Neil Carter, in his foundational text Politics of the Environment (2009), suggests that environmental politics is distinct in at least two ways: first, "it has a primary concern with the relationship between human society and the natural world" (p. 3); and second, "unlike most other single issues, it comes replete with its own ideology and political movement" (p. 5, drawing on Michael Jacobs, ed., Greening the Millenium?, 1997).
Further, he distinguishes between modern and earlier forms of environmental politics, in particular conservationism and preservationism. Contemporary environmental politics "was driven by the idea of a global ecological crisis that threatened the very existence of humanity." And "modern environmentalism was a political and activist mass movement which demanded a radical transforamtion in the values and structures of society."
Environmental concerns were rooted in the vast social changes that took place in the United States after World War 2. Although some beginning can be identified in earlier years, only after the war did they become widely shared social phenomena. This began with outdoor recreation in the 1950s, extended into the wider field of the protection of natural environments, and then became infused with attempts to cope with air and water pollution and still later with toxic chemical pollutants. After World War 2, environmental politics became a major public concern.