Timeline of the US Environmental Movement

1800-1900: The nascent environmental debate is split into two opposing sides: the conservationists and the preservationists. The conservationists "believed sustainable exploitation of resources was possible," while the preservationists "sought to preserve wilderness areas from all but recreational and educational use" (Switzer, 1994, p. 7).

A Basic Introduction to Pollutant Fate and Transport, By Dunnivant and Anders Copyright © 2006 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

In literature, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and John Muir appeal to peoples' natural longing for the good life, by portraying nature as the ultimate utopia, offering freedom, escape, and fulfillment for every person. Writing at the close of the nineteenth century, Muir uses poetic language to portray the destruction of nature as the ultimate evil. He hopes people will identify with the need for wildness. Many are affected by his essays, including then-President Theodore Roosevelt.

1900-1920: Progressive Era, marked by the mobilization of government and private organizations such as the 1919 National Parks Association and the 1905 National Audubon Society.

1901-1909: Under President Theodore Roosevelt, conservationism gains dominance. Roosevelt sets aside millions of acres for national forests (Barton, 2002, p. 102).

May 1908: White House holds a Conference on Resource Management, which concludes with the creation of a National Conservation Commission to monitor and take an inventory of natural resources.

1912: National Conservation Congress focuses its session on "the conservation of human life" (Switzer, 1994, p. 8), foreshadowing a new debate, that between human welfare and the welfare of the environment.

1930s: Out of the dust bowl and the beginning of the Great Depression, environmental consciousness emerged as part of a new, holistic and communal way of thinking about life and the world. People became more concerned with "maintaining the whole community of life in stable equilibrium with its habitat" (Barton, 2002, p. 70), and began to include the protection of the environment as one of their new priorities.

1935-1945: World War II and the New Deal shape the next development in environmental philosophy, as people move from the cities to the suburbs and "upwardly mobile white collar workers left crowded cities for localities with clean air, gardens, and grass," while "at the same time some rural folk watched with dismay as their small towns became urbanized" (Landy et al., 1994, p. 22). This dramatic environmental change opens the public eye to concrete examples of deforestation, development, and natural resource issues. Meanwhile, the "population was becoming younger, more financially secure, and better educated" (Landy et al., 1994, p. 22). The population's youth coupled with the economic prosperity of the time, allowed "affluence, leisure, mobility, and a greater understanding of physical and biological science [to combine] to create a new awareness of, and interest in, the natural world" (Landy et al., 1994, p. 22). The luxury of environmental awareness, which would have been mocked during the Great Depression, found itself embraced in this new society, a society which would learn from the New Deal that "government could be used to achieve social goals," a realization that the youth of the 1960s eagerly took to heart (Landy et al., 1994, p. 22).

1962: Rachel Carson's Silent Spring begins to raise awareness of the gravity of environmental issues and the danger that our society might essentially be welcoming future generations into silent, desolate, and bleak "uncontrolled environmental decay" (Quarles, 1976, p. 11). The work "attracted immediate attention and wound up causing a revolution in public opinion" (Lewis, 1985).

1969: The moon landing offers a patriotic and poetic metaphor for environ-mentalism: "when astronauts turned their cameras homeward, capturing the image of a delicate blue planet, the world looked upon itself with fresh understanding," although "their photographs showed clouds of pollution hovering over North America (EPA, Dec. 1, 1995; Quarles, 1976, p. 11).

1965-1970: The momentum of the anti-Vietnam War protest clears the way for the environmental movement. The movement towards environmental awareness "has been one of American's most effective protests. It gained power from the rebellion of youth, which dominated the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s" (Quarles, 1976, p. xiv). Popularly, the environmental movement was carried on the shoulders of America's youth and activists. The author of an editorial in the New York Times in 1969 observed, "call it conservation, the environment, ecological balance, or what you will, it is a cause more permanent, more far-reaching, than any issue of our era—Vietnam and Black Power included" (Lewis, 1985, p. 2).

1970: The first Earth Day enjoys mass participation. Its widespread popularity influences Congress to pass legislation protecting the environment, giving the movement added momentum. Earth Day also results in "envi-ronmentalism" becoming a household word. Not until after Earth Day did surveyed members of the public rank environmentalism among the most important problems facing the nation—in fact, it ranked second in a May 1970 Gallup poll (Switzer, 1994, p. 15).

1975: Edward Abbey's The Monkeywrench Gang portrays radical environmentalists as heroes sabotaging the attempt to destroy nature.

1978: At Love Canal, where the Hooker Chemical Company had buried toxic material in a landfill that was later covered over and developed with housing, the pollution begins to seep into groundwater and basements, poisoning residents of the community built on the land. The event "had the dramatic elements of a great story ... irresponsible corporations, indifferent bureaucrats, and arrogant scientists." The Love Canal crisis receives extensive media coverage, causing people nationwide to sympathize with the affected residents (Taylor, 1995, p. 38). During the 1960s and 1970s, television networks had begun to realize the tremendous profitability of the news, given that "the news is substantially cheaper to produce than entertainment programs, and widely viewed" (Landy et al., 1994, p. 23). And environmental stories held particular appeal: "Oil covered birds, belching smokestacks, rusting storage drums, and inspection crews in 'moonsuits' are all visually compelling. Environmental stories have the particular advantage that often the crew can set up at its leisure, obtain the desired angles, and have plenty of vivid footage to show at the six and the eleven PM new cases." While the media surely could not plant concern for an issue into the mind of an apathetic individual, the dramatics of the television media likely catalyzed the environmental movement and improved the force it would carry.

These are just a few of the events that helped shape and force environmental policy development in the United States, and as we will see in this chapter they helped form comprehensive and effective laws for the protection of human health and to some extent helped protect the environment.

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