Friday, February 20, 2009

Don't Know That You Don't Know

You know what you know. You probably know what you don't know. But what about the stuff that you don't know you don't know?

Graduate school for me has been finding out what I don't know I don't know. Its kind of scary how much I don't know. You take classes all of your life, learning, reading books, etc. But then you meet a professor who knows so much you feel like you know nothing. And I've got more education than most. But really I know nothing. And more importantly, I don't even know much about the field I'm supposed to be an expert in. Or at least that window is very small...

I could call myself and ecologist. Or I might say an environmentalist. An ornithologist. And I've studied these things. But its amazing how much I don't know, and how much I've forgotten.

I've been reading about the history of ecology for a class. One might assume that I already know the history of ecology--after all, its my field of study. Or at least that I know the events in US history that have lead us to this point. But didn't. I do now. But I didn't know that I didn't know it. And because I think this time period could be a major turning point in environmentalism in the US--why with our new administration, global warming, etc.(we can at least hope it is)--its interesting to look to the past to see how far we've come. Of course, we really haven't gotten very far at all--not even in 100 years. Let me, with the help of Wiki, explain.

So what was the first major environmental (conservation) movement in the US? I probably would have thought of the time period of Rachel Carson. But I would have been wrong.

Late 1800s/Early 1900s:

Theodore Roosevelt was the first American president to consider the long-term needs for efficient conservation of national resource. He set aside more land for national parks and nature preserves than all of his predecessors combined, 194 million acres. In all, by 1909, the Roosevelt administration had created an unprecedented 42 million acres of national forests, 53 national wildlife refuges and 18 areas of "special interest", including the Grand Canyon.

Muir and Thoreau were also influential at this time--which is all I really remember from my conservation classes. Not what they did exactly, but that they were important. And, I had them tied in with Aldo Leopold who was just a baby at the time. (Maybe I'm just stupid)

So what about the second major movement?

The Dust Bowl:

Drought, dust, in the west. That's about all I remembered. But it was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands from 1930 to 1936. The Dust Bowl was an ecological and human disaster caused by misuse of land and years of sustained drought. Millions of acres of farmland became useless, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes.

It was not caused by drought, it was caused by stupid people. (But we are still stupid today.) In 1937, the federal government began an aggressive campaign to encourage Dust Bowlers to adopt planting and plowing methods that conserve the soil. The government paid the reluctant farmers a dollar an acre to practice one of the new methods. By 1938, the massive conservation effort had reduced the amount of blowing soil by 65 percent. Nevertheless, the land failed to yield a decent living.

Ok, now we can get to Rachel Carson.

The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s:

Several events occurred which raised the public awareness of harm to the environment caused by man. In 1954, the 23 man crew of the Japanese fishing vessel Lucky Dragon was exposed to radioactive fallout from a hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll, in 1969, an ecological catastrophic oil spill from an offshore well in California's Santa Barbara Channel, Barry Commoner's protest against nuclear testing, Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, Paul R. Ehrlich's The Population Bomb all added anxiety about the environment. Pictures of Earth from space emphasized that the earth was small and fragile. (I like this last part, hehe)

As the public become more aware of environmental issues, concern about air pollution, water pollution, solid waste disposal, dwindling energy resources, radiation, pesticide poisoning (particularly as described in Rachel Carson's influential Silent Spring, 1962), noise pollution, and other environmental problems engaged a broadening number of sympathizers. That public support for environmental concerns was wide-spread became clear in the Earth Day demonstrations of 1970.

During the '70s, responsibility for clean air and water to shifted to the federal government. Growing concerns, both environmental and economic, from cites and towns as well as sportsman and other local groups senators such as Maine's Edmund S. Muskie generated extensive legislation, notably the Clean Air Act of 1970. Other legislation included National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), signed into law in 1970, which established an United States Environmental Protection Agency and a Council on Environmental Quality; ; the Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972; the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976), the Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1977, which became known as the Clean Water Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly known as the Superfund Act (1980). These laws regulated toxic substances, pesticides, and ocean dumping; and protected wildlife, wilderness, and wild and scenic rivers. Moreover, the new laws provide for pollution research, standard setting, monitoring, and enforcement.

The creation of these laws led to a major shift in the environmental movement.

So, there you have it. Are we at the beginning of another major movement? I hope so. It could be our last chance.

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