Every 22nd of April, the world celebrates Earth Day, where the importance of environmentalism given emphasis. What was once an ideology is now a social movement, with major corporations joining in the campaign to preserve the environment. In the US, the road to environmental movement started as early as the 1960s but only reached extensive recognition in the 70s. In 1962, Rachel Carson, a biologist, wrote a book entitled Silent Spring, which exposed the threats brought on by the use of pesticides (Brinkley 875).
She wrote that it was the first time that human beings were being subjected to “dangerous chemicals” and called on the government to act on it (LaFeber et al 547). But it was not only Carson who opened the door for environmental movement. Following the war, the drastic effect on the environment was starting to put people in a crisis. Water pollution was spreading; toxic fumes from factories and power plants had started to infiltrate the water and the atmosphere (Brinkley 876-877). In Ohio, for example, the Cuyahoga River had “burst into flames” following constant dumping of petroleum waste into it (877).
The word “smog” was created to refer to the combination of smoke and fog which relentlessly plagued the people living in cities (877). Environmental destruction had started. The realization made people become aware of the possible damages it could inflict not just on the people but also on their surroundings. In fact, as early as 1950s, the Sierra Club, a traditional conservation organization, had contested the proposal to dam the Green River in Colorado (Glen Canyon Institute 2008). Sierra Club deemed the proposal as “America’s most regretted environmental mistake” (2008). The group sought to stop it but was in vain.
The Glen Canyon damming opened the waters (put intended) for the environmental movement that when proposals for damming Marble and Grand Canyon were put forward, the Sierra Club staged not just protests but also placed advertisement in the New York Times to stop it. In a way, the Colorado incident put forth the rising environmental movement. It triggered the concern for environmental conservation and preservation. Among the environmental problems which people hoped to address were the aforementioned water problem, ozone layer, greenhouse effect, nuclear power and the escalating amount of garbage (Divine et al 870-871).
For instance, studies in the 70s revealed the effects of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) to the earth’s ozone layer (870). Scientists also discovered that smoke and other toxic fumes contributed to the formation of acid rain, which was dangerous not only to forests but the aquamarine (870). Only April 1970 the first Earth Day was celebrated in campuses, the start of what was to be a campaign to expand the threats of toxic wastes to the environment (LaFeber 547). Earth Day was the idea of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin who initially thought of conducting a series of talks around campus (Brinkley 878).
Compared to the antiwar rallies that as common during these days, the Earth Day demonstration had an “unthreatening” aura that made it interesting to people. During President Nixon’s first term, the Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (Brinkley 878). Laws were also created to regulate environmental hazards, preserve endangered species and protect wilderness areas (LaFeber 547). The Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act were passed in 1972 (Brinkley 878).
The support of government in environmentalism made it easier to somehow alleviate environmental degradation brought on by pollution and the advancing industrial society. However, during the Reagan administration, federal cuts were made in favor of promoting private enterprises (547). Reagan also hoped to abolish the Council on Environmental Quality and cut funds for the Environmental Protection Agency (547). However, his anti-environmental revolution only made the environmental movement stronger. Environmental groups saw rise in its members.