Environmental Law

Section 3: Organizing, Reviews, and Challenging Issues

In this section, you will be looking at situations where private organizations have taken legal action to stop projects that they felt would harm the environment.

When you have finished this section, you should be able to describe the role organizations like these play and to identify some key cases they have been involved in. You should also be able to explain how a public review of a project works and to identify and describe challenging issues in the area of environmental law.

Lesson 1: Environmental Organizations

How many environmental groups can you name off the top of your head?

Many Canadians who are asked this question can come up with Greenpeace, an organization born in Canada and which now has chapters in over 30 countries. You might come up with the names of a few more groups dedicated to protecting the Earth's natural ecosystems or some aspect of them; but it is unlikely you would be able to name more than three or four with absolute assurance. One reason for this is that there are so many independent environmental groups today that they are hard to keep track of. One estimate puts the number of charitable organizations working on environmental issues in Canada at over 3000.

Just what is an environmental organization? Of course, groups of this type vary in how they are set up, ways in which they are funded, and the sorts of environmental issues that concern them. They also differ in the methods they use to achieve their purposes-from educational campaigning at one extreme to acts of civil disobedience and sometimes even what has been labeled ecoterrorism -at the other.

Though things like civil disobedience-and even the odd blatant publicity stunt-generate a lot of press, most activities carried out by environmental groups are completely legal and pose no danger or inconvenience to the public. But just what sorts of methods do organizations of this type use to achieve their goals? Though different groups stress different methods, most of them engage in activities like the following:

  • raising public awareness of environmental threats through methods ranging from education campaigns to publicity stunts

  • lobbying government officials in an attempt to get pro-environmental legislation passed and enforced

  • conducting scientific research in areas that affect the environment

  • taking an active role in the process of environmental reviews

  • taking independent legal action against companies (and the government itself) thought to be breaking environmental laws

  • working with government and industry to achieve environmental objectives

  • working with other environmental organizations

  • raising funds to carry out their programs

The next few pages will cover a few of these organizations?