The environmental movement began with beautiful writing. It began with the passion of those who enjoyed nature– even though it was an uncontrollable force that often threatened the survival of humanity. While many nomadic tribes mastered sustainability, it was an art that was seemingly forgotten as the industrial revolution took hold of the world. There were some people, like Muir or Thoreau, who separated themselves from this revolution to indulge in nature, but generally, the world was entranced by its ability to create, and to destroy.
Until Rachel Carson. In 1962, Rachel Carson, a female scientist working for the Bureau of Fish and Wildlife, published the story of DDT, called Silent Spring. Silent Spring presented the world with the destructive capabilities of a chemical used to kill insects and to eradicate malaria in the United States. It was a huge success for human life, but turned out to kill ecosystems and many of our prized birds– particularly, the bald eagle (the chemical harmed their reproductive systems as it bioaccumulated in the insects/other birds they were eating). It led to a public outcry for regulation. The build up of other environmental disasters in the following years would lead to the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970– an event that would attract 20 million Americans to support the environmental movement.
Later that year, the Environmental Protection Agency was formed under President Nixon. The Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the banning of DDT were soon to follow (however, Carson was never able to see the ban as she passed away due to breast cancer). The 1970s were a time of fast acting environmental action that would impact the country for the better.
However, in 1973, and again in 1979, the country was, for the first time, facing its first collective sustainability obstacle. The country was being faced with an oil embargo that would limit the nation’s energy potential. President Carter would ask the country to “conserve energy. [And] eliminate waste.” Despite the domestically poor response of the President’s address (the speech was nicknamed the “School Marm” speech), it would incite the country to begin searches for renewable energy sources. From solar to wind to water. It became a race to sustainability. It has been an uphill battle for these renewable energy sources, but after the environmental movement was rekindled in the 21st century, there has been a new outcry for sustainable practices.
And, generally, this is where many of us come in. We have made many significant technological advances that allow international communication and idea sharing. It is a time when almost everyone (especially those connected to the internet) cares about the fate of our planet and what we are leaving to our children.
It is often said by anthropologists and scientists alike that when our generations die, all that we will leave behind are our writing and our trash. While recycling has been a part of the environmental movement since the 70s, it has become an incredible movement in recent years– towards reuse, sustainable materials, composting, updating technology. Each average American produces 4.6 pounds of trash in a day– and it’s difficult to change this in itself– but if we search for alternatives and better ways to use what we have, we can leave a better world behind for our children. And perhaps one of the most important things we can leave behind for our children, are the stories of the world we seek to build and the way we plan to do it. After all, sustainability seems to begin and end with a documented appreciation of everything the world has to offer.
Very informative environmental movement timeline (by the EPA):
(Most of my information is acquired knowledge from the lovely environmental science classes at UVA).