Throughout their history the
French, along with most of the other peoples of the world, have paid little attention to
the quality of their natural environment. They have emphasized economic development and
management rather than the protection and preservation of the lands they inhabited.
With the growth of industry and
its demand for coal and other minerals together with urbanization, the increasing
population, and the development of technology natural systems began to break down because
they could not tolerate the stresses induced by human activities. Despite warnings, the
French in general did not realize until after World War II that years of neglect had left
their air and water severely polluted and the country's forests and wildlife endangered.
Such events as oil spills from tanker wrecks off the coast of Brittany also drew attention
to the nation's environmental problems.
France has undertaken a
significant program of environmental protection and renovation. This project has featured
the creation of a system of national parks and reserves, resulting from laws that promoted
the preservation or extension of natural areas, and the reestablishment of numerous
endangered species of plants and animals. The program also encourages the development of
opportunities for people to appreciate nature without threatening it.
The government has also
established a series of regional nature parks and reserves that are less wild and more
accessible than the national parks. Many are in rural areas of abandoned farms and offer
tourism and traditional artisan crafts while restoring the natural environment. Efforts
are also being made to clean France's air and water.