The Miller environmental science text describes three cultural revolutions that have characterized the known history of human society, including: (1) the agricultural revolution of 12,000 to 10,000 years before present, in which wild plants were first cultivated through slash and burn and shifting cultivation technologies and wild animals were first domesticated; (2) the industrial-medical revolution beginning approximately in 1750 in England and 1800 in America, in which Western societies developed a dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), cities were established, large-scale production of manufactured goods occurred, and the human population increased dramatically, and; (3) the information and globalization revolution, beginning after World War II and still underway, in which fast and near-instantaneous sharing of information has transpired and environmental degradation (habitat destruction and biodiversity loss) has become readily apparent to those who discern.
Miller further describes the American odyssey of environmental developments and recognizes tribal, frontier, conservation, and environmental components to our environmental history. The text has sections on "the early conservation era" and its three subdivisions of 1832-1870 (with reference to Henry David Thoreau and George Perkins Marsh), 1870 to 1930 (John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt), and 1930 to 1960 (Franklin D. Roosevelt's federal programs and Aldo Leopold) and then the modern "environmental era" of 1960 to present (Rachel Carson, Paul Ehrlich, Barry Commoner, and Garrett Hardin). In addition, there is discussion of two case studies: the "Near-Extinction of the American Bison" and "Aldo Leopold and His Land Ethic." A highly useful appendix lists "Major Events in U.S. Environmental History" from the 1872 establishment of Yellowstone National Park (the first designated national park in America and in the world) to the 1992 International Convention on Biological Diversity (United Nations Environmental Summit at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), the 1997 writing of the Kyoto (Japan) Protocol dealing with issues of global warming, and the 2001 United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
This curriculum unit also has been influenced by my readings of several histories of the environmental movement in America, including John McCormick's 1989 book,
Reclaiming Paradise: The Global Environmental Movement
, Donald Worster's 1994 book,
Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas
(second edition), and Roderick Nash's classic 1982 book,
Wilderness and the American Mind
(third edition). Each of these environmental histories provides considerably more information about the history of American (and global) environmentalism than can be found in a general text about environmental science. I refer here to McCormick's environmental history (read most recently), but I could equally well have used the Worster and Nash books to provide a brief overview of environmentalism in America.
McCormick defines environmentalism as being "fundamentally concerned with the protection and management of the natural and human environment." Environmentalism combines scientific, economic, social, and political issues. McCormick has his own delineation of periods in the environmental movement during which our views of critical environmental issues have broadened and matured. These periods are best identified by McCormick's chapter headings, and they include: (1a) "The Roots of Environmentalism" - the mid-nineteenth century and the twentieth century up to 1945, which saw the beginnings of a philosophy of man and nature, inspired by Romanticism and the writings of George Catlin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, George Perkins Marsh, and John Muir (the wilderness preservationists); (1b) a parallel development of resource conservationists, including Gifford Pinchot, Theodore Roosevelt, and others who felt that existing natural resources should be used in non-wasteful ways in development for the benefit of the many; (2) "Protection, Conservation, and the UN" -- from 1945 to 1961, the maturation of the ecological sciences and the development of a land ethic by Aldo Leopold (
A Sand County Almanac and Selected Essays
); other important books on environmental issues were written by Paul Sears (
Deserts on the March
), Fairfield Osborn (
Our Plundered Planet
), and William Vogt (
Road to Survival
); this period is also defined as the post-World War II emergence of a "true environmental revolution" in which governmental and intergovernmental organizations were formed and treaties and agreements on environmental issues were signed; (3) the "Environmental Revolution" or "New Environmentalism" of 1962 to 1972, during which the focus changed to concern about the
environment and such issues as economic development, population growth, and equity in the distribution of resources; (4) an overlapping period (1968-1972) in which the writings of the "prophets of doom" were widely disseminated, especially those publications by Paul Ehrlich (
The Population Bomb
, 1968), Barry Commoner (
The Closing Circle
, 1971) and Garrett Hardin (the
article, "The Tragedy of the Commons", 1968).
Further chapters in McCormick's book include (5) "The Stockholm Conference (1970-1972)" -- considered by McCormick to be a "landmark event" in the development of environmentalism as an international issue of concern to humanity; (6) "The United Nations Environment Programme (1972-1982)" -- a UN program set up to research and monitor environmental issues (Earthwatch), provide environmental protection (e.g., the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Endangered Species Products, CITES), and provide public information and education on the environment (Earthscan); (7) actually Chapter 9 "The Global Environment" (from 1982 to publication of the book) -- during which important global treaties were signed on such environmental topics as wetlands (the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (RAMSAR Convention), world natural and cultural heritage (Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage), endangered species (CITES), and migratory species (the Migratory Species Convention (Bonn Convention)). As suggested by the sections on the Stockholm Conference and following, American environmental issues were now being viewed in the context of world environmental concerns.
A series of widely publicized natural disasters that occurred in the second half of the twentieth century galvanized the modern American and international environmental movements. Among these human-caused disasters, McCormick refers to: the 1948 occurrence of a sickening and killing cloud of sulfurous acid at Donora, Pennsylvania; the 1956 Minamata Bay, Japan mercury contamination of fish and the resultant neurological damage to the human population (Minamata Disease); the 1967 wreck of the Torrey Canyon oil tanker off the southwest coast of Britain; the 1969 blowout of an oil platform at Santa Barbara, California; the 1970 fire that ignited in the Cuyahoga River near its merge with Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio in which the river remained on fire for many days; the 1976 contamination of Love Canal, New York by industrial chemical wastes that led to the evacuation of an entire community and federal purchase of the land; the October 1976 nonviolent protest against nuclear power at Seabrook, New Hampshire; the March 1978 Three Mile Island (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) nuclear accident; the May 1979 demonstration in Washington, D.C. of 75,000 activists against nuclear power; the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power station disaster; the December 1984 Bhopal, India incident.
McCormick's history includes discussion of a change in human attitudes about the environment, the development of a popular, global mass movement, concern about nuclear testing and radioactive fallout, advances in scientific knowledge, and the relation between the environmental movement and other social movements such as those for civil rights and the antiwar movement. His calendar of significant events in the history of the American environmental movement includes in the nineteenth century: the publication of Marsh's
Man and Nature
(1864), the transfer of the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees from the federal government to the State of California (1864), the formation of the world's first national park, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming (1872), the transfer of Yosemite Valley back to the federal government and the establishment of Yosemite National Park (1890), and the formation of the Sierra Club (1892). In the twentieth century, significant events in the American environmental movement cited by McCormick include: the mid-1930s Dust Bowl of the Great Plains States; publication of Aldo Leopold's
A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There
(1949); Rachel Carson's
(1962); Stewart Udall's
The Quiet Crisis
(1963); the first photographs taken from space of the entire Earth (1966); the world's first Earth Day, held on April 22, 1970 and sponsored by Senator Gaylord Simpson; Paul Ehrlich's
The Population Bomb
(1968); Barry Commoner's
The Closing Circle
(1971); Donella H. Meadows et al.
The Limits to Growth
The discussion that follows provides examples of how photographs may be used to teach the fundamental concepts of environmental science.