Nineties 1990-99


Ken Sawo-Wiwa, non-violent environmentalist, wrongfully executed Nov. 10, 1995 by the government of Nigeria, with the complicity and support of Shell Oil Co.

1990 — United Nations report on climate change warns that global temperature rise might be as much as 2 degrees F in 35 years, recommends reducing CO2 emissions worldwide.

1990 — April 20 — Twentieth Anniversary of Earth Day — 140 nations celebrate.

1990 — May 24 — Car bomb maims environmental activist Judi Beri in Oakland, California. Beri was recruiting college students for Redwood Summer, a campaign of nonviolent mass protests against corporate liquidation logging. FBI agents accused Beri of knowingly transporting the bomb, but Beri said the bomb had been planted by timber companies who intended to kill them. Local prosecutors refused to indict Beri due to a lack of evidence. A lawsuit against the FBI for its role in the bombing was filed in 1997. Update: April 5, 2012: An FBI move to destroy unexamined evidence is blocked by a federal court.

1990 — Gallup poll finds 76 percent of Americans call themselves “environmentalists.”

1990 — EPA administrator William Reilly establishes Environmental Equity Work Group to deal with environmental justice issues.

1990 — London Protocols on ozone agreed to by 93 countries. This is a tightening of the 1987 Montreal Protocols. It calls for total global phaseout of CFCs, halon and carbon tetrachloride by 2000, of methyl chloroform by 2005 and a program to help developing countries phase out CFCs.

1990 — Clean Air Act amendments strengthen rules on SOx and NOx emissions from electric power plants helping reduce acid rain.

1990 — Southern Christian Leadership Conference survey finds that 34 % of African American church members in five cities believe that AIDS is an artificial virus and a form of genocide, and 44% believed that the government is not telling the truth about AIDS. These results show the long term effects of environmental racism and the breech of faith over public health issues, for example, in the “Tuskegee” experiment (see 1972).

1990 — Youth for Environmental Sanity (YES) formed by Ocean Robbins and Ryan Eliason.


Six and a half million gallons of oil burned daily during the oil fire disaster of 1991 in Kuwait. The wells were deliberately set on fire by the retreating Iraqi army in the Gulf War. The last of the fires was not extinguished until November 1991.

1990 / 91 — War in Kuwait and Iraq creates environmental disaster with massive oil spills and depleted uranium bullets. Asthma and childhood cancers rise dramatically in Kuwait and southern Iraq.

1991 — Jan. 1 — Sweden is first nation to enact a carbon tax.

1991 — UN Antarctica treaty prohibits mining, limits pollution and protects animal species.

1991 — Nigeria’s Movement for the Survival of the Ogani People founded by Ken Saro-Wiwa in reaction to Shell Oil Co. drilling and extensive pollution in Niger River delta. The country’s military dictators respond with threats, intimidation, arrest, and, in 1995, execution.

1991 – Nov 27 – Japan vows to shut down drift net fishing, a decision seen as a major victory by marine conservation groups.

1991 – December 30, Failure to translate documents into Spanish excluded citizens from environmental review in El Pueblo para el Aire y Agua Limpio v. County of Kings, a judge rules, overturning the permit for a toxic waste incinerator. Case was brought by Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment.

1991 — Sweden is the first nation to impose a carbon tax to curb CO2 emissions. By 2010 the tax per ton was 128 euros, and the country’s economy had grown 44%.


1992 — February — NASA finds record-high concentrations of chlorine monoxide in stratosphere. Ozone over northern parts of U.S., Canada, Europe and Russia could be depleted in late winter/early spring by as much as 40%.

1992 –June 3-14 — Earth Summit is held in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. The conference focuses on five issue areas:

    • Agenda 21 — Assistance to developing nations and access to environmentally sound technology
    • Rio Declaration — Intended as an “Earth Charter,” an attempt to reconcile conflicts over many issues.
    • Statement of Principles on Forests — Initially seen as a binding convention of forest preservation, consensus broke down as the US wanted to confine the agreement to tropical rain forests.
    • Framework Convention on Climate Change — Began the process that led to the Kyoto Protocols which the US has rejected.
    • Convention on Biological Diversity — Aims were to conserve biological diversity, plan for sustainable development and a fair share of benefits of biodiversity. The US did not sign the convention.

1992 — November — Three French workers contaminated after going into a nuclear accelerator without protection. Several executives jailed for failing to enforce safety rules.

1992 – December — The UN General Assembly resolution which bans drift net fishing in international waters becomes effective.

1992– Dr. Oral Ataniyazova (an obstetrician) establishes Perzent, the Karakalpak Center for Reproductive Health and Environment in Uzbekistan. Her concerns include buildups of toxic waste and agricultural chemicals in the rapidly diminishing Aral Sea. See Aral Sea: Environment and Security Issues in the Trade Environment Database at American University.

1992 — Supertanker Braer spills 26 million gallons of crude oil in the Hebrides islands

1992 — “Environmental Justice Act of 1992” introduced by Congressman John Lewis (D- GA) and Senator Albert Gore (D-TN). .

1992 — EPA issues final rules about farmworker exposure to pesticides. under FIFRA. An estimated 300,000 farm workers had been poisoned each year, about 1,000 of them fatally. (Valente, 1995; WSJ 8.14.92.pB8)

1992 – Recession, issue fatigue lead to layoffs at major environmental groups – National Wildlife Foundation, NRDC, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. 


1993 — Jan. 4 — 300,000 Ogoni men, women, and children take to Nigeria’s streets in a massive protest of the destruction of their homelands by Shell Oil. Co. The date has been celebrated as Ogoni Day ever since. Soon after the protests, Nigerian military forces began attacking Ogoni villages. Thousands were killed, and thousands more have been made homeless. By 1994, leader Ken Sara Wiwa was arrested.

1993 — Jan. 5 — Oil tanker M/V Braer runs aground in the Shetland Island spilling 650,000 barrels of oil.

1993 — National Biological Survey (now Service) established in Dept. of Interior.

1993 — April — Korean Foundation for Environmental Movement founded by Choi Yul, a South Korean environmental activist. Yul donated all the prize money from 1995 Goldman Environmental Award towards building a citizens’ environmental center in Seoul. The national center, educational center, information center(CICE), editorial room etc are housed in it. Some 25 local branches work with 25,000 members in various fields such as anti-nuclear power movement, save-our sea campaigns, educational activities, and citizens’s watch programs.  

1993 — April 28 — A methane explosion at a refuse dump in Istanbul, Turkey kills 39 people.  The European Court of Human Rights in 2004 (in  Öneryildiz v. Turkey) said that  Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights can be used to compel governments to regulate environmental risks, enforce environmental laws, and/or disclose information. The Court made it clear that the obligation to safeguard life included the licensing, setting up, operation, security and supervision of dangerous activities, and required all those concerned to take “practical measures to ensure the effective protection of citizens whose lives
might be endangered by the inherent risks.”    (UNEP Compendium on Human Rights & the Environment, p. 66)

1993 — President Clinton signs order restricting logging in old growth forests. 

1993 — Moratorium of toxic waste incineration in US.

1993 — National Environmental Trust (originally environmental information center) founded with funding by Pew Charitable Trusts.

1993 — Marjorie Stoneman Douglas is honored by President Bill Clinton for her work to save the Florida Everglades (see 1948).

1993 — Dennis Hayes, co-founder of Earth Day and former director of the Solar Energy Research Institution, becomes chair of the Bullitt Foundation.

1993 -Oct 18 – Greenpeace observers photograph Russian ship TNT-27 dumping 900 tons of low level radioactive waste off the east coast of Russia in the Sea of Japan, setting off an international diplomatic rift between Japan and Russia.

1993 — “Toxic Racism” documentary produced for US Public Broadcasting Service.


1994 — March 25 — Basel Convention approved by most industrial nations. Convention calls for total and immediate ban on international shipments of hazardous waste from the industrial world to developing nations. US industry opposition stalled full implementation of the treaty . See Basel Action Network page.

1994 —Lead in human blood declines: Study shows that US blood-lead levels declined by 78 percent from 1978 to 1991 during leaded gasoline phase-out. Meanwhile, American Academy of Pediatrics study shows direct relationship between lead exposure and IQ deficits in children.

1994 — Climate Change Warning: United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report organized by 78 lead authors and 400 additional contributors, with an additional 500 scientists commenting on early drafts. Report warns of severe long term impacts from greenhouse gas buildup.

1994 — September — Ugandan journalist Ndyakira Amooti helps two American undercover wildlife agents mount a sting operation at Entebbe airport. His 1996 Goldman Prize citation notes that he put himself at great personal risk and “exposed the smuggling of endangered chimpanzees and African Great Grey parrots – both endangered species protected by the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – by airport personnel, game officers and businessmen”.

1994 — North American Free Trade Agreement debate shows differences of opinion among mainstream environmental groups. Environmental Defense Fund and National Wildlife Federation support treaty mostly because of economic benefits to Mexico, which could help encourage environmental protection. Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth oppose the treaty because there are no safeguards for environmental protection.

1994 — Women who lived near large chemical plants on Long Island run a greater risk of developing breast cancer after menopause, a New York State Health Department said. The risk is about equal to that of having a family history of breast cancer. (April 13, New York Times, p.1)


1995 — Environmentalism is “one of the most successful contemporary movements in the US and Western Europe,” according to Angela Mertig and Riley Dunlap in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research (“Public Approval of Environmental Protection…” IJPOR 7, no 2, 1995 p.145).

1995 — January — Republicans control US Congress for the first time in decades; attack on environmentalism is a first priority.

1995 – April 30 – Greenpeace activists occupy a Shell company North Sea offshore oil rig called the Brent Spar. Shell had planned to scuttle the rig in deep water off Scotland but had to abandon those plans, and scrap the rig on shore, when a Eurpean boycott against Shell cut into the company’s image and profits. Shell backed down on June 20. The pro-business Wall Street Journal observes on July 9:

“For Greenpeace, the Brent Spar shows that high-profile cases, properly framed and easily explained, can ignite widespread public interest, especially if the news media get plenty of good photo opportunities. It also shows that economic warfare may be the best way to wage eco-warfare. The attention-grabbing tactics helped spark a boycott against Shell that cut sharply into gasoline sales and pushed the company to reverse course.”

1995 — June 23 — The World Bank and international conservation groups (such as the IUCN) announce a plan to establish 155 marine protection areas around the world.

1995 — August — The US government releases its final report on human-radiation experiments from World War II through the mid-1970s. An estimated 16,000 men, women and children had been subjects in 435 different radiation experiments by the Department of Energy and the Atomic Energy Commission.

Sept. 6 — Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt reluctantly signs over the title to 110 acres of federal land in Idaho to a Danish mining company. Under the 1872 Mining Act, the land was sold to Faxe Kalk Inc. for $275 (yes, $275) even though it was estimated to hold more than $1 billion worth of minerals. No mineral royalties could be demanded under the act. At a news conference, Babbitt blamed Congress for refusing to revise the law and called it a “flagrant abuse of the public trust.” Attempts to revise the act in 2007 and 2009 have not been successful.

1995 — September — US Bureau of Mines is closed by Republican Congress, ending $100 million worth of mine safety and technology programs and dsmissing 1,000 employees.

1995 — September 12 — The World Meteorological Organization reports that the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer was expanding at a record rate. The good news, repor5ted by a team of researchers led by MIT’s Ronald G. Prinn in Science magazine (July 14), was that the ozone – depleting chemical methyl chloroform had declined to 120 parts per trillion molecules of air in 1994, from a high of 150 parts per trillion in 1990.

1995 –Paul J. Crutzen (Max Plank Institute, Germany) Mario Molina (MIT) and F. Sherwood Rowland (UC Irvine) win Nobel prize for their work on ozone depletion and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to Joseph Rotblat, a British physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb but went on to campaign against nuclear weapons. The prize also went to the antinuclear group he headed, the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.

1995 — Nov. 10. Nigerian government executes journalist and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other environmentalists. They had been active in fighting pollution from Shell Oil Co. in the Ogani homeland. International protests of Shell activities continues. See Ogoni and Nigeria Conflict over Oil and also the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People page by the Sierra Club. Many outraged people in the developing world have not forgotten the oil company’s role in this tragedy. Sara-Wiwo’s last words:

“Lord, take my soul, but the struggle continues.”

1995 — November — Two to three tons of sodium leak from secondary cooling system of JapanÕs Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in an accident.

1995 — Wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the US.

1995 — Dec. 21 — Occidental Chemical Corp. agrees to pay $129 million to the federal government “superfund” to cover toxic waste cleanup costs at Love Canal (Niagara Falls, NY).

1995 — Dec. 31– Loggers win fight to resume logging of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. Republicans in Congress pass legislation allowing logging to resume after Clinton and minority democrats tried to block it in order to protect wildlife and water quality.


1996 — Jan. 2 — Former U.S. Interior Secretary James Watt pleads guilty to one count of withholding information from a Federal grand jury following an investigation of influence-peddling at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Watt is fined, given five years’ probation, and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service.

1996 — World Bank joins World Health Organization and others in calling for global phaseout of leaded gasoline. The report links public health with economics and notes that the health costs of leaded gasoline are far higher than the benefits to a few refiners and gasoline distributors.

1996 —Lead poisoning is linked to anti-social behavior in a study by Dr. Herbert Needleman, a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and caps a long line of studies about physical and behavioral problems caused by leaded gasoline and lead paint. “I’m not saying that lead exposure is the cause of delinquency. It is a cause and one with the biggest handle to prevention.” He explained: “Lead is a brain poison that interferes with the ability to restrain impulses. It’s a life experience which gets into biology and increases a child’s risk for doing bad things.” ( Aggressiveness and Delinquency In Boys Is Linked to Lead in Bones by Jane Brody, Feb. 7, 1996, New York Times.)

1996 — EPA air pollution report says sulfur dioxide emissions declined by 40% between 1970 and 1990. The report also claims smog, carbon monoxide and ozone levels are down since passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970.


1997 — March — Fire and explosion at the state-run Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation reprocessing plant at Tokaimura contaminated at least 35 workers.

1997, June 10 — a group of Pehuenche indians occupy Chile’s Indigenous Affairs Bureau and Environmental Protection Board to protest the licensing of the Ralco Dam on Chile’s Bio-Bio River, saying “The Chilean government has once again shown its colonizing mentality by not respecting our people or the law.”

1997 June 25 —Jacques Cousteau, oceanographer, explorer and environmental activist, dies. (b. June 11, 1910) 

1997 — Aug. 12 —  Ontario Hydro, a Canadian state-owned utility, announces a  shut down for the seven oldest of its 19 nuclear reactors.  Three at the  Bruce facility on Lake Huron and four at Pickering on Lake Ontario are to be closed for safety reasons.  

1997– Dec. 10 — Julia Butterfly Hill climbs a 180 foot California Coast Redwood tree in defiance of loggers. She spends two years in the tree as a protest against redwood logging.

1997, Dec 11 — Kyoto Protocol adopted by US and 121 other nations, but not ratified by U.S. Congress. American industry predicts “disaster” if CO2 reductions are enforced, but environmentalists are dissatisfied with weak goals of the treaty. For the lastest, see UN Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change pages.

1997 — Act Now, Apologize Later by 23-year-old Sierra Club president Adam Werbach notes environmentalists can be placed in a variety of categories: “druids” who defend nature for its spiritual values; polar-fleecers who want to preserve natural areas for recreational values; apocalyptics who are concerned about the destruction of the planet; eco-opportunists engaging in lobbying, litigation and politics; eco-entrepreneurs who see economic opportunities in environmental protection. “I don’t care why someone cares about the environment — Only that they do,” he writes.


1998 — June 25 — Aarhus Convetion adopted – The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters  adopted  in the Danish city of Aarhus (Århus). The convention agreed on: Access to information, Public participation in environmental decisions, and Access to justice.     

1998 — Sept. 17– David “Gypsy” Chain is killed by a tree taken down by the Pacific Lumber/Maxxam Corporation. Chain was in the forest protesting the destruction of old-growth redwood trees.

1998 — November — Nearly 3,000 tons of Taiwanese toxic waste were dumped in a field in the southern port of Sihanoukville., Cambodia.

1998, December 14 — Morris K. Udall, former congressman and defender of the environment, dies.


1999 — Worldwatch reports that 7 out of 10 scientists believe we are experiencing the largest mass extinction of species in history.

1999, Sept. 30 — Accidental nuclear reaction at Japan’s Tokaimura uranium processing plant leads to evacuations.

1999 — Earth’s population exceeds six billion. Half are living in cities. Almost half (2.8 billion) live on less than $2 a day. UN agencies note that while globalization of trade has helped in some countries, the poor are becoming poorer both in absolute and relative terms.

1999 — Firefly Brigade starts in Manilla to promote bike riding and healthy urban living. The idea for the name has to do with the declining frequency of fireflies in urban settings.