As part of the 40th annual observance of Earth Day, PBS recently produced a really interesting documentary entitled, appropriately, “Earth Days.” Beyond simply detailing the creation of Earth Day, it examines the development of environmentalism in American society and politics. It considers the headline-grabbing environmental disasters that shaped public perception, and points out some of the prominent politicians and corporations that passed on — or outright derailed — significant opportunities for environmental progress.
While certainly being pro-environment (really, who doesn’t want a clean, healthy place to live?) the producers do take care to point out some of the failures of the movement. The naive and often ill-fated attempts of city-raised hippies to go “back to the land”was one such example. Another example cited was the lack of vision on the part of certain sectors of the tree-hugging crowd. Rather than engage the public — including the lumber companies and, especially, their employees — in constructive negotiations that could have saved jobs as well as trees, discourse all too often gave way to angry confrontations of protesters pitted against family wage earners. I also appreciated the acknowledgment that technology, while considered a threat to many in the early days of the environmental movement, it is now one of its greatest assets.
So, this Earth Day, after you build a bat house, change your light bulbs, or help clean your favorite natural space, go find yourself a copy of “Earth Days.” It’s available for purchase from the PBS website and you should soon be able to borrow it from your local public library.
Until then, here is a very brief and limited history and time line of the American environmental movement. Of course, I have surely missed more than a few things. Also, many of the concepts were originally borrowed from other countries and cultures, and many more have since added their own contributions. Please share any milestones you feel I’ve overlooked; and to our readers outside the U.S., please share some of your own countries’ environmental highlights.
The seeds of the modern American environmental movement were planted even before the United States was officially formed. Most commonly addressing the need for conservation, those seeds bore names such as Benjamin Franklin, David Thoreau, John Muir, President Theodore Roosevelt, and Aldo Leopold, and continued to sprout through the generations. Out of the basic concept of conservation, which focuses on preserving specific resources for later use, the broader concept of environmentalism developed as a movement to live in such ways that prevent, or at least reduce, the damage done to the Earth’s ecosystems, with the intention of benefiting all organisms.
As America emerged from the horrors and hardships of World War II into the 1950s, many believed that science would lead to a new era of unlimited progress and prosperity. However, others were coming to the realization that unbalanced and unchecked growth and consumption would result in devastating consequences for the Earth and its inhabitants.
The Sierra Club launched their Exhibit Format Book Series in 1960 with the publication of This is the American Earth, featuring the photography of Ansel Adams, with text by Nancy Newhall. Adding visual impact to the public dialogue, this book series helped encourage the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964.
Silent Spring, written by scientist Rachel Carson, generated awareness about the unintended consequences of chemicals used in fertilizers and the plight of America’s national symbol, the bald eagle. The book remains nearly as controversial today as it did when first published in 1962.
President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act of 1964. It established a national wilderness system on federal lands and provided protection of wild places, as expressed by the official federal definition of wilderness:
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
In 1969, while viewing the damage caused by a large oil spill along the coast of Santa Barbara, California, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson was inspired to call for a national environmental “teach-in” at every American university. This led to the first annual Earth Day observance in 1970.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970 by President Richard Nixon.
A photo of the Earth taken during the Apollo 17 space mission in 1972 is credited with giving people a much more holistic vision of the Earth and a better sense of its frailty.
The Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973 by President Richard Nixon.
Woodbury, New Jersey, became the first city in the U.S. to mandate recycling with the passage of a municipal ordinance in 1980.
2010: Once a very radical concept environmentalism is now mainstream. It is also at once, both international and intensely local. While world leaders meet at global summits to address greenhouse emissions, farmers markets featuring only those products raised and crafted within a given local region are becoming ever more popular.
“Reduce, reuse, and recycle” is becoming a common mantra. AbundaTrade is trying to help the cause by promoting reCommerce as a viable business model that saves you money. When you buy and trade with AbundaTrade, you help support our efforts.
- The amount of raw materials needed to make new items is reduced.
- Items that are still in good condition get reused.
- We recycle the plastic and paper from thousands of disc cases and their inserts every week.
Have a great Earth Day…every day!