ERA THREE: Modern Environmental Movement – A Wake-Up Call
A variety of concerns and experiences in the United States and abroad motivated the birth of the Modern Era of environmental history. To begin, World War II produced the greatest increase of industrialization in human experience, which still continues today. Even after the dust had settled from the war, societies were still trying to figure out how to handle such rapid industrial change; conservationists were no exception. One book in particular helped to shape the movement’s response. In A Sand County Almanac (1949), Aldo Leopold sought to address several of the contradictions facing the conservation movement and develop a way forward in the post-war 20th century. In the process, Leopold wrote what many consider to be the “sequel” to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, providing a much needed rationale for the emerging new phase of the conservation movement, defining his philosophy of the “land ethic” (“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise”) and of conservation itself (“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land”).
Like Leopold’s Almanac, another book by a former government scientist further propelled the issue of conservation, or its new catch-all, environmentalism, into the forefront of people’s minds. The publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring (1962) represented a watershed moment for the Modern Era. Her book graced the cover of The New Yorker and sold more than 500,000 copies in twenty-four countries; Carson’s highly publicized media tour made her an instant household name. Perhaps more than any other person, Carson’s efforts to make people aware of the dangers of chemical pesticides contributed to raising public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and human health. The influential nature of her work was apparent then and continues to grow today. At the time, President John F. Kennedy ordered his President’s Science Advisory Committee to review her findings (which were later confirmed). In 2009, Time Magazine named Rachel Carson one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.