compatible with the functions of ecosystems. Each era has its moral perception and concerns, and it tends to focus a complex problem on a simple, often unique, powerful idea.

Fifty years back, there was no talk of sustainability because the word did not yet exist.

However, the public's lack of concern was not consistent with the very high pollution problems experienced with a complete lack of control over chemicals, waste, and the exploitation of resources. Paints with continuous emissions of carcinogenic toxins, leaded petrol, high tension towers, DDT, the dreaded pesticide that has caused so many illnesses decades later. But what was the concern at the time? At the time, environmentalism was almost entirely associated with the anti-nuclear and anti-whaling movement. The world's leading environmental organization, Greenpeace, was founded in the 1970s by an anti-nuclear activists group.

Imagen 1. Manifestación del movimiento antinuclear en la Alemania de los años 70.
Image 1. Demonstration of the anti-nuclear movement in Germany in the 1970s.

The 1980s were the years of the ozone hole. The spray represented the anti-hero of a whole generation.

Thanks to social pressure and global political willingness, the decade culminated in the Montreal Protocol for eliminating the CFCs responsible for ozone depletion in the atmosphere. Today, CFCs are no longer part of our concerns, and contemporary children probably don't even know that saying "ozone hole" is the greatest fear of children now in their 40s.

Aerosol gigante pulverizando spray sobre el planeta tierra
Image 2. CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons, are a family of gases widely used in the past as refrigerants, aerosol propellants, solvents or blowing agents.

Acid rain was the other nemesis of the late 1970s and 1980s. Low PH rain that corrodes monuments and destroys trees, crops, and river life. Again, we could agree to avoid sulfur emissions from fuels, but for 30 years, but for 30 years we were denying their existence and sowing doubts about their consequences. In this, we have not changed over the years, as the method is identical to the one used for climate change since the 1990s and 2000s. So, denial, disinformation, and relativism about the consequences delay action as long as possible.

In the 1990s, the Earth Summit in Rio was a big push for environmental concepts.

Imagen 3. 2ª Cumbre de la Tierra, celebrada en Río de Janeiro en 1992.
Image 3. 2nd Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

In this decade, sustainability became a term, children's series such as Captain Planet was created with a clear vocation to raise awareness among children, and the spotlight shifted to deforestation. Wood was no longer seen as just another material but became the focus of concern in pursuit of sustainable development. Europe's forests in the 1990s were at a minimum compared to the current growth brought about by reforestation policies should be bear in mind. Hence, wood was not considered a material with an ecological profile but rather the opposite: the representation of the ecologically immoral. Without reaching the level of animal skins, which were undoubtedly beginning to represent the crime that they are, wood destroys the forest, and that is not sustainable. At this time, synthetic materials would be the solution to achieve a sustainable design in both clothing and furniture was proclaimed. This idea links directly to the origin of the plastic bag. A decade earlier, the much-maligned shopping bag was born as a response to the problems of deforestation caused by the massive use of cardboard packaging.

Imagen 4.  El autor de este invento fue el ingeniero sueco Sten Gustaf Thulin, quien en 1959 comprobó que sus bolsas eran bastante más resistentes que las de papel. Esto significaba que, en principio, podían utilizarse una y otra vez.
Image 4. The author of this invention was the Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin, who in 1959 found that his bags were considerably stronger than paper bags. This meant that, in principle, they could be used over and over again.

In short, they advocated plastic use as an ecological action in the face of the disaster of cutting down forests for wood or cardboard.

This vision is opposed to 20 or 30 years later perception. Ours is an era in which wooden piece furniture is sustainable simply because the material and packaging are environmentally friendly. After all, it is cardboard. Or at least perceived sustainability has absorbed the mantra.

At the turn of the century, Kyoto was the buzzword. Meeting the Kyoto targets for reducing CO₂ emissions was the key to any sustainability strategy. And it was precisely when energy companies decided to change their logo and go green. They had consolidated the eco-marketing that was born in the 80s and 90s.

Imagen 5. Conceptos que se trataron en el Protocolo de Kyoto.
Image 5. Concepts discussed in the Kyoto Protocol.

The first decade of the 2000s was a decade of abundance and growth, but it began to set today's interests and perceptions.

Globalization was beginning to expose the excesses of consumption. Organic food emerged from the new age niche, and eco-labeling appeared. It is a time of skepticism. A runaway denialism instigated by the American pro-oil movement with Bush at its head. It is a time when the eco-label is associated with poor-quality products.

Although in recent decades, perception has been dominated by unique concepts such as the ozone layer, acid rain, deforestation, and climate change, today knowledge has become more comprehensive among the population and in terms of factors to consider. Different environmental focal points emerge although it is true that if we were to name one concern that stands out above all others, it might be marine waste. Stepping back, the path toward the 2000s was "sustainability." Any action, no matter how lightweight or tangential, was already considered sustainable. It almost seemed that without the label "sustainable," it was impossible to exist in the market. Attention turns to what we eat, and ecological problems are clothed in health it is in these years that McDonald's transformed similarly to BP's in the 2000s, with its logo turning green. A clear indicator of where perceptions were headed and consumer desires.

Imagen 6. Evolución del logotipo de McDonald’s, del rojo al verde.
Image 6. Evolution of the McDonald's logo, from red to green.

Nowadays is a time when communication is all-pervasive. In which immediacy leads to the virtualization of any story, however implausible it may be. But it is also a time when awareness has permeated all strata and all ages. In which a large part of the population considers that car is not a good thing, that eating too much meat is a bad idea for the ecology, and that waste should be treated responsibly.

This decade can probably be considered the decade of awareness and action by the new generations in symmetry with the frivolity of marketing and social media.

As we come to the present day, the historical view disappears and everything seems to be magnified, but one could argue that the present decade is the environmental boom. What are the most topical concerns today? Is it plastics in the sea? Is it climate change? Is it the lack of water?



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