Friends of the Earth: A History of American Environmentalism with 21 Activities

Friends of the Earth: A History of American Environmentalism with 21 Activities

by Pat McCarthy

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The history of American environmentalism is the history of men and women who dedicated their lives to protecting the nation’s natural heritage. Almost singlehandedly, John James Audubon introduced the study of birds in North America. John Muir pushed a president and a nation into setting aside vast preserves, including Yosemite, Sequoia, Mt. Rainier, and the Grand Canyon. Marjory Stoneman Douglas did the same for the Florida Everglades, as did Mardy Murie with the Grand Tetons and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Cordelia Stanwood, and later Roger Peterson, revolutionized and popularized birdwatching. Rachel Carson opened the world’s eyes to the dangers of pesticides, and Julia “Butterfly” Hill saved a 1,000-year-old redwood while bringing to light the devastation of our old growth forests. Together, these environmentalists' inspiring life stories tell the story of American environmentalism, from its inception to the present day.

            In Friends of Our Earth readers will also learn how to put their concerns into action. Author Pat McCarthy gives step-by-step instructions on how to build a birdfeeder, conduct a water quality survey, start a compost pile, study the Greenhouse Effect, make plaster casts of animals tracks, create their own recycled paper, test for acid rain, and more. It includes a time line of historic milestones, popular outdoor parks and sites to visit or explore online, and Web resources for further study.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781569769751
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 03/01/2013
Series: Chicago Review Press For Kids Series
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 144
File size: 5 MB
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

Pat McCarthy is the author of Heading West and 10 children’s titles and has written for Cricket, Children’s Digest, and other publications.

Read an Excerpt

Friends of the Earth

A History of American Environmentalism With 21 Activities

By Pat McCarthy

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2013 Pat McCarthy
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-56976-975-1



So what is environmentalism, and when did it begin? Environmentalism means working to take care of our Earth and to solve problems such as the pollution of water and air and the exhaustion of natural resources. Many people think environmentalism is a new idea, developed within the past 50 years or so.

However, American environmentalism began before the Europeans arrived in the Americas. They didn't call it environmentalism, but the Native Americans practiced it. When they killed an animal, they didn't waste any part of it. The meat of buffalo was used for food, the skin for clothing and tepees, the fat for making candles, and the bone to make tools. American Indians had a reverence for their environment. They believed that man was a part of his environment and that all things in the environment were related to one another. Curley Bear Wagner, cultural officer for the Montana Blackfeet, said, "Your environmental movement is just white people beginning to put down roots on this continent. It's about time."

Like all other cultural groups, Native Americans at times misused the land, overhunted game, and overpopulated certain areas. However, they paid a great deal of attention to the environment compared with other cultural groups.

The European settlers in America made some early attempts at caring for the environment. William Penn, governor of Pennsylvania in 1690, required the settlers there to preserve one acre of trees for every five acres they cleared. In 1739, Benjamin Franklin petitioned the Pennsylvania Assembly to stop industries from dumping waste. When Franklin died in 1789, he left money in his will to build a pipeline to take fresh water to the city of Philadelphia because the polluted water there was causing disease.

A few other steps toward saving the environment were taken before 1850. In 1832, Arkansas Hot Springs was established as a national reservation. The same year, author and artist George Caitlin suggested the idea of national parks to preserve both the wilderness and the land the American Indians lived on. The US Department of the Interior was created in 1849. Its purpose was to manage the United States' national and cultural resources.

From 1850 to 1960, environmentalism was mostly concerned with conservation and preservation. For years, conservationists worked for efficient use and development of national resources. They tried to use these resources wisely so they would continue to be available.

Many national parks were established during those years. John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt were both instrumental in establishing parks. The Forest Reserve Act was passed in 1891. This act gave the president authority to put public land into forest preserves.

Organizations were formed to protect the environment. In 1892, John Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson founded the Sierra Club. Chapters of the National Audubon Society began in New York and Massachusetts in 1896. Most of the early environmentalists who belonged to these clubs were mainly interested in preserving wilderness to be used for recreation.

Gifford Pinchot, the first American with a degree in forest management, believed in using our resources wisely while taking steps to conserve and replace these resources for later use. He and John Muir became friends, but their friendship ended in 1897. Muir's aim was to preserve the wilderness, rather than use any of its resources. This began the split between the conservationists, led by Pinchot, and the preservationists, led by Muir.

The focus of environmentalism began to change in the 1960s. Now people were concerned about pollution, chemicals, and oil spills. Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring ushered in the new era in 1962. Carson showed that scientific progress had put Americans in peril from pollution. She showed that people's health was in danger because of the careless disposal of factory wastes and the use of pesticides. Scientists tried to convince the public that Carson was a hysterical woman who was overreacting.

Several catastrophes during the 1960s made people realize that the environment was indeed at risk. First came the 1968 garbage strike in New York City. Before it was settled, 100,000 tons of rotting garbage lay in doorways and along the streets, waiting to be picked up. Health authorities feared an epidemic of typhoid or another disease. Luckily the strike ended before that could happen.

In 1969, the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, Ohio, caught fire. It was actually an oil slick and the debris floating on the river that burned. The fire only lasted half an hour, and it did just $50,000 worth of damage. But it made the public aware that pollution was a major problem.

That same year, there was an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Over 200,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the ocean, covering 800 square miles of the surface. Thirty-five miles of coastline were affected, and thousands of birds and other animals died. It took 11 days to stop the leak.

Disasters like these convinced the American people that they faced significant environmental problems. Congress passed four pieces of legislation to help. The Wilderness Act, passed in 1964, defined wilderness as "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled [not disturbed] by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." In these areas, no vehicles would be allowed, no permanent structures could be built, and the wildlife and its environment would be protected.

In 1968 the National Trails Act set up a system of national trails. The first of these were the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. The act created the trails to provide outdoor recreation opportunities and to promote the preservation of outdoor areas. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act the same year safeguarded certain rivers for present and future generations to enjoy.

Some say the first Earth Day in 1970 marked the beginning of modern environmentalism. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1970. Its main purpose was to protect and improve the air quality in the United States in order to improve public health. Rallies all over the country convinced people that the environment was in danger. Also in 1970, President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA's mission is to protect human health and the environment.

The 1970s brought more problems involving toxic chemicals. In the winter of 1973–74, an oil shortage brought about an energy crisis. In 1979,a meltdown at a nuclear reactor on Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania released radioactive steam into the air. People were terrified, but there was very little damage to the environment. However, the incident made people aware of the possible danger from nuclear plants.

During the 1980s, President Reagan's administration did little to further the environmental movement. He thought environmentalism was a threat to big business interests. Huge cuts were made in the budget of the EPA. More environmental groups sprang up in opposition to Reagan's policies. Some believed overpopulation was the biggest problem, while others blamed technology for causing pollution.

In recent years, some factories have had to find new ways to dispose of hazardous waste. This remains a problem in the 21st century.

Much has been done to improve the quality of air and water, but more work lies ahead. Oil spills continue to be a problem. Natural resources are being used up, and the need for alternative forms of energy is becoming critical. Rainforests continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Many species of plants and animals are losing their habitats. Global warming due to the greenhouse effect is a growing problem, and so is acid rain. In the last chapter, you'll find more about these problems and what is being done about them.

In the next 11 chapters, you'll meet 11 people who made a big difference in the environmentalist movement in the United States. These men and women dedicated their lives to saving our Earth. They worked in different ways and in different times and places, but they all made important contributions.



John James Audubon has come to be known as the man who familiarized people in the United States and Great Britain with the species of birds found in America.

Audubon was born in Santo Domingo (now Haiti) on April 26, 1785. His father, Lieutenant Jean Audubon, was a French sea captain. His mother was Jeanne Rabin, a Spanish Creole from Louisiana who lived on his father's sugar plantation. (Jean Audubon had a wife in France.) The baby was named Jean-Jacques Fougere Audubon. His mother died when he was an infant. In 1788, slave uprisings forced Audubon to sell his plantation. He took the little boy and his younger half-sister, Rosa, to Nantes, France. His wife, Anne Moynet Audubon, raised them as her own. And in 1794, she legally adopted them.

Audubon later said, "Let no one speak of her as my step-mother. I was ever to her as a son of her own flesh and blood and she was to me a true mother." Mrs. Audubon treated the children well, although she spoiled the boy.

Jean's father was away from home a lot, and he left the child raising to his wife. Jean played the flute and the violin and liked to fence, ride, and dance.

He didn't like to go to school, so he often played hooky with other boys. They roamed the woods and fields, fishing, shooting, and hunting for birds' nests.

Jean loved birds from an early age, and his father encouraged his interest. Jean said, "He would point out the elegant movement of the birds, and the beauty and softness of their plumage. He called my attention to their show of pleasure or sense of danger. ... He would speak of their departure and return with the seasons." Jean often brought home birds' eggs and nests. He began to draw birds that he saw in France.

Jean's father was concerned about Jean's lack of interest in his studies, so he took him to the French naval base at Rochefort, where he was stationed. Here the boy studied with a tutor. Once, when he was given some difficult math problems, Jean jumped out the window into the gardens. However, a naval officer took him back to his room.

Lt. Audubon finally gave up and let Jean return home and attend school there. During that time, the boy made more of an effort to paint birds well. Also, to please his mother, he learned his catechism and was baptized.

Jean's first attempts at drawing birds were not good. He later wrote, "When I was a little lad, I first began my attempts at representing birds on paper, I was far from possessing much knowledge of their nature. ... I was under the impression that it was a finished picture of a bird because it possessed some sort of a head and tail, and two sticks in lieu of legs." Since the boy showed little interest in anything else, his father encouraged him in his drawing.

Meanwhile, Napoleon began drafting young men into the army. In order to keep Jean from being drafted, his father sent him to America. Jean immediately changed his name to John James, the name he used the rest of his life.

John James was excited about the move. He enjoyed the trip, but when he reached New York, he became very ill with yellow fever. The ship's captain took him to two Quaker women who ran a boardinghouse. They nursed him back to health, and he later wrote, "To their skillful and untiring ministrations, I may safely say I owe ... my life."

Soon he was established at Mill Grove, his father's farm in Pennsylvania. He lived with the Quaker tenants, William Thomas and his wife. Audubon loved life at Mill Grove. He wrote that Mill Grove was "refreshed by the waters of the Schuylkill River, and transversed by a creek named Perkioming. Its fine woodlands, its extensive acres, its fields crowned with evergreens, provided many subjects to my pencil."

Audubon was popular with the other young people in the area and spent his time enjoying himself. He was a great dancer, played the violin well, and was a good hunter. He said, "Hunting, fishing, drawing, and music occupied my every moment. Not a ball, a skating match, a house or a riding party took place without me."

Audubon dressed in satin pants, ruffled shirts, and silk stockings. He even dressed this way while hunting or roaming through the woods, finding birds and studying them. He wrote in his journal, "The nature of the place — whether high or low, moist or dry, whether sloping north or south, or bearing tall trees or low shrubs — generally gives hint as to its inhabitants." He spent a lot of time drawing the birds he found.

Soon after he arrived at Mill Grove, Audubon met a British neighbor, William Bakewell, in the woods. The man invited him to the house and Audubon was immediately enchanted by Bakewell's daughter, Lucy. He later wrote to his sons, "There I sat, my eyes riveted ... on the young girl before me, who half working, half talking, essayed to make the time pleasant to me. Oh! may God bless her! It was she, my dear sons, who afterwards became my beloved wife and your mother."

The two became great friends, and Lucy was with Audubon when he carried out a scientific experiment. He had discovered a phoebe's nest in a cave on the property. He wondered if the same birds would return the next year, so he carefully tied threads around their feet. The birds returned the next spring, still wearing the worn and dirty pieces of string on their legs. This was the first bird-banding experiment in the United States.

Audubon and Lucy were in love, but her parents thought they were too young to marry. Her father was also concerned that Audubon had no way to support her. John James was not a good businessman. Along with two other men, he reopened an old lead mine on the farm. The mine did contain lead, but it was expensive to reopen it and they made no profit.

Audubon went back to visit his parents in France. He wanted to get his father's permission to marry Lucy. He also met naturalist Charles-Marie D'Orbigny, who taught him the skill of taxidermy, or stuffing animals. This made it easier for Audubon to pose the birds he shot in order to draw them in lifelike positions.

Jean Audubon and a friend, Francois Rozier, got together and set up a business partnership for their two sons, John James and Ferdinand. Both boys were eager to get out of the country to avoid being drafted into the French Army. Jean managed to get passports for the boys and got them on an American ship, the Polly.

The two men sent a number of gold coins with the boys to use until they made a profit from their business. About two weeks after they left France, the Polly was overtaken by another ship, the British privateer Rattlesnake. Privateers were ships that were privately owned but were authorized by the government during wartime to attack and capture enemy vessels. The crew of the Rattlesnake took two crew members and much of the cargo, but didn't bother the passengers. John James and Ferdinand had hidden their gold pieces inside rolls of cable on deck. The privateers did not find the gold.

Audubon worked in Philadelphia for a while for Bakewell's brother, Benjamin. He was to learn the mercantile business, which was the business of buying and selling goods. Rozier worked for a French importing firm. Audubon also did some part-time work for Dr. Samuel Latham Mitchell, who was a leading naturalist in New York. He probably wasn't paid for this work. Audubon mounted animal specimens and prepared bird and animal skins for a museum. He did the work in his room, and the neighbors soon became upset at the unpleasant odors. The smell became so bad that they called the constable.

Eventually Audubon got tired of working for someone else. He wrote to Rozier on May 6, 1807, that he wanted to start a store. He had decided what goods they should carry and that the store would be in Kentucky.

The two young men made the long, hard trip to Kentucky. The country they passed through was beautiful. The boat slipped between high hills and heavy forests, sometimes passing a small settlement. They slept on their coats on deck at night.

The river presented a number of hazards. The boat sometimes got stuck on a sandbar, and all the passengers had to get into the water and push in order to free it. Sometimes rocks, dirt, and trees that had fallen into the water blocked their way.

The flatboat finally made it to Louisville. The town was located on a high bluff overlooking the Ohio River. Audubon and Rozier immediately explored the town, looking for a suitable building for their business. Audubon had no head for business, and Rozier didn't have much experience.

Even though the business wasn't very successful, Audubon returned to Pennsylvania in 1808, determined to marry Lucy. Her father finally agreed, and the two were married on April 5 in the parlor at Fatland Ford, the Bakewells' home.


Excerpted from Friends of the Earth by Pat McCarthy. Copyright © 2013 Pat McCarthy. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Time Line,
2: JOHN JAMES AUDUBON, 1785–1862,
3: HENRY DAVID THOREAU, 1817–1862,
4: JOHN MUIR, 1838–1914,
5: CORDELIA STANWOOD, 1865–1958,
6: GIFFORD PINCHOT, 1865–1946,
7: ALDO LEOPOLD, 1887–1948,
9: MARGARET "MARDY" MURIE, 1902-2003,
10: RACHEL CARSON, 1907–1964,
11: ROGER TORY PETERSON, 1908–1996,

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