From Apocalypse to Way of Life: Four Decades of Environmental Crisis in the U.S.

From Apocalypse to Way of Life: Four Decades of Environmental Crisis in the U.S.

From Apocalypse to Way of Life: Four Decades of Environmental Crisis in the U.S.

From Apocalypse to Way of Life: Four Decades of Environmental Crisis in the U.S.

Synopsis

A comprehensive survey of environmental crisis, as it has been understood during the last four decades, this book recounts the growing number of ecological and social problems critical for the environment and the impact that growing experience and understanding of them has had on American politics, society and culture.

Excerpt

In 1962, Rachel Carson warned of ecological disaster in progress. Though not the first to raise the specter of imminent human-made environmental crisis, Carson's book, Silent Spring, had a decisive effect. It led the way in making concern about environmental crisis a national issue. By the 1970s, Robert Gottlieb writes: “the mood of environmental crisis seemed more and more overwhelming.” Environmental crisis seemed to be written for all to see “in such disparate events of the late 1960s as the burning of the Cuyahoga River in the center of Cleveland, the eutrophication of Lake Erie, and the dying birds washed up on the oil-slicked shores of Santa Barbara.” In exactly this spirit, Senator Gaylord Nelson, originator of the idea of the first Earth Day (1970), argued that the environmental crisis “was the most critical issue facing mankind, ” making “Vietnam, nuclear war, hunger, decaying cities, and all the other major problems one could name…relatively insignificant by comparison.”

Concern about environmental crisis, however, was just part of the postwar environmental movement that Carson helped inaugurate and the 1970 Earth Day helped celebrate and consolidate. In that movement, utopian enthusiasm and optimistic reformism overshadowed environmental apocalypticism. People committed themselves to a wide variety of causes, such as “ecology, ” green lifestyles, ruralist back-to-the-land movements, and wilderness appreciation and protection: concern about environmental crisis in no way canceled out exuberance and hope. But neither did hope nullify concern about crisis; in fact, the two motives intensified each other. New perceptions of nature's potentially irreversible deformation intensified peoples' impulses to experience, protect, and cherish nature and work to ensure a viable future for human society.

Historians of the post-Carson environmental movements' political activism and cultural enthusiasms have concentrated, for the most part, on

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