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Shaping a New America

57e. Environmental Reform

Iron Eyes Cody
The early 1970s saw a series of public service announcements designed to increase public awareness of environmental issues. One of the most memorable images from the campaign featured Iron Eyes Cody shedding a profound tear in response to widespread pollution.

It was time to save the earth.

A century of full-fledged industrialism in America had taken its toll on the environment. Concerned citizens began to appeal in earnest to protect more of the nation's wilderness areas. Emissions into the atmosphere were creating smoggy haze rings above many metropolitan centers. Trash was piling up. Many Americans felt free to deposit waste from their increasingly disposable society along the sides of the roads. In the climate of social activism, the 1960s also became a decade of earth action.

Rachel Carson sent a wake-up call to America with her 1962 book Silent Spring. Carson wrote of the horrors of DDT, a popular pesticide used on many American farms. DDT wrought havoc on the nation's bird population. The pesticide, when ingested by birds, proved poisonous. Carson then witnessed a spring where birds did not return to farms.

The book created a firestorm of concern for the environment. Many students involved in the peace and civil rights movements also embraced the call for environmental awareness. President Johnson responded with the Wilderness Protection Act, the Water Quality Act, and the Air Quality Act. An activist organization named Greenpeace formed in 1969.

Inspired by Senator Gaylord Nelson and created by students, the nation celebrated its first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. President Nixon, despite his overall lack of sympathy for the earth movement, could not resist supporting popular environmentalist measures.
Woodsy Owl
Hoping to inspire the younger generation to take better care of the environment, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service created "Woodsy Owl" in 1970. Woodsy's original request of "Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute" has been updated to "Lend a Hand — Care for the Land!"

In 1970, he signed legislation creating the Environmental Protection Agency, a federal watchdog dedicated to proper care of the planet. He also stiffened standards for emissions and waste with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. The Endangered Species Act also provided much needed protection to wildlife on the brink of annihilation.

For years, the environmentalists had two major factions. Conservationists such as Theodore Roosevelt believed that the nation's natural heritage could be maintained through wise, efficient use of resources.

Preservationists such as John Muir and the Sierra Club celebrated the majesty of the landscape and preferred protection of wilderness areas. The 1960s ushered in the ecologists, who studied the relationships between living organisms and their environments. Pollution was destroying this delicate balance, and the result could be health problems, extinction of species, or even planetary destruction.

John Muir
As a founder of the Sierra Club in 1892, John Muir served as an inspiration to environmental reformers of the 1960s.

Young Americans learned ecology in elementary school as a nationwide awareness campaign attempted to raise consciousness. Woodsy the Owl advised youngsters to "never be a dirty bird." Thousands felt their heartstrings tugged as they viewed television advertisements depicting mountains of trash culminating with a pensive Native American shedding a single, mournful tear.

The 1970s brought growing concerns with the nuclear power industry. Fission plants produced hazardous by-products that were difficult to dispose of safely. An accident at a nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg nearly released a lethal bubble of radioactive gas into the atmosphere in 1979. Pressure groups mounted protests against nuclear testing by the United States. President Carter announced a bold initiative to develop renewable sources of energy.

Although many environmentalists were disappointed that all goals were not reached, substantive changes did improve the quality of American air and water, and the nation had its eyes open to the need to preserve the planet.

On the Web
Greenpeace
Since its formation in 1971, Greenpeace has been leading the way in environmental activism. Visit their homepage for the most up-to-date info on their mission to protect all of Earth's creatures from toxic materials, nuclear warfare, genetic engineering, and more.
John Muir
John Muir, the founder of the preservationist Sierra Club, is celebrated at this Sierra Club-sponsored site. Start off with the John Muir quote of the day, and move onto dozens of pages of info on Muir's life, travels, writings, and his role in creating what became one of the largest environmentally conscious organizations in the world.
The Birth of the Environmental Protection Agency
Questions about the state of the environment began long before the development of the Environmental Protection Agency. However, it was the EPA that brought environmental issues to the forefront and into the realm of government policy. This EPA site chronicles the history leading up to the formation of the Agency.
Henry David Thoreau
Read excerpts from Thoreau's "Walden" and learn how it impacted the history of the EPA.
What is the Clean Air Act?
The Clean Air Act is federal law passed to make sure our air is safe and clean. Find out when the Act was passed, learn about its amendments and find out how well the legislation has worked to keep our air free of pollution. Check out the list of air pollutants of the month!
Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act
What does it all mean? Find the answers to all the questions you have about the Clean Air Act.
The Gaia Hypothesis
Dr. James Lovelock and Dr. Lynn Margulis present research on their Gaia Hypothesis. Learn how the Earth evolved as a living system and how it maintains itself at optimal levels to sustain life.
A Scientist Alerts The Public To The Hazards of Pesticides
Rachel Carson's successful campaign to bring the pesticide problem to public attention is outlined here. The site provides a summary of the book "Silent Spring", a timeline of events leading to her activist role and a collection of her thoughts and writings throughout her campaign.
How the First Earth Day Came About
Earth Day was the brainchild of environmental activist Senator Gaylord Nelson, to bring the environment into political and public awareness. Read an account of his early efforts to make environmental protection a household word.
Either we stop poisoning our air — or we become a nation in gas masks, groping our way through the dying cities and a wilderness of ghost towns that the people have evacuated. -Lyndon Johnson, in remarks following his signing of the Air Quality Act of 1967
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Rachel Carson believed that, once started, chemical treatment of the environment could not be stopped and that our desire to have total control of nature was conceived in arrogance.
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