The Environmental History Timeline posted by William Kovarik on Radford University’s website describes environmental problems and solutions from throughout history and from around the world. The timeline information was first published in a book titled, Mass Media and Environmental Conflict written by Mark Neuzil and William Kovarik (Sage, 1997). A year later, the timeline was put online and has since been modified by various attorneys, historians, school teachers and environmental groups.
The Beginning of Green
The timeline starts with the years 1000 to 1600 and details many eco improvements that occurred such as efforts to limit or prohibit environmental pollutants like coal and wood burning in London.
Information presented shows that the many deaths caused by bubonic plaque in Europe and Asia during the mid 1300s created attempts at enforcing public health and safety laws. After years of citizens littering the streets, the City of Cambridge passed the first urban sanitary laws in England.
The timeline shows the 1700s saw the start of rapid industrialization in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and as such Benjamin Franklin became concerned with sanitation and public drinking water.
Moving on to the next century (early 1800s), the first health inspector was appointed in New York City in response to the yellow fever epidemics.
Twentieth-Century Green History
Jumping ahead a few hundred years on Neuzi and Kovarik’s published timeline, along with the invention of the leaded gasoline powered engine in the early 1900s came heavily polluted air and water. Major harbors around the United States reported oil pollution damage.
The term “greenhouse effect” was coined in 1937. The air pollution was so bad in St. Louis, Missouri in 1939 that lanterns had to be used during the daylight for a week. During the same time frame, the St. Louis Post Dispatch received a Pulitzer Price for environmental reporting.
After decades of environmental breakdowns, eco took a turn for the better starting in the 1970s. Major corporations like General Motors began committing to environmental friendly products and practices.
Many environmental agencies were formed during the 70s and 80s such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Everglades, Lake Michigan Federation, and The Worldwatch Institute.
Today’s Green Initiative
Today – as reported by TAPPI (described on its own website as “the leading technical association for the worldwide pulp, paper and converting industry”) – Americans recover nearly 50 percent of all the paper they use and more paper is being recycled than is sent to landfills.
The Paper Industry Association Council reported on their website that 86 percent of Americans have access to curbside or drop-off recycling programs.
Major television networks, newspapers and magazines have taken on the cause to promote ideas and tips for living in a green world. National retailers such as Wal-Mart have made a public commitment to “environmental stewardship.” Industry and manufacturers of all types have to comply with air, land and water protection laws.
Tomorrow’s Dreams for Going Green
After centuries of depleting or destroying natural resources, sustainability is the goal of the future and environmentalists are reporting good news for the future of green. For example, according to the Paper Industry Association, hopes for the future of recycling include recovering 60 percent of all paper used by Americans by 2017.
Philip Shabecoff, author of Earth Rising: American Environmentalism in the 21st Century, (Washington DC: Island Press) writes, “Environmentalism has the latent strength to put us on a course toward a safe and pleasant ecological future, a better, more relational way of living on earth.”