Most people associate the beginning of the green movement with Rachel Carson’s 1962 publication Silent Spring, but the history of the going green movement in America can be traced back even farther to Henry David Thoureau and Teddy Roosevelt. Going back even farther we find that going green has been popular throughout almost all of human history, it just wasn’t always labeled as such.
Going Green in the Distant Past
Ancient Greece used passive solar energy by planning their cities so that the homes and business faced the sun. Communities in China, India, and Peru have been using terracing, natural fertilizers, and crop rotation since the middle ages to help protect against soil erosion and to optimize space and growth. The plague in Europe lead to the beginning of the public health system. In 1798 Thomas Malthus wrote his famous essay that predicted that the world’s food supply would be exceeded by the population if we continued to grow at the exponential rate we were following.
The Birth of the Modern Green Movement
By the time Thoreau and Roosevelt came around there was a definite need for conservation of national forests and cleanup of industrial cities. What made the general populace stand behind the original green movement was the fact that illnesses such as cholera and typhoid were reaching epidemic heights. Another public concern was a lack of clean water and the rising amount of air pollution in newly industrialized cities.
With the establishment of the Sierra Club and the creation of Yosemite as a national park the environmental movement seemed to be moving forward. Teddy Roosevelt, an ardent supporter of national parks and wildlife conservation, helped to bring the green movement to the attention of the nation. Too soon, however, World War II caused it to take a back seat to national security.
Unfortunately the end of the war did not bring environmentalism back to the attention of the nation or the government. It would take tragedies such as the Donora Fluoride Fog (or the Donora Death Fog) which killed 20 people and left hundreds injured or dying. The Donora fog had been caused when fumes from the local smelting plant blanketed the town of Donora for four days. Another tragedy that significantly contributed to the eco movement’s re-rising was the Cuyahoga River catching fire on June 22, 1969. The oil and chemicals polluting the river caught fire and flames from the blaze topped out at about five stories. These kinds of tragedies finally got attention on a national level.
Unfortunately the history of the green movement has been slow going and full of controversy. Although it began (and continues to be) a crusade to rebuild, conserve and protect America and the rest of the world, environmentalists are often viewed as extremist tree hugging hippies. It should be noted however that the green movement has been continuously pushed forward by tragedies that caused death and destruction in our local and global communities.
Most recently the Gulf oil spill that began in early 2010 has brought the quest for more conscious living back to the immediate attention of everyone including local and national law makers. Perhaps one day the going green movement will be able to move forward without needing national and global catastrophes to happen first.