The rise of the Environmental Movement

The 1960s did provide a renewed sense of importance to the environmental movement. Rachel Carson published a book in 1960. The Silent Spring, that argued that the continued use of toxic chemicals and pesticides was damaging to the land and humans who lived off the land. This book marshalled attention on the relationships between technology science, and human interactions with the natural world.

During the same time frame of the late 1960s and early 1970s the United States government was leading an effort by industry to develop a supersonic transport airplane (SST) that flew at three times the speed of sound and used the very latest technology. The SST became a symbol for the environmental movements and it coalesced many different groups to effectively stop further development. It was one of the few times in United States history that technological development was slowed or stopped because of environmental damage.

Responding to the public pressure in the 1970s, President Richard Nixon and the Congress passed the clean Air Act, the Clean water Act, and began the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While the initial targets of the EPA were the steel and automobile industries, the agency soon moved to affect virtually every major organization in the country. Rules were developed, standards were set and companies had to comply with new environmental regulations or face fines, delays, or lawsuits.

In the 1980s, the environmental movement broadened substantially. In the United States, the government looked more to free market solutions to pollution, waste disposal and other issues. In the rest of the developed world, environmentalism became a political force. The Green party was formed and elected members to a number of European parliaments.

One market oriented solution tried in the United States was the issuing of permits to pollute. These permits capped the total amount of pollutants at a certain level, and if a company could clean up its plant to produce less, then it could sell the right to pollute to other companies. Criticized heavily by some environmentalists such a system tried to give incentives to companies to clean up their act, and by setting the total amount of pollutants to be released at a fixed level, the government tried to ensure that companies polluted as little as possible.

Current Environmental Concerns:

The litany of environmental problems is long. Organizations as well as individuals contribute to these problems and can have an impact on their resolution.

Pollution: Pollution comes in many forms. There are hazardous substances such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) which are used as cooling fluids in electric power transformers. Chlorinated solvents are a major concern as contaminants to drinking water. Pesticides accumulate in the environment over time. Lead found in pipes and asbestos used in earlier construction are both toxic. Hazardous waste such as nuclear waste and toxic chemicals are byproducts of industry and government and must be stored safely. Solid waste is any unwanted or discarded materials that is not liquid or gas, and must be disposed of in incinerators, land fills or by other means. Acid rain is a form of air pollution that damages soil, water, and vegetation in certain areas.

Climate changes: We have to worry about human-induced climate changes such as global warning. Some scientists have suggested that global warming poses a severe threat to life as we know it. A small rise of several degrees in the average temperature would be enough to set off major changes in climate. Greenhouse gases which are emitted from the burning of carbon based fuels such as gasoline serve to trap warmth in the atmosphere and some scientists predict a global average temperature increase of 1.5 to 4.5 degrees centigrade over the next century unless current trends abate.