Pollution and the Emergence of Environmentalism
Many environmental historians consider the development of new technologies and their polluting by-products to be the root cause of the second wave of environmental concern. This phase of rampant pollution has sparked many antipollution movements.
As described in Chapter 2, the concern for the vanishing wilderness largely attracted people from the middle and upper classes to the environmental cause. Key environmentalists were concerned individuals, such as John Muir and Aldo Leopold. They were citizens from the higher rungs of the social ladder who pondered the values of nature and the impact that its disappearance would have on society. These early environmentalists were highly influential and garnered support from the government in their effort to preserve the pristine environment. The antipollution movement, over time, has attracted a greater number of advocates from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, primarily because people of all social and economic classes can see and feel the effects of pollutants. In fact, however, pollution hits the poor the hardest: Low-income residents of dilapidated buildings and migrant farm-workers are more susceptible to lead poisoning in their homes or are disproportionately likely to acquire pesticide poisoning.
This chapter focuses on how pollutants have stirred society's awareness of its environment and on the principal players who brought the pollution issues to the forefront, and it considers the problems and prospects of regulating pollutants. In order to develop these issues, it is necessary to describe some relevant aspects of pollutants.