CNN: History of environmental movement full of twists, turnsRoundup: Talking About History
No matter that this was at least the tenth time the Cuyahoga had ignited. The times, they were a-changing, and a burning river confirmed what many already believed: The environment was changing, too.
Rachel Carson's book,"Silent Spring," published seven years earlier, had lit the spark. The mild-mannered government scientist documented how the pesticide DDT was jeopardizing countless bird species, from tiny hummingbirds to the national symbol, the bald eagle.
Smog from traffic and factories had become a national concern. And six months before the torching of the Cuyahoga, a massive oil spill soiled the shores of Santa Barbara, California. In the midst of the anti-Vietnam war movement, the women's movement, and more, a divided America also found room for an environmental movement.
"We have been acting out the classic cartoon image of a man sitting on the branch of a tree and sawing it off behind him," wrote Philip Shabecoff in his 1993 book,"A Fierce Green Fire: The American Environmental Movement." Shabecoff described environmentalism as a"broad social movement" that was attempting to build a"desperately needed but difficult and obstacle-strewn road" out of humankind's increasingly polluted predicament.
The movement was sanctioned in April 1970 with a nationwide quasi-holiday, the first"Earth Day." New organizations formed to rally the masses: Friends of the Earth (1969), the Natural Resources Defense Council (1970), and Canadian-born Greenpeace (1971). Books touting recycling, vegetarianism, and all aspects of a"green" lifestyle hit the best-seller list.
An ersatz Indian who called himself Iron Eyes Cody became a national icon thanks to a 30-second TV spot, where he canoes through an industrial wasteland and sheds a tear for Mother Earth. Stanford Professor Paul Ehrlich became a semi-regular"Tonight Show" guest.
Rachel Carson was one thing, but this was Johnny Carson. The environment had arrived.
Even Richard Nixon went green. A President besieged by Vietnam protests saw an opportunity to be the good guy. Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and signed a flurry of landmark environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act -- the vanguard of a new government ethic....
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