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Preserving the Nation: The Conservation and Environmental Movements 1870 - 2000

ISBN: 978-0-88295-254-3
308 pages
April 2007, ©2007, Wiley-Blackwell
Preserving the Nation: The Conservation and Environmental Movements 1870 - 2000 (0882952544) cover image

In the popular imagination, the roots of environmentalism lie in actions undertaken at the beginning of the twentieth century to conserve the nation’s natural resources and preserve its scenic wonders. To some extent, those who have chronicled environmentalism have reinforced this perception, often writing about the heroes who helped create national parks and save forests rather than considering fundamental trends. Although most make some mention of reformers who stressed curbing pollution and urban clean-up in the period after 1945, environmental histories rarely integrate the three strands of the movement into one comprehensive study.

In Preserving the Nation, Thomas Wellock explores the international, rural, and industrial roots of modern environmentalism that emerged in the last half of the nineteenth century—three related movements in response to a rapidly expanding economy and population that depleted the nation’s resources, damaged land in rural areas, and blighted cities. The first group favored the conservation and efficient management of natural resources for production. The second, the preservationists, sought to protect scenic and wilderness areas and to sustain the spirit of the nation’s pioneer heritage and virility. The third group, the urban environmentalists, sought reform to control industrial pollution and retard urban decay. Politically powerful and widely admired, resource management overshadowed the other two movements until the 1950s. After World War II, the two less-powerful strands of the movement, preservationism and urban environmentalism, wove into one, as the accelerating effects of affluence, scientific discovery, Cold War concerns, and suburbanization led the public to value outdoor amenities and a healthy environment. This renamed “environmental” movement focused less on efficient use of resources and more on creating healthy ecosystems and healthy people free of risks from pollution and hazardous wastes. By 1970, environmentalism enjoyed widespread popular support and bipartisan appeal.

What all three movements always shared was a common recognition of the limits of America’s natural resources and environment, a belief in preserving them for generations to come, and a faith in at least some government environmental action rather than relying purely on private solutions. Not only does the history of these movements bring to light much about the expanding role of government in environmental regulation and the growth of the modern American state, but a look at environmental campaigns over the course of the twentieth century reveals a great deal about the racial, gender, and class divisions at work in the ongoing efforts to preserve the environment.

Accessible, insightful, and highly affordable, Preserving the Nation makes an ideal core text for use in courses in Environmental History as well as thought-provoking supplemental reading for Twentieth-century America and the U.S. survey.

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Foreword / VII

Acknowledgments / XI

Introduction / 1

Chapter One: Roots and Progressive Era Conservation / 13

Early Conservation in the Country and City / 18

Preserving the Urban Environment / 29

The Lungs of a City / 32

National Conservation / 34

Preserving America’s Wildlife and Lands / 45

The Battle for Hetch Hetchy / 60

Sanitary Reform / 65

Conclusion / 72

Endnotes / 74

Chapter Two: Environmental Reform in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s / 79

Natural Resource Conservation in a Conservative Era: 1921-1933 / 82

New Deal Conservation / 96

Pollution Control / 108

The Wilderness Debate / 114

Toward a Land Ethic / 124

Conclusion / 128

Endnotes / 130

Chapter Three: The Emergence of an Environmental Movement, 1945-1973 / 135

Air Pollution Issues, 1945-1965 / 139

Damming a National Movement / 143

The Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Fight for the Grand Canyon / 151

Of Nukes and Pests: Fallout and Silent Spring / 157

Women in the Movement / 166

After Silent Spring / 167

Legislative Victories / 178

Conclusion / 183

Endnotes / 185

Chapter Four: Institutionalizing Environmentalism and Protecting Gains, 1970s to 1990s / 189

The Energy Crisis / 194

The Antinuclear Movement and Appropriate Technology / 197

The Endangered Species Act and Wildlife Preservation / 204

Ecosystem Protection: The Everglades and Marjory Stoneman Douglas / 209

The Love Canal and Toxic Waste / 213

The Reagan Revolution / 217

The Third Wave and Alternative Movements / 222

Environmental Politics after Reagan / 237

Conclusion / 242

Endnotes / 249

Bibliographical Essays / 253

Index / 287

Photographs follow page 188

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Thomas R. Wellock is Associate Professor of History at Central Washington University. He is the author of Critical Masses: Opposition to Nuclear Power in California, 1958-78 and has published articles on the history of nuclear power in the West in The Journal of American History, The Journal of the West, and California History. In 2000, he was the recipient of Central Washington University’s Excellence in Teaching Award. His research interests are in the history of environmental politics, the American West, and the recent United States.

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