By the time Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, alerting the world to the impacts pesticides had on the natural environment, the seeds of the modern environmental movement had been sown. The Donora, Pennsylvania, smog in 1948 and the London smog of 1952 had heightened concern for a public already worried about nuclear war and the effects of fallout radiation. With all this in the backdrop, two large oil spills, one off the coast of England in 1967 and the other off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, in 1969, helped push the modern environmental movement forward. In the United States, it coalesced at the first Earth Day on 22 April 1970. Two years later, at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, world governments issued a declaration proclaiming,
Through ignorance or indifference we can do massive and irreversible harm to the earthly environment on which our life and well being depend. Conversely, through fuller knowledge and wiser action, we can achieve for ourselves and our posterity a better life in an environment more in keeping with human needs and hopes.
More explicitly, the declaration called for “education in environmental matters, for the younger generation as well as adults” as essential for “an enlightened opinion and responsible conduct by individuals, enterprises and communities in protecting and improving the environment in its full human dimension.”
In the decades that have followed, communities from local to global have faced increasingly complex and interconnected problems, requiring unprecedented innovation, knowledge, and motivation. The need for “enlightened opinion” and “responsible conduct” has never been stronger. How has the world responded to this call?