Before the EPA, We Had Rivers on Fire

In college, I took a class called “Environmental History of America,” which was one of my favorite college courses. There is a lot that I learned, about the general way our nation functions and it’s relationship to the environment, that has stuck with me from that course. One thing that I focused on, for the final report, was the development of the EPA. One thing I keep wanting to shout, as the EPA gets silenced is this: Don’t you know that before the EPA, we had rivers on fire?

Just after the EPA was created, they conducted a photo documentary project, collecting pictures from throughout the country. Many of us weren’t alive before the EPA, so these pictures serve as a nice reminder as to why government regulation is necessary. Side note: It will never be cost effective for a large corporation to put environmental protections in place out of the goodness of their heart.

If you are interested in learning more about the environmental history of America, one of the standard recommendations is Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. I believe that Carson gives a great example of what not to do. She was passionate, infuriated, and used such extreme language that the people that needed to hear her, did not. Let us learn from Carson, and try to find ways to communicate the real threats in a way that others will actually listen. However, I don’t have a better book to recommend. If you do, please let me know in the comments!

I do know that one of my favorite books on how we became the nation that we are, where we have gradually moved further and further from understanding each other, is William Cronon’s Nature’s MetropolisCronon blew my mind through his explanation of how we went from people that created our own food supply in small communities to a nation that has one region growing our food, and other regions where people can specialize in things that have absolutely nothing to do with their day-to-day survival, like banking and research.

Almost all of the settlement in America, up until the widespread use of the car, was influenced by the environment. It’s no coincidence that almost all of our major cities are located on a major waterway, for human survival and efficient transportation. Let’s not forget where we were, as we talk about where we are going.

How to get job growth while not drowning America in smog and setting our rivers on fire? I don’t have that answer. But completely shutting down the power of the one organization that keeps us on the right track will undo all the good that has been done over the last 50 years.

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