History of the Environmental Movement


  • Understand how different worldviews have shaped our attitude towards nature and her resources. List 3 early religious beliefs that influenced peoples' perceptions of wilderness
  • Name two 19th-Century authors or artists and describe their impact on the environmental awareness
  • Name two 20th-Century authors or artists and describe their impact on the environmental  awareness
  • List two songwriters that perform songs related to the environment or nature. Give the title of the song and what the song is about.


  • Guided imagery of traveling in a tropical jungle, adventures in nature readings. 
  • Historical figures in natural history puzzle activity.


  • Research a 19th-century or 20th-century author, artist or environmentalist and describe their attitude about nature and how their work impacted environmental awareness. Place their name, picture of a sample of their art on one side on puzzle piece and a description of their achievement on the joining side.


History of the Environmental Movement Notes

✔   Early humans lived in wilderness for all but the last 10,000 years of the last 100,000 years that Homo sapiens sapiens have been in existence.  They had to survive by a combination of gathering foodstuffs and hunting animals. Women worked 1-3 hours a day gathering food and men worked a week or so hunting then took the next two or three weeks off!
✔   People felt nature was to be respected but conquered in order to survive.  It was a very successful way of life and one that the least damage to the natural ecosystems.

Agricultural age
✔    11,000 years ago agriculture began in the middle east. The work was long and hard and peope were actually LESS healthy then they were as hunter and gatherers.
✔    Nature was something to tame and control.

Roots in Europe
✔    Classicism - when classic writers wrote of longing for a return to nature, they spoke of rural landscapes of farms, pastoral landscapes, human-controlled areas, not wilderness.
✔    Monasticism - wild country is a refuge, a place of religious purity.
✔    Christians - nature was seen as dark and evil- the place where the devil lurked. God created mankind in his image and God's touch imbued humanity with a soul that set them apart from all other creatures. The bible encourage people to: "Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the Earth and subdue it. And have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the foul of the air and over every living thing that moveth on the Earth." Gensis 1:28

Far East and beyond
✔     Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism- compassion for all living things.  Humans understood as part of nature.
✔     Taoism- Lao-tzu felt that yin/yang was complementary opposites and held true for earth/sky, positive/negative/, male/female, light/dark- that together these formed an unbroken whole and symbolize the harmonious balance of nature.
✔     Animism- nature is to be worshipped and honored in order to gain protection and abundance of food.

1800's Europe
✔    Romantism - God was believed to be omnipresent in nature. Nature was a reflection of the divine. Daily access to nature was seen as a church.

1600-1800's America
✔     American pioneers felt uneasy in the thick eastern forests, but comfortable on the plains - led to an obsession to clear land and push back the feared darkness.  Wilderness considered to have the devil, demons, and evil forces that humans must have dominion over.
✔     Pioneer bias - threat to survival, lived too close to the wilderness to appreciate, battled wild country in the name of nation, race, and God.  Civilizing the New World meant enlightening darkness, ordering chaos, changing evil to good.

✔      19th century unusually severe environmental depredations:
                  *great herds of the plains & prairies vanished
                   *bison, elk, antelope, deer greatly reduced
                   *larger predators nearly exterminated - grizzly bear, cougar, wolf
                   *passenger pigeon, carolina parakeet, heath hen went extinct
                   *massive logging of the Adirondacks
                   *severe fires followed logging in the once luxurious forests of New                      England, Great Lakes states, and the South.
                    *Grasslands overgrazed, in California native vegetation eliminated from most of its range & replaced with European and Asian varieties
                        *Single generation in New World saw huge environmental changes, extreme changes in the landscape and in abundance of life. This precipitated the conservation movement in America!

environmental history 


Nineteenth Century- considerable environmental distruction occurs in this time period. Slowly some people come to their senses!
  • 1803   John James Audubon - ornithologist, painter, arousing interest in conservation. Publishes Birds of America in Europe - no American printer interested. Shoot birds and wires them into a natural position before painting them.
  • 1832   George Catlin - famous artist and painter of the Wild West and Native Indians- 1st proposed the idea of national parks - encompassing large areas of wild lands and Indians - to preserve both.
  • 1850's   The Hudson River School was a mid-19th century American art movement by a group of landscape painters, whose aesthetic vision was influenced by romanticism. Their realistic paintings depict the Hudson River Valley and the surrounding area, as well as the Catskill Mountains, Adirondack Mountains, and White Mountains of New Hampshire. Founder, Thomas Cole and his pupil Frederic Edwin Church became the most famous of the painters. Thomas Cole lived in the Catskills and Frederic Church lived in Hudson, NY in a funky, eceletic estate called Olana.
  • 1850   Ralph Waldo Emerson- Led transcendentalism movement in which Nature is seen as inducing an ideal spiritual state that is intuitively accessable. Henry David Thoreau - transcendentalist writer that spoke out for wilderness and conservation - very important to continue the survival of wilderness for the psychological well-being of man. Wrote "Walden" when he lived in a hut on the shores of Walden Pond for 2 years. It was a reflection on simple living in natural surroundings.
  • 1859   Charles Darwin: Origin of Species, major catalytic role converting world to evolutionism. Darwin's originality lay in the fact that, as a wealthy amateur, he could study in the field as well as in the dissecting room and could thus synthesize the information from biogeography and morphology. "It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scruntinising, throughout the world, every variaton, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good."
  • 1869   American Museum of Natural History established in NYC celebrated growing influence of the captains of industry. The museum is a memorial to Teddy Roosevelt whose words are inscribed on its walls: "There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery...The nation behaves well if it treats its natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value." Teddy was a big nature advocate and eventually created 42 million acres of national forest, wildlife refuges and parks. Hunted in Africa for thousands of museum specimens on display today.
  • 1876   John Muir urges federal gov't to adopt forest conservation policy.
  • 1885   N.Y.S. created a Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks. "...the lands now and hereafter
    constituting the Forest Preserve shall be kept forever as wild forest lands. They shall not be sold nor shall they be leased or taken by any person or corporation, public or private." The N.Y.S. Forest Preserve Act was the foundation of American Forestry. This act said nothing about the trees of the Adirondacks, only the land.
  • 1891   March 3, 1st U. S. Forest Reserves established, the forerunners of the system of national forests, around Yellowstone National Park. President Harrison set aside 13,000 acres because of public opinion. (Schlesinger, Jr.) The way was thus prepared for Theodore Roosevelt and his associates Muir; Catlin; etc.- to establish in America the concept that the conservation of natural resources is an important concern of national government. American National Parks established for preservation of the wild and to provide outdoor recreation space. American National Forests established for multiple-use of wild-land resources.
  • 1892   John Muir helps establish the Sierra Club in California.


Twentieth Century - sees massive increase in general public's awareness of the damage being done to the environment by human activities. In science - Age of Specialization! Slowly came the militant demand that something be done to halt the destruction.

  • Early 1900s Britisher Thomas Malthus - saw the conflict between expanding populations and food supply. Greatly influenced Darwin with his Essay on the Principle of Population.
  • 1903 484,000 acres of the Adirondacks burn. Railroad locomotives seen as culprit.
  • 1908   N.Y.S. Adirondacks burn again, 368,000 acres; finally, improved firefighting methods followed   - Firetowers - 15 erected in the first year which increased to 100 today. Railroads ordered to burn oil during dangerous fire season.   Lumberman ordered to chop into smaller pieces downed tops of coniferous trees, even on private lands, thereby reducing high piles of debris.
  • 1908   President Theodore Roosevelt called the 1st National Conservation Congress because of the PUBLIC OUTCRY and concern about the use of natural resources. A Commission is appointed to inventory America's natural resources.
  • 1910 Air pollution from burning coal and water pollution from sewage being dumped into rivers seen as a problem
  • 1914   Last known passenger pigeon dies in the Cincinnati Zoo.
  • 1930's Dust Bowl in our Western plains - This, some say, was the result of controlled management of agriculture in the region plus drought. This tragedy fueled the holistic, anti-interventionist view.
  • 1936 the Great Plains Committee sent report to FDR arguing the dust bowl was caused by humans and mismanagement, challenging philosophy that assumed that humankind could conquer Nature.
  • 1935   Aldo Leopold  helps establish the Wilderness Society.
  • 1946 to 1960. Post war years.  Public looked to government for scientific advice on how to deal with the avalanche of environmental problems. General thinking was that this government just made the world safe for democracy, it could surely take care of the pests, and science could provide a new and secure world.
  • 1960   Ecology becomes one of the most popular and most important aspects of biology. Money pouring into field, along with scientists.
  • 1960's The Protest Decade!!! We begin to wake UP to dangers. Science viewed as an integral part of the military- industrial complex - the "younger generation" preferred and demonstrated for the holistic in everything, especially holistic environmentalism.
  • 1962   Rachel Carson -a marine biologist. Her book, Silent Spring galvanizes the US over the next eight years to culminate in the 1st Earth Day. Some believe this to be the beginning of the modern environmentalism!!!  Her book pointed to DDT as a cause of weakening egg shells. She focused attention on chemical pollution, human overpopulation, disappearance of wilderness and wild species habitat, DTT use, and overall environmental destruction that has occurred since WWII. At the end of her book, she claimed that the control of nature is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.
  • 1969   National Audubon Society begins national campaign to ban DDT because the chemical is killing bald eagles.
  • 1969   Friends of the Earth and Earth Island Institute founded by David Bower. Was director of Sierra Club when took out a full page ad in the New York Times to stop the plans for flooding of Grand Canyon for a reservoir.
  • 1970   Environmental Protection Agency established to enforce the Clean Air Act (National Air Quality Control Act calls for a 90% reduction in automobile pollution.)
  • April 22, 1970  1st  Earth Day in America!!  Grand success - brought thousands into environmental groups, sparked creation of new groups. Has continued to this day.  Dennis Hayes coordinator of 1970 and 1990. 20 Million took part in demonstrations.
  • 1972   - DDT banned in the U.S.
                - U.S. and 90 other countries agree to stop dumping pollutants into the oceans,
                - UN sponsored conference on the problems of the environment.
  • 1973   Endangered Species Act prohibits the federal gov't from supporting any activities or projects that may be harmful to any endangered species.
  • 1975   National Cancer Institute links cancer to pollution.
  • 1980   - EPA reports a 90% drop in lead and 28% decline in carbon monoxide in the air since 1980.
                 - Voluntary environmental movement dominated by public urging opposition to nuclear power.
                -  March, what may prove to be the most important environmental document to date -
    produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) and UN Environment Program (UNEP) with help from World Wildlife Fund, the World Conservation Strategy was launched. The document sought to identify principal areas of environmental concern and to propose development strategies that would minimize environmental damage and conserve resources
  • 1987   James Lovelock, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. His Gaia hypothesis: Supposes that the whole earth is a self-regulating system that will preserve an environment suitable for life against all threats by homeostatic reactions- including any too obtrusive challenge from the human race. Thesis greeted with considerable skepticism by majority of scientists. Lovelock believes that the earth and its biosphere can only be understood as a network of interacting processes.


Recent champions of the enviroment include:

Jane Goodall: Studied chimpanzees in Africa and advocated for larger preserves. Discovered chimps make tooks and exhibit deep feelings.

E.O. Wilson: Harvard Biology professor and world expert on Ants (their world wide biomass is greater than all of humanity!) Prodigious author and eloquent advocate for environmental conservation and loss of biodiversity. Sociobiology work led him to discover that social behavior contains a genetic leash- everything we do is not fully done through free will, but rather through genes and evolution.

Louis Gibbs: Introverted housewife rose to fear inspiring activist when her children became ill due to chemical dumping in Love Canal.

Julia Butterfly Hill: Lived barefoot in a red wood tree she named Luna for 2 years to protect it from being cut down. Was supported by the organization Earth First!

Al Gore: Vice President under Clinton. Wrote Earth in the Balance and made movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Received Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

David Attenborough: famous nature show programmer for the BBC and environmentalist

Wangari Maathai: Kenyan noble peace prize winner, environmentalist and political activist

Peter Garrett: Lead singer of Midnight Oil, politician and environmentalist

Pete Seeger: American folk singer.Coofounded Hudson Valley Clearwater and worked to highlight pollution of Hudson river.

Chris Jordan: artist that explores the phenomenon of American consumerism and its impact on the environment

Steve Irwin: Crocodile Hunter, TV personality, wildlife expert and conservationist

Andy Goldsworthy: British sculpter, photographer and environmentalist. Rivers and Tides!

John Burroughs: American naturialist and essayist.

William Beebe: American naturialist, explorer, and author. Curiator for the Bronx Zoo


Song writers that sing about the environment!

Online music!

John Denver- Calypso, Doctor my eyes

Emerson, Lake and Palmer- Black Moon

Joni Mitchell- Big Yellow Taxi

Stevie Wonder- the Secret Life of Plants

Crosby, Stills and Nash- Clear, Blue Skies

Spirit- Nature's Way

The Moody Blues- How is it

The Beach Boys- Don't go near the water

Kansas- Death of Mother Nature

Zager and Evans- In the Year 2525

Blue Oyster Cult- Godzilla

Marvin Gaye- Mercy, Mercy me (the ecology song)

The Pretenders- My City was Gone

Steve Forbet- Good Planets are hard to find

The Kingston Trio- Coal Tattoo

Thomas Donovan- Calling around the world

Michael Jackson- the Earth Song

Garth Brooks

Dolly Parton

The Grateful Dead

Paul Winter


Midnight Oil

Jimmy Buffet

Judy Collins

Dan Fogelberg

Jackson Browne