Modern Environmental Movement Founded 1962 - History

Modern Environmental Movement Founded 1962 - History

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Modern Environmental Movement Founded 1962

Rachel Carlson in the 1940's

Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, was published in September 1962. By describing the effects of the use of pesticides and other chemical on the environment, Carson launched the environmental movement

In September 1962, Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, was published. The author had previously written a number of article and books on the sea. In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson wrote: “For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death.” The book was a huge success and helped launch the modern Environmental Movement. President Kennedy was impressed with Carson's work, and created a special White House panel to investigate pesticides. Before long, a group of senators, led by Senator Muskie of Maine, pushed legislation through the Congress to establish national standards for water quality. This effectively began the nation's efforts to clean the country's water. At the same time the nations national park systems was expanded greatly to include non traditional sites such as sea shores and national battlefields."

Rachel Carson

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Rachel Carson, in full Rachel Louise Carson, (born May 27, 1907, Springdale, Pennsylvania, U.S.—died April 14, 1964, Silver Spring, Maryland), American biologist well known for her writings on environmental pollution and the natural history of the sea.

How old was Rachel Carson when she died?

Rachel Carson was 56 years old when she died.

Why was Rachel Carson influential?

Rachel Carson was an American biologist well known for her writings on environmental pollution and the natural history of the sea. Her book, Silent Spring (1962), became one of the most influential books in the modern environmental movement and provided the impetus for tighter control of pesticides, including DDT.

What did Rachel Carson write?

Rachel Carson’s first book, Under the Sea-Wind, was published in 1941. The Sea Around Us (1951) won a National Book Award, and The Edge of the Sea was published in 1955. Her influential Silent Spring (1962) became a best seller. The Sense of Wonder (1965) was published posthumously.

Carson early developed a deep interest in the natural world. She entered Pennsylvania College for Women with the intention of becoming a writer but soon changed her major field of study from English to biology. After taking a bachelor’s degree in 1929, she did graduate work at Johns Hopkins University (M.A., 1932) and in 1931 joined the faculty of the University of Maryland, where she taught for five years. From 1929 to 1936 she also taught in the Johns Hopkins summer school and pursued postgraduate studies at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

In 1936 Carson took a position as aquatic biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (from 1940 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), where she remained until 1952, the last three years as editor in chief of the service’s publications. An article in The Atlantic Monthly in 1937 served as the basis for her first book, Under the Sea-Wind, published in 1941. It was widely praised, as were all her books, for its remarkable combination of scientific accuracy and thoroughness with an elegant and lyrical prose style. The Sea Around Us (1951) became a national best seller, won a National Book Award, and was eventually translated into 30 languages. Her third book, The Edge of the Sea, was published in 1955.

Carson’s prophetic Silent Spring (1962) was first serialized in The New Yorker and then became a best seller, creating worldwide awareness of the dangers of environmental pollution. The outlook of the environmental movement of the 1960s and early ’70s was generally pessimistic, reflecting a pervasive sense of "civilization malaise" and a conviction that Earth’s long-term prospects were bleak. Silent Spring suggested that the planetary ecosystem was reaching the limits of what it could sustain. Carson stood behind her warnings of the consequences of indiscriminate pesticide use despite the threat of lawsuits from the chemical industry and accusations that she engaged in “emotionalism” and “gross distortion.” Some critics even claimed that she was a communist. Carson died before she could see any substantive results from her work on this issue, but she left behind some of the most influential environmental writing ever published.


Environmentalism denotes a social movement that seeks to influence the political process by lobbying, activism, and education in order to protect natural resources and ecosystems.

An environmentalist is a person who may speak out about our natural environment and the sustainable management of its resources through changes in public policy or individual behaviour. This may include supporting practices such as informed consumption, conservation initiatives, investment in renewable resources, improved efficiencies in the materials economy, transitioning to new accounting paradigms such as Ecological economics, renewing and revitalizing our connections with non-human life or even opting to have one less child to reduce consumption and pressure on resources.

In various ways (for example, grassroots activism and protests), environmentalists and environmental organisations seek to give the natural world a stronger voice in human affairs. [5]

In general terms, environmentalists advocate the sustainable management of resources, and the protection (and restoration, when necessary) of the natural environment through changes in public policy and individual behaviour. In its recognition of humanity as a participant in ecosystems, the movement is centered around ecology, health, and human rights.

A concern for environmental protection has recurred in diverse forms, in different parts of the world, throughout history. The earliest ideas of environment protectionism can be traced in Jainism, which was revived by Mahavira in 6th century BC in ancient India. Jainism offers a view that may seem readily compatible with core values associated with environmental activism, i.e., protection of life by nonviolence which could form strong ecological ethos adding its voice to global calls for protection of the environment. His teachings on the symbiosis between all living beings and the five elements—earth, water, air, fire, and space—form the basis of environmental sciences today. [7] [8]

In Europe, King Edward I of England banned the burning of sea-coal by proclamation in London in 1272, after its smoke had become a problem. [9] [10] The fuel was so common in England that this earliest of names for it was acquired because it could be carted away from some shores by the wheelbarrow.

Earlier in the Middle East, the Caliph Abu Bakr in the 630s commanded his army to "Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire," and "Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food." [11] Arabic medical treatises during the 9th to 13th centuries dealing with environmentalism and environmental science, including pollution, were written by Al-Kindi, Qusta ibn Luqa, Al-Razi, Ibn Al-Jazzar, al-Tamimi, al-Masihi, Avicenna, Ali ibn Ridwan, Ibn Jumay, Isaac Israeli ben Solomon, Abd-el-latif, Ibn al-Quff, and Ibn al-Nafis. Their works covered a number of subjects related to pollution, such as air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, municipal solid waste mishandling, and environmental impact assessments of certain localities. [12]

Early environmental legislation Edit

At the advent of steam and electricity the muse of history holds her nose and shuts her eyes (H. G. Wells 1918). [13]

The origins of the environmental movement lay in the response to increasing levels of smoke pollution in the atmosphere during the Industrial Revolution. The emergence of great factories and the concomitant immense growth in coal consumption gave rise to an unprecedented level of air pollution in industrial centers after 1900 the large volume of industrial chemical discharges added to the growing load of untreated human waste. [14] The first large-scale, modern environmental laws came in the form of Britain's Alkali Acts, passed in 1863, to regulate the deleterious air pollution (gaseous hydrochloric acid) given off by the Leblanc process, used to produce soda ash. An Alkali inspector and four sub-inspectors were appointed to curb this pollution. The inspectorate's responsibilities were gradually expanded, culminating in the Alkali Order 1958 which placed all major heavy industries that emitted smoke, grit, dust and fumes under supervision.

In industrial cities, local experts and reformers, especially after 1890, took the lead in identifying environmental degradation and pollution, and initiating grass-roots movements to demand and achieve reforms. [15] Typically the highest priority went to water and air pollution. The Coal Smoke Abatement Society was formed in 1898 making it one of the oldest environmental NGOs. It was founded by artist Sir William Blake Richmond, frustrated with the pall cast by coal smoke. Although there were earlier pieces of legislation, the Public Health Act 1875 required all furnaces and fireplaces to consume their own smoke. It also provided for sanctions against factories that emitted large amounts of black smoke. This law's provisions were extended in 1926 with the Smoke Abatement Act to include other emissions, such as soot, ash, and gritty particles, and to empower local authorities to impose their own regulations.

During the Spanish Revolution, anarchist-controlled territories undertook several environmental reforms, which were possibly the largest in the world at the time. Daniel Guerin notes that anarchist territories would diversify crops, extend irrigation, initiate reforestation, start tree nurseries and help to establish naturist communities. [16] Once there was a link discovered between air pollution and tuberculosis, the CNT shut down several metal factories. [17]

It was only under the impetus of the Great Smog of 1952 in London, which almost brought the city to a standstill and may have caused upward of 6,000 deaths, that the Clean Air Act 1956 was passed and airborne pollution in the city was first tackled. Financial incentives were offered to householders to replace open coal fires with alternatives (such as installing gas fires) or those who preferred, to burn coke instead (a byproduct of town gas production) which produces minimal smoke. 'Smoke control areas' were introduced in some towns and cities where only smokeless fuels could be burnt and power stations were relocated away from cities. The act formed an important impetus to modern environmentalism and caused a rethinking of the dangers of environmental degradation to people's quality of life. [18]

The late 19th century also saw the passage of the first wildlife conservation laws. The zoologist Alfred Newton published a series of investigations into the Desirability of establishing a 'Close-time' for the preservation of indigenous animals between 1872 and 1903. His advocacy for legislation to protect animals from hunting during the mating season led to the formation of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and influenced the passage of the Sea Birds Preservation Act in 1869 as the first nature protection law in the world. [19] [20]

First environmental movements Edit

Early interest in the environment was a feature of the Romantic movement in the early 19th century. One of the earliest modern pronouncements on thinking about human industrial advancement and its influence on the environment was written by Japanese geographer, educator, philosopher and author Tsunesaburo Makiguchi in his 1903 publication Jinsei Chirigaku (A Geography of Human Life). [21] In Britain the poet William Wordsworth travelled extensively in the Lake District and wrote that it is a "sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy". [22]

Systematic efforts on behalf of the environment only began in the late 19th century it grew out of the amenity movement in Britain in the 1870s, which was a reaction to industrialisation, the growth of cities, and worsening air and water pollution. Starting with the formation of the Commons Preservation Society in 1865, the movement championed rural preservation against the encroachments of industrialisation. Robert Hunter, solicitor for the society, worked with Hardwicke Rawnsley, Octavia Hill, and John Ruskin to lead a successful campaign to prevent the construction of railways to carry slate from the quarries, which would have ruined the unspoiled valleys of Newlands and Ennerdale. This success led to the formation of the Lake District Defence Society (later to become The Friends of the Lake District). [23]

Peter Kropotkin wrote about ecology in economics, agricultural science, conservation, ethology, criminology, urban planning, geography, geology and biology. He observed in Swiss and Siberian glaciers that they had been slowly melting since the dawn of the industrial revolution, possibly making him one of the first predictors for climate change. He also observed the damage done from deforestation and hunting. [24] Kropotkin's writings would become influential in the 1970s and became a major inspiration for the intentional community movement as well as his ideas becoming the basis for the theory of social ecology.

In 1893 Hill, Hunter and Rawnsley agreed to set up a national body to coordinate environmental conservation efforts across the country the "National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty" was formally inaugurated in 1894. [25] The organisation obtained secure footing through the 1907 National Trust Bill, which gave the trust the status of a statutory corporation. [26] and the bill was passed in August 1907. [27]

An early "Back-to-Nature" movement, which anticipated the romantic ideal of modern environmentalism, was advocated by intellectuals such as John Ruskin, William Morris, George Bernard Shaw and Edward Carpenter, who were all against consumerism, pollution and other activities that were harmful to the natural world. [28] The movement was a reaction to the urban conditions of the industrial towns, where sanitation was awful, pollution levels intolerable and housing terribly cramped. Idealists championed the rural life as a mythical utopia and advocated a return to it. John Ruskin argued that people should return to a small piece of English ground, beautiful, peaceful, and fruitful. We will have no steam engines upon it . . . we will have plenty of flowers and vegetables . . . we will have some music and poetry the children will learn to dance to it and sing it. [29]

Practical ventures in the establishment of small cooperative farms were even attempted and old rural traditions, without the "taint of manufacture or the canker of artificiality", were enthusiastically revived, including the Morris dance and the maypole. [30]

These ideas also inspired various environmental groups in the UK, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, established in 1889 by Emily Williamson as a protest group to campaign for greater protection for the indigenous birds of the island. [31] The Society attracted growing support from the suburban middle-classes as well as support from many other influential figures, such as the ornithologist Professor Alfred Newton. By 1900, public support for the organisation had grown, and it had over 25,000 members. The Garden city movement incorporated many environmental concerns into its urban planning manifesto the Socialist League and The Clarion movement also began to advocate measures of nature conservation. [32]

The movement in the United States began in the late 19th century, out of concerns for protecting the natural resources of the West, with individuals such as John Muir and Henry David Thoreau making key philosophical contributions. Thoreau was interested in peoples' relationship with nature and studied this by living close to nature in a simple life. He published his experiences in the book Walden, which argues that people should become intimately close with nature. Muir came to believe in nature's inherent right, especially after spending time hiking in Yosemite Valley and studying both the ecology and geology. He successfully lobbied congress to form Yosemite National Park and went on to set up the Sierra Club in 1892. The conservationist principles as well as the belief in an inherent right of nature were to become the bedrock of modern environmentalism.

In the 20th century, environmental ideas continued to grow in popularity and recognition. Efforts were starting to be made to save some wildlife, particularly the American bison. The death of the last passenger pigeon as well as the endangerment of the American bison helped to focus the minds of conservationists and to popularise their concerns. In 1916, the National Park Service was founded by US President Woodrow Wilson.

The Forestry Commission was set up in 1919 in Britain to increase the amount of woodland in Britain by buying land for afforestation and reforestation. The commission was also tasked with promoting forestry and the production of timber for trade. [33] During the 1920s the Commission focused on acquiring land to begin planting out new forests much of the land was previously used for agricultural purposes. By 1939 the Forestry Commission was the largest landowner in Britain. [34]

During the 1930s the Nazis had elements that were supportive of animal rights, zoos and wildlife, [35] and took several measures to ensure their protection. [36] In 1933 the government created a stringent animal-protection law and in 1934, Das Reichsjagdgesetz (The Reich Hunting Law) was enacted which limited hunting. [37] [38] Several Nazis were environmentalists (notably Rudolf Hess), and species protection and animal welfare were significant issues in the regime. [36] In 1935, the regime enacted the "Reich Nature Protection Act" (Reichsnaturschutzgesetz). The concept of the Dauerwald (best translated as the "perpetual forest") which included concepts such as forest management and protection was promoted and efforts were also made to curb air pollution. [39]

In 1949, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold was published. It explained Leopold's belief that humankind should have moral respect for the environment and that it is unethical to harm it. The book is sometimes called the most influential book on conservation.

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and beyond, photography was used to enhance public awareness of the need for protecting land and recruiting members to environmental organisations. David Brower, Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall created the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series, which helped raise public environmental awareness and brought a rapidly increasing flood of new members to the Sierra Club and to the environmental movement in general. "This Is Dinosaur" edited by Wallace Stegner with photographs by Martin Litton and Philip Hyde prevented the building of dams within Dinosaur National Monument by becoming part of a new kind of activism called environmentalism that combined the conservationist ideals of Thoreau, Leopold and Muir with hard-hitting advertising, lobbying, book distribution, letter writing campaigns, and more. The powerful use of photography in addition to the written word for conservation dated back to the creation of Yosemite National Park, when photographs persuaded Abraham Lincoln to preserve the beautiful glacier carved landscape for all time. The Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series galvanised public opposition to building dams in the Grand Canyon and protected many other national treasures. The Sierra Club often led a coalition of many environmental groups including the Wilderness Society and many others.

After a focus on preserving wilderness in the 1950s and 1960s, the Sierra Club and other groups broadened their focus to include such issues as air and water pollution, population concern, and curbing the exploitation of natural resources.

Post-war expansion Edit

In 1962, Silent Spring by American biologist Rachel Carson was published. The book cataloged the environmental impacts of the indiscriminate spraying of DDT in the US and questioned the logic of releasing large amounts of chemicals into the environment without fully understanding their effects on human health and ecology. The book suggested that DDT and other pesticides may cause cancer and that their agricultural use was a threat to wildlife, particularly birds. [40] The resulting public concern led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 which subsequently banned the agricultural use of DDT in the US in 1972. The limited use of DDT in disease vector control continues to this day in certain parts of the world and remains controversial. The book's legacy was to produce a far greater awareness of environmental issues and interest into how people affect the environment. With this new interest in environment came interest in problems such as air pollution and petroleum spills, and environmental interest grew. New pressure groups formed, notably Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (US), as well as notable local organisations such as the Wyoming Outdoor Council, which was founded in 1967.

In the 1970s, the environmental movement gained rapid speed around the world as a productive outgrowth of the counterculture movement. [41]

The world's first political parties to campaign on a predominantly environmental platform were the United Tasmania Group Tasmania, Australia and the Values Party of New Zealand. [42] [43] The first green party in Europe was the Popular Movement for the Environment, founded in 1972 in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel. The first national green party in Europe was PEOPLE, founded in Britain in February 1973, which eventually turned into the Ecology Party, and then the Green Party.

Protection of the environment also became important in the developing world the Chipko movement was formed in India under the influence of Mhatmas Gandhi and they set up peaceful resistance to deforestation by literally hugging trees (leading to the term "tree huggers"). Their peaceful methods of protest and slogan "ecology is permanent economy" were very influential.

Another milestone in the movement was the creation of Earth Day. Earth Day was first observed in San Francisco and other cities on 21 March 1970, the first day of spring. It was created to give awareness to environmental issues. On 21 March 1971, United Nations Secretary-General U Thant spoke of a spaceship Earth on Earth Day, hereby referring to the ecosystem services the earth supplies to us, and hence our obligation to protect it (and with it, ourselves). Earth Day is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network, [44] and is celebrated in more than 192 countries every year. [45]

The UN's first major conference on international environmental issues, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (also known as the Stockholm Conference), was held on 5–16 June 1972. It marked a turning point in the development of international environmental politics. [46]

By the mid-1970s, many felt that people were on the edge of environmental catastrophe. The Back-to-the-land movement started to form and ideas of environmental ethics joined with anti-Vietnam War sentiments and other political issues. These individuals lived outside normal society and started to take on some of the more radical environmental theories such as deep ecology. Around this time more mainstream environmentalism was starting to show force with the signing of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 and the formation of CITES in 1975. Significant amendments were also enacted to the United States Clean Air Act [47] and Clean Water Act. [48]

In 1979, James Lovelock, a British scientist, published Gaia: A new look at life on Earth, which put forth the Gaia hypothesis it proposes that life on earth can be understood as a single organism. This became an important part of the Deep Green ideology. Throughout the rest of the history of environmentalism there has been debate and argument between more radical followers of this Deep Green ideology and more mainstream environmentalists.

21st century and beyond Edit

Environmentalism continues to evolve to face up to new issues such as global warming, overpopulation, genetic engineering, and plastic pollution.

Research demonstrates a precipitous decline in the US public's interest in 19 different areas of environmental concern. [49] Americans are less likely be actively participating in an environmental movement or organisation and more likely to identify as "unsympathetic" to an environmental movement than in 2000. [50] This is likely a lingering factor of the Great Recession in 2008. Since 2005, the percentage of Americans agreeing that the environment should be given priority over economic growth has dropped 10 points, in contrast, those feeling that growth should be given priority "even if the environment suffers to some extent" has risen 12 percent. [50] Nevertheless, a recent National Geographic survey indicated strong desire for commitment across a dozen countries, indicating a majority were in favour of more than half of the Earth's land surface protected. [51]

New forms of ecoactivism Edit

Tree sitting is a form of activism in which the protester sits in a tree in an attempt to stop the removal of a tree or to impede the demolition of an area with the longest and most famous tree-sitter being Julia Butterfly Hill, who spent 738 days in a California Redwood, saving a three-acre tract of forest. [52]

Sit-in can be used to encourage social change, such as the Greensboro sit-ins, a series of protests in 1960 to stop racial segregation, but can also be used in ecoactivism, as in the Dakota Access Pipeline Protest. [53]

Before the Syrian Civil War, Rojava had been ecologically damaged by monoculture, oil extraction, damming of rivers, deforestation, drought, topsoil loss and general pollution. The DFNS launched a campaign titled 'Make Rojava Green Again' (a parody of Make America Great Again) which is attempting to provide renewable energy to communities (especially solar energy), reforestation, protecting water sources, planting gardens, promoting urban agriculture, creating wildlife reserves, water recycling, beekeeping, expanding public transportation and promoting environmental awareness within their communities. [54]

The Rebel Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities are firmly environmentalist and have stopped the extraction of oil, uranium, timber and metal from the Lacandon Jungle and stopped the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers in farming. [55]

The CIPO-RFM has engaged in sabotage and direct action against wind farms, shrimp farms, eucalyptus plantations and the timber industry. They have also set up corn and coffee worker cooperatives and built schools and hospitals to help the local populations. They have also created a network of autonomous community radio stations to educate people about dangers to the environment and inform the surrounding communities about new industrial projects that would destroy more land. In 2001, the CIPO-RFM defeated the construction of a highway that was part of Plan Puebla Panama. [56]

The environmental movement (a term that sometimes includes the conservation and green movements) is a diverse scientific, social, and political movement. Though the movement is represented by a range of organisations, because of the inclusion of environmentalism in the classroom curriculum, [57] [58] the environmental movement has a younger demographic than is common in other social movements (see green seniors).

Environmentalism as a movement covers broad areas of institutional oppression, including for example: consumption of ecosystems and natural resources into waste, dumping waste into disadvantaged communities, air pollution, water pollution, weak infrastructure, exposure of organic life to toxins, mono-culture, anti-polythene drive (jhola movement) and various other focuses. Because of these divisions, the environmental movement can be categorized into these primary focuses: environmental science, environmental activism, environmental advocacy, and environmental justice. [59]

Free market environmentalism Edit

Free market environmentalism is a theory that argues that the free market, property rights, and tort law provide the best tools to preserve the health and sustainability of the environment. It considers environmental stewardship to be natural, as well as the expulsion of polluters and other aggressors through individual and class action.

Evangelical environmentalism Edit

Evangelical environmentalism is an environmental movement in the United States of America in which some Evangelicals have emphasized biblical mandates concerning humanity's role as steward and subsequent responsibility for the care taking of Creation. While the movement has focused on different environmental issues, it is best known for its focus of addressing climate action from a biblically grounded theological perspective. This movement is controversial among some non-Christian environmentalists due to its rooting in a specific religion.

Preservation and conservation Edit

Environmental preservation in the United States and other parts of the world, including Australia, is viewed as the setting aside of natural resources to prevent damage caused by contact with humans or by certain human activities, such as logging, mining, hunting, and fishing, often to replace them with new human activities such as tourism and recreation. [60] Regulations and laws may be enacted for the preservation of natural resources.

Environmental organisations can be global, regional, national or local they can be government-run or private (NGO). Environmentalist activity exists in almost every country. Moreover, groups dedicated to community development and social justice also focus on environmental concerns.

Some US environmental organisations, among them the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, specialise in bringing lawsuits (a tactic seen as particularly useful in that country). Other groups, such as the US-based National Wildlife Federation, Earth Day, National Cleanup Day, the Nature Conservancy, and The Wilderness Society, and global groups like the World Wide Fund for Nature and Friends of the Earth, disseminate information, participate in public hearings, lobby, stage demonstrations, and may purchase land for preservation. Statewide nonprofit organisations such as the Wyoming Outdoor Council often collaborate with these national organisations and employ similar strategies. Smaller groups, including Wildlife Conservation International, conduct research on endangered species and ecosystems. More radical organisations, such as Greenpeace, Earth First!, and the Earth Liberation Front, have more directly opposed actions they regard as environmentally harmful. While Greenpeace is devoted to nonviolent confrontation as a means of bearing witness to environmental wrongs and bringing issues into the public realm for debate, the underground Earth Liberation Front engages in the clandestine destruction of property, the release of caged or penned animals, and other criminal acts. Such tactics are regarded as unusual within the movement, however.

On an international level, concern for the environment was the subject of a United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972, attended by 114 nations. Out of this meeting developed UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and the follow-up United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. Other international organisations in support of environmental policies development include the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (as part of NAFTA), the European Environment Agency (EEA), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The first "conservation governor"

Nelson's innovative vision resonated with Wisconsin residents. Through the 1950s, residents had grown increasingly concerned with their crowded and dilapidated state parks, the exploitation of public resources by private industry, and the pollution of the state's waterways. Nelson promised comprehensive reforms and was elected to two terms as governor. In office, he established unprecedented high levels of public funding for education, health care, unemployment, highways, and urban and rural development.

But it was Nelson's overhaul of the state's natural resource program that earned him a national reputation as the "conservation governor." He condensed a sprawling bureaucracy into a single Department of Resource Development, and established a Youth Conservation Corps to create green jobs for over 1,000 unemployed young people. Most striking, Nelson fought to earmark $50 million for the Outdoor Recreation Action Program (ORAP) to acquire land to be converted into public parks and wilderness areas. The extreme popularity of these conservation measures catapulted Nelson into the U.S. Senate in 1962.

Governor Nelson speaking about his Outdoor Recreation Action Program, the wildly popular 1961 proposal for Wisconsin land purchase and conservation. By 1981, ORAP had spent $93 million for land conservation, wildlife management, recreation, and pollution control that would benefit all constituents and public uses.

The innovative ORAP program set a new standard for natural resource planning, and established Nelson as an national environmental leader.

The first Earth Day

Earth Day, an event to increase public awareness of the world’s environmental problems, is celebrated in the United States for the first time on April 22, 1970. Millions of Americans, including students from thousands of colleges and universities, participated in rallies, marches and educational programs across the country. 

Earth Day was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, a staunch environmentalist who hoped to provide unity to the grassroots environmental movement and increase ecological awareness. “The objective was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy,” Senator Nelson said, 𠇊nd, finally, force this issue permanently onto the national political agenda.” 


The 1962 publication of Rachel Carson&aposs book Silent Spring—about the effects of pesticides—is often cited as the beginning of the modern environmental movement in the U.S. Sustainability, organic eating and the �k-to-the-land” movement continued to gain steam throughout the 1960s. 

The first Earth Day indeed increased environmental awareness in America, and in July of 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency was established by special executive order to regulate and enforce national pollution legislation. Earth Day also led to the the passage of the Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. 

History of environmental movement full of twists, turns

(CNN) -- It was one of the most surreal images in American history: A river, so fouled with industrial waste that it caught fire and burned. In June 1969, Cleveland's Cuyahoga River become the poster child for the birth of the modern American environmental movement.

Concerns over air and water pollution helped spawn the modern environmental movement in the 1960s.

No matter that this was at least the tenth time the Cuyahoga had ignited. The times, they were a-changing, and a burning river confirmed what many already believed: The environment was changing, too.

Rachel Carson's book, "Silent Spring," published seven years earlier, had lit the spark. The mild-mannered government scientist documented how the pesticide DDT was jeopardizing countless bird species, from tiny hummingbirds to the national symbol, the bald eagle.

Smog from traffic and factories had become a national concern. And six months before the torching of the Cuyahoga, a massive oil spill soiled the shores of Santa Barbara, California. In the midst of the anti-Vietnam war movement, the women's movement, and more, a divided America also found room for an environmental movement.

"We have been acting out the classic cartoon image of a man sitting on the branch of a tree and sawing it off behind him," wrote Philip Shabecoff in his 1993 book, "A Fierce Green Fire: The American Environmental Movement." Shabecoff described environmentalism as a "broad social movement" that was attempting to build a "desperately needed but difficult and obstacle-strewn road" out of humankind's increasingly polluted predicament.

The movement was sanctioned in April 1970 with a nationwide quasi-holiday, the first "Earth Day." New organizations formed to rally the masses: Friends of the Earth (1969), the Natural Resources Defense Council (1970), and Canadian-born Greenpeace (1971). Books touting recycling, vegetarianism, and all aspects of a "green" lifestyle hit the best-seller list.

An ersatz Indian who called himself Iron Eyes Cody became a national icon thanks to a 30-second TV spot, where he canoes through an industrial wasteland and sheds a tear for Mother Earth. Stanford Professor Paul Ehrlich became a semi-regular "Tonight Show" guest.

Rachel Carson was one thing, but this was Johnny Carson. The environment had arrived.

Even Richard Nixon went green. A President besieged by Vietnam protests saw an opportunity to be the good guy. Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and signed a flurry of landmark environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act -- the vanguard of a new government ethic.

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The Earth was well on its way to being saved. Or so we thought.

Then the movement stalled. Slowed by its own accomplishments, internal squabbles and a growing backlash that government and "greens" could be doing more harm than good, the environment waned as a cause.

Jimmy Carter's energy-conservation message resonated for a time in the late '70's, but didn't outlast his presidency. Ronald Reagan's anti-regulation message swept the country in 1980, and enforcement of conservation and pollution laws dropped off dramatically.

The pendulum swung the other way in the late '80's following a massive industrial accident in Bhopal, India (1984) and a nuclear calamity at Chernobyl (1986). After that, the bad news piled on: We learned about the ozone hole, the first dire reports on global warming, and widespread clearing of the world's rainforests. Share your ideas on little things you can do to save the planet

Smaller, but more telegenic, indignities told the rest of the story: an orphaned garbage barge, on a months-long sojourn in 1988, showed the folly of making too much waste, while some particularly odious waste in the form of sewage and syringes took up residence on the beaches of New Jersey.

In the 1988 election, George H.W. Bush seized the issue for the Republicans, promising to serve as "the environmental President" and attacking his Democratic rival Mike Dukakis for failing to clean up his hometown Boston Harbor. A few weeks before the elder Bush's inauguration, Time Magazine lauded Earth as its "Planet of the Year."

By 1990, the Earth had gone Hollywood. ABC ran a two-hour, prime time Earth Day Special whose celebrity-studded cast included Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Robin Williams and many others.

Membership in environmental groups boomed, while retailers and manufacturers launched huge ad campaigns touting their newfound green-ness. In 1992, the U.N. held its "Earth Summit," where 108 heads of state met to set goals and declare their good intentions for saving the earth. "Redneck conservation" by combining chores

But in Clinton-era America, the environmental movement soon hit political roadblocks. By 1994, Americans had once again had it with Big Government, and Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" swept in a new Congress bent on curbing environmental regulations. A big booster of "market-based" environmentalism, the Speaker of the House outraged conservationists by neutering some of their favorite government programs.

If environmental concern was blunted in 1994, it was buried in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Despite a growing body of evidence about vanishing habitats, waning energy resources and global warming, green issues languished in the global focus on fighting terrorism.

Also, President George W. Bush was not widely viewed as a friend of the Earth. The son of the "Environmental President" led a push to cut budgets, slow enforcement and open up wilderness areas to oil and natural gas exploration.

Then, once again, the pendulum swung back. Melting ice caps and back-to-back horrific hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005 rekindled widespread concern over global warming -- in spite of the fact that there's no proven link between an individual storm like Katrina and climate change.

Several years after exiting the political stage, Al Gore parlayed "An Inconvenient Truth," his global-warming slide show, into an Oscar and half of a Nobel Peace Prize. Journalists re-focused on the issue with ambitious projects such as CNN's "Planet in Peril."

Which brings us to today. President-elect Barack Obama is promising a stronger focus on renewable energy and environmental stewardship. But Obama also is confronting a global economic crisis, which may limit the time and the resources he can devote to environmental problems.

Will financial chaos turn America and the world away from environmental concern yet again? Or will refocusing on our energy and environmental problems restructure the way the world does business? We'll know soon enough. Maybe this time, green will help get us out of the red.

The Origins of EPA

Administrator Ruckelshaus was confirmed by the Senate on December 2, 1970, which is the traditional date we use as the birth of the agency.

Five months earlier, in July 1970, President Nixon had signed Reorganization Plan No. 3 calling for the establishment of EPA in July 1970.

Two days after his confirmation, on December 4, Ruckelshaus took the oath of office and the initial organization of the agency was drawn up in EPA Order 1110.2.

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The American conversation about protecting the environment began in the 1960s. Rachel Carson had published her attack on the indiscriminate use of pesticides, Silent Spring, in 1962. Concern about air and water pollution had spread in the wake of disasters. An offshore oil rig in California fouled beaches with millions of gallons of spilled oil. Near Cleveland, Ohio, the Cuyahoga River, choking with chemical contaminants, had spontaneously burst into flames. Astronauts had begun photographing the Earth from space, heightening awareness that the Earth’s resources are finite.

  • requesting four billion dollars for the improvement of water treatment facilities
  • asking for national air quality standards and stringent guidelines to lower motor vehicle emissions
  • launching federally-funded research to reduce automobile pollution
  • ordering a clean-up of federal facilities that had fouled air and water
  • seeking legislation to end the dumping of wastes into the Great Lakes
  • proposing a tax on lead additives in gasoline
  • forwarding to Congress a plan to tighten safeguards on the seaborne transportation of oil and
  • approving a National Contingency Plan for the treatment of oil spills.

Around the same time, President Nixon also created a council in part to consider how to organize federal government programs designed to reduce pollution, so that those programs could efficiently address the goals laid out in his message on the environment.

Following the council’s recommendations, the president sent to Congress a plan to consolidate many environmental responsibilities of the federal government under one agency, a new Environmental Protection Agency. This reorganization would permit response to environmental problems in a manner beyond the previous capability of government pollution control programs:

  • The EPA would have the capacity to do research on important pollutants irrespective of the media in which they appear, and on the impact of these pollutants on the total environment.
  • Both by itself and together with other agencies, the EPA would monitor the condition of the environment--biological as well as physical.
  • With these data, the EPA would be able to establish quantitative "environmental baselines"--critical for efforts to measure adequately the success or failure of pollution abatement efforts.
  • The EPA would be able--in concert with the states--to set and enforce standards for air and water quality and for individual pollutants.
  • Industries seeking to minimize the adverse impact of their activities on the environment would be assured of consistent standards covering the full range of their waste disposal problems.
  • As states developed and expanded their own pollution control programs, they would be able to look to one agency to support their efforts with financial and technical assistance and training.

After conducting hearings during that summer, the House and Senate approved the proposal. The agency’s first Administrator, William Ruckelshaus, took the oath of office on December 4, 1970.

The documents below shed more light on EPA's birth and early years. Note that these documents are now in EPA's archive. To find one, click on the Search EPA Archive button and copy the name of the document into the search box on the archive home page. To ensure the best search results, be sure to put quotes around the name of the document.

Article "Origins of the EPA" in the Spring 1992 issue of The Guardian -- provides background on conservation, ecology and early environmental movements, the first Earth Day, and the establishment of EPA.

President's Advisory Council on Executive Organization ("Ash Council") memo (April 1970) advising President Nixon to form EPA

Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970 (July 9, 1970) - message from President Nixon to Congress about reorganization plans to establish EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

EPA Order 1110.2 (December 4, 1970) - initial organization of EPA

Article "The Birth of EPA" in the November 1985 issue of EPA Journal

December 1970 press release "First Administrator Ruckelshaus on the establishment of EPA"

Document: Duties Transferred to EPA from Other Agencies

Document: Origin of the EPA Seal

  • the early years of EPA, including functions transferred from other agencies
  • EPA's early organization EPA's enforcement strategy
  • early air pollution control efforts
  • the banning of DDT and
  • the leadership of EPA Administrators William D. Ruckelshaus and Russell E. Train.

Article "EPA History (1970-1985)" prepared in November 1985 by the EPA Office of Public Awareness on the occasion of EPA's 15th anniversary

The Environmental Movement Solidifies

In the months and years following the first Earth Day and the creation of the EPA, the green movement, and environmental consciousness were solidified into private and public institutions around the world. Landmark environmental legislation, like the Clean Water Act, the Federal Pesticides Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Scenic Trails Acts, were signed into law. These federal acts joined many other state and local programs to protect the environment.

But all institutions have their detractors, and the environmental movement is no exception. As environmental legislation began to be implemented nationwide, many in the business community found that environmental legislation was having a negative impact on the profitability of mining, forestry, fisheries, manufacturing and other extractive and polluting industries.

In 1980, when Republican Ronald Reagan was elected to the presidency, the dismantling of environmental safeguards began. By appointing anti-environmental crusaders like Interior Secretary James Watt and EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch to office, Reagan and the entire Republican Party signaled their naked contempt for the green movement.

Their success was limited, however, and both Watt and Gorsuch were so universally disliked -- even by members of their own party -- that they were removed from office after serving a matter of months. But the battle lines had been drawn, and the business community and the Republican Party remain vehemently opposed to the environmental protections that define much of the green movement.

So what is sustainability?

The EPA sums up sustainability nicely in their definition :

“Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. To pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.”

Clearly, it’s a broad, expansive concept. It’s about maintaining everything we need and future generations will need to survive on our planet–so the sustainability movement is a broad, expansive concept, too.

It’s not easy to pinpoint when sustainability became an important movement. After all, many indigenous communities all over the world lived in “productive harmony” with their environments.

To keep it simple, we’ll focus on the modern sustainability movement. Study up with our brief history of sustainability and get familiar with the background behind the internet’s favorite buzzword.

The Untold Story of the World's Leading Environmental Institution

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) was founded in 1972 as a nimble, fast, and flexible entity at the core of the UN system—a subsidiary body rather than a specialized agency. It was intended to be the world's environmental conscience, an anchor institution that established norms and researched policy, leaving it to other organizations to carry out its recommendations. In this book, Maria Ivanova offers a detailed account of UNEP's origin and history and a vision for its future. Ivanova counters the common criticism that UNEP was deficient by design, arguing that UNEP has in fact delivered on much (though not all) of its mandate.

Drawing on extensive interviews she conducted with UNEP's past and present Executive Directors, staff, and two former UN Secretaries-General, Ivanova provides rare insight into the organization's functioning. She shows that UNEP was able to resolve problems and launch important processes when it had financial and political support. Its failures and limitations came when the environment slipped as a priority, leadership faltered, and connectivity was challenged. UNEP's fiftieth anniversary, Ivanova argues, presents an opportunity for reinvention. She envisions a future UNEP that is the go-to institution for information on the state of the planet, a normative vision of global environmental governance, and support for domestic environmental agendas.


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