The first Ecology Action Group was formed in January 1968 in the USA by four people; Chuck Herrick, Betty Schwimmer, Mary and Cliff Humphrey. In an article in ‘Ecology’ Cliff Humphrey explained his thoughts (as recorded by Michael Allaby in The Eco-Activists,1971 p63):
“We believe that ecology – knowledge of our household – contains an implicit set of ethics for both individual and institutional behaviour. Our common physical household, clean air, fresh water, fertile soil, sustains us all in a similar manner. We all share a common culture and economic system that values an increasing amount of health, comfort, joy and security. There are tragic contradictions between these values and our naive attempts to fulfil them. To have a knowledge of our household’s limitations is to understand these contradictions.”
The four in the US felt that ‘an ecological perspective transcended all existing categories for classifying political and conservation activities.’ They established no committees and elected no officers. They had no members and there was no subscription. Ecology Action was not something you joined. It was something you did. They defined their objectives very simply:-
‘Doing ecology action tries to take all of the household’s limitations into account and evaluate everything else in relation to them. Each action large and small is evaluated simply by asking: does it facilitate our survival?'
They defined cultural practices in three categories:-
- irrelevant: new car models every year, insurance policies etc.
- necessary, but possibly dangerous: food processing and distribution, construction of housing, the procuring and distribution of energy etc.
- destructive: covering the soil with concrete, pollution, warfare etc.
By Sept 1969 the movement had spread to Boston, Mass and on October 20th a new group had opened an Ecology Action Centre in nearby Cambridge, US. Their rallying cry was ‘Liberate the Ecosystem!’
In autumn 1969 The University of Texas in Austin hosted a Round Earth Conference as part of the preparations for the first Earth Day on April 22nd 1970. A group of students there were inspired to create 'Ecology Action of Texas' in late 1969, promoting a variety of issues and eventually focusing on recycling and landfill diversion.
Some of these early US groups, like the Texas one, have continued to this day focusing on practical action in the community or household.
The first Ecology Action group in the UK was created as Oxford Ecology Action in 1969/1970. Other groups in other university towns followed.