The Industrial Revolution resulted in high levels of air pollution in industrial centres throughout Europe. Rapid industrialization and urbanization in the 19th and 20th centuries caused communities to migrate from the countryside to cities, and changed the scale and means of agricultural and industrial production. Resources were no longer shared according to local needs. Low-income people and minorities were disproportionately exposed to hazardous living conditions, and suffered from health problems. The degraded air quality led the middle class to demand change and inspired the first recorded environmental movement. This movement was a part of a larger philosophy called Romanticism, an intellectual, artistic, and literary movement in Europe that arose partially as a response to industrialization. Romanticism placed a high value on the beauty and wisdom inherent in nature. The actions of both the environmental and Romantic movements led many European countries to implement laws that regulated pollution. One set of laws was the Alkali Acts, passed by Britain in 1863, which controlled the levels of gaseous hydrochloric acid emitted during the production of soda ash. By the end of the nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII had spoken out against the social impacts of these industrial work practices in Rerum Novarum (1891).
The ambitions of the environmental movement grew throughout the 19th and 20th centuries all around the world. With increasing social recognition and support, more laws were enacted to prevent further damage to the environment. Many national parks and reserves were also created. Australia has the second oldest national park in the world, established in 1879 just outside of Sydney, following Yellowstone National Park in the US in 1872.
Fighting for the right to a safe environment and a transparent environmental decision making process became an important front in the Civil Rights movements around the globe.
A significant landmark of the environmental movement in the United States was the release of Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring," of 1962. It revealed the negative health effects of pesticide use, especially those of DDT. The Second Vatican Council was opened that year but the environmental movement was very small at the time. It was to grow exponentially in coming decades. In the words of the Second Vatican Council from Gaudium et Spes #69 "God destined the earth and all it contains for the use of every individual and all peoples." Here is a theology of the earth that is human-centred.
Historians also consider the first Earth Day celebration on April 22, 1970, to be the official beginning of environmentalism. This Earth Day was also the first recognized convention dedicated to environmental issues. Green Peace was founded in the same year. Protests, heated debates and the formation of local environmental justice groups led to the recognition of these issues by governments in the 1980s and 1990s. Environmental disasters like Chernobyl, world's worst nuclear power accident at a plant in Ukraine in 1986, an emerging discussion of the hole in the Ozone Layer and the reality of climate change had their impact government policy around the globe and led to international approaches to ecological concerns.
In 1998, the US Environmental Protection Agency defined environmental justice as,
"The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Fair treatment means that no group of people, including racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local, and tribal programs and policies.”