The environmental movement in the United States is often dated to the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring. This seminal description by an articulate scientist on the dangers of the chemical era to the environment and to human health struck a responsive chord with the general public and among opinion leaders. It tapped into a perhaps inbred human belief of the sanctity of air, water and soil, as well as an atavistic human concern about insidious and unknown poisons. The widespread success of the first "Earth Day," in 1969, revealed the environment to be a potent political issue as well. This led to the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 1969, and to a wide range of laws to control existing and potential threats to the environment.
There are many parallels between the environmental movement and the Sanitary movement of the nineteenth century. The Sanitary movement was characterized by a broad concern among all segments of society with poor sanitary conditions and their perceived linkages to ill health, and by a recognition that advocacy was necessary to achieve societal changes. In many ways both of these movements preceded the scientific discoveries upon which effective public policy was eventually built.
The environmental movement in the United States has its roots not only in public health but also in longstanding public support for conservation that led, for example, to our National Park system. The wide range of environmental organizations reflect this duality of approach. The success of these environmental advocacy organizations also reflects the expectations of more from the environment than can be expressed solely in health or economic terms. This transcendent aspect continues to fuel the environmental movement despite highly significant gains in air and water quality and in wilderness preservation in recent decades.
BERNARD D. GOLDSTEIN
Carson, R. (1962). Silent Spring. New York: Fawcett World Library.
Cassell, E. J. (1972). "Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Environmental Movements." Archive of Environmental Health 22:35–40.
Dubos, R. (1990). The World of René Dubos: A Collection from His Writings, ed. G. Piel and O. Segerberg, Jr. New York: Henry Holt.
Leopold, A. (1953). A Sand County Almanac with Essays on Conservation from Round River. New York: Oxford University Press.