ALEX CRAWFORD, PUSHING FORWARD
“The most alarming of all man’s assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials.” On September 27, 1962 a book titled Silent Spring written by the late Rachel Carson was published. The quote is from her book, which focused on the effects on the environment and humans from the indiscriminate use of pesticides. She was the reason the harmful pesticide DDT was banned in the United States, and Silent Spring is considered the kick starter of the modern environmental movement. Ever since the sixties the modern environmental movement has helped usher in many environmental laws and policies that have protected people’s health and the health of our natural environment. Democrats, Republicans, and everyone in between have supported these issues. The movement has seen its difficulties, once considered dead in the 80’s and early 2000’s, but has persevered and is strong as ever in 2017 and continues to grow all over the world.
The environmental movement has become highly politicized. When Silent Spring was released in the 1960s, protecting the environment enjoyed substantial support and led to the creation of laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, also known as the Magna Carta of environmental laws, which requires the federal government to conduct an environmental impact assessment before undertaking projects. The movement has also helped pass landmark legislation such as The Clean Air Act in 1970 and The Clean Water Act in 1977. The environmental movement has been instrumental in protecting our environment and saving lives, especially after catastrophic events like the Cuyahoga River, which caught fire again in 1969 due to unregulated dumping of industrial waste for decades. Problems like this, and air pollution in big cities, were a big part of early environmentalist’s agendas.
The environmental movement has been important in working to help bring environmental justice and racism to the forefront of people’s minds, and protect the earth for everyone, no matter the race, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The early environmental movement was birthed out of the writings of people such as Henry David Thoreau and his works such as walking or Walden, to John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club in 1892. John Muir was an avid conservationist, and was one of the biggest supporters of creating a national park system in the United States. He and Teddy Roosevelt spent much time together and after a camping trip in 1903, the federal protection of lands that became Yosemite National Park was created. Actions by early conservationists lead to Congress creating the National Park Service in 1916. From then to now, the movement has been an important part of protecting our natural world, whether it’s for human welfare, animal welfare, or the preservation of natural beauty.
All these actions have led to the environmental movement’s biggest and most controversial fight, global climate change. In 2017, environmental politics have become very polarized in the United States and highly criticized by the Republican Party. Every day you see a think piece about the hypocritical actions of environmentalists, saying that they don’t practice what they preach. A popular term for environmentalist is a “watermelon” which is green on the outside and red on the inside, insinuating that the environmental movement is trying to disguise communism in a movement to protect the environment. The great work of the movement is overshadowed by over politicized actions, such as the March for Science or the People’s Climate March. These marches are sending an important message, with hundreds of thousands of people attending both. Actions by groups such as 350 led by Bill McKibben or other environmental groups such as Nature Conservancy, League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, Natural Resource Defense Council, and many others are doing great work to help create a better world for all of us. These groups continue to fight, alongside the people, especially in times like these when bills are trying to be past to cut the EPA, reduce green energy use, and gut essential clean air and clean water rules.
The core beliefs are still intact in the environmental movement, but along the way politics become the forefront, and has alienated people from either side of the political spectrum. Most people care about protection for clean drinking water and clean air, because we depend on those things every day. But where does the movement go from here? The movement has stalled before, such as in the 1980’s when Ronald Reagan was staunchly anti-regulation, and a lot of environmental regulations were hardly enforced, or not enforced at all. The movement saw similar things during the Clinton administration up to the early 2000’s when Al Gore brought global warming to the forefront of the movement, invigorating it. Politics aside, the movement was started for one reason, to make the world a better place for all living creatures. I believe that is still the primary goal of the environmental movement, although to some, it may seem like overall there’s an ulterior motive. The movement seeks everything from individualized action to government action. It’s not about having every person live in little shanties while using no resources and eating nothing but lettuce. At the end of the day it’s about being aware of the world around you. It’s about understanding how what I do in Wisconsin truly can affect someone halfway across the world, and the things we can do as people to help, and as a nation to help not only ourselves, but people around the world.
This isn’t to say environmentalists are not a part a part of the problem, because we are. The environmental movement has inspired people to try, and that is the important part. The message has resonated with millions of people who have taken action to make the world a better place, whether it’s through group, individualized efforts, or government actions. The movement continues to lobby to our government to be an important factor in protecting our environment, and have seen great success. When Henry David Thoreau was walking the Maine woods, writing about his love of Earth, if he could see where the movement he helped start was now I think he would be both happy. Though he would have been also disappointed in humans as a whole, because we still have a lot of work to do.
At the end of the day the Environmental movement has been an important part of world history, and has a large impact in protecting the world we all take for granted every day. The movement has helped get landmark laws passed, that are important to protecting human health and the environment. Although sometimes getting a bad rap, the environmental movement will continue to pursue its main goal of making the world a better place. The movement will continue to be strong into the future, as each generation that passes becomes more aware of our effect on the earth, and will keep fighting to protect everyone now and in the future.