Americans today are moving toward a more well-developed awareness of their environment, and what it takes to protect and preserve earth’s natural resources. City dwellers and suburbanites alike typically recycle paper, plastic and glass, and strive to conserve energy wherever possible. Some even garden and compost. The “green movement,” though, didn’t start with this enlightened generation, or even a generation or two back. In one form or another, various groups and organizations have been advocating for greener, more environmentally-conscious living for nearly two centuries.
Back In the Day….
The American environmental movement first began to take shape in the early 1830s when Henry David Thoreau wrote his novel, Maine Woods, calling for conservation of and respect for nature, along with federal preservation of virgin forest. By the 1860s, the United States government had already begun to create parks and to set aside wild lands for public good. Yosemite became the first national park in 1872, the same year the Audubon Society was founded. The Sierra Club was formed in 1892, and the Forest Reserve Act was ratified before the century was out. President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt visited Yosemite in 1903 and publicized and popularized conservation. By1916, the National Park Service was established and Americans were embracing environmental causes.
The Rise of the Green Movement
The national parks movement lost some steam as the 20th century wore on. With two World Wars and the Great Depression to contend with, environmentalism as we know it did not remain a concern for most Americans or the federal government during the first half of the 1900s. It would take a freak event in Pennsylvania in 1948 to prompt a national outcry and fuel new concerns for more personal issues like clean air.
In October of 1948, a lethal “fog” formed over the town of Donora, Pennsylvania, when weather conditions trapped a haze of dangerous chemicals from American Steel & Wire and Donora Zinc Works over the town. By the time rain dispersed the fog, 20 people were dead and 7,000 were ill or otherwise affected; the ghastly event raised public awareness nationwide, and once again Americans were focused on environmentalism.
The beginning of the modern “green” movement could be traced to the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. Rachel Carson’s book on the dangers of pesticides, Silent Spring, also reached an eager audience during this era, leading to numerous steps at state and federal levels to clean up the environment. New laws including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, and the establishment of Earth Day, the banning of DDT, the Water Pollution Control Act, and the Endangered Species Act were put into place.