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McREL Standards Activity

Environmentalism: Then and Now

Purpose:As a result of this activity, students will have a greater understanding of the history of the conservation movement and how it relates to contemporary issues.
Related Standard & Benchmarks:
United States History
 Standard 16.Understands how the rise of corporations, heavy industry, and mechanized farming transformed American society
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 4. Understands the factors leading to the conservation movement of the late 19th century (e.g., how emphasis on staple crop production, strip mining, lumbering, ranching, and destruction of western buffalo herds led to massive environmental damage)
United States History
 Standard 16.Understands how the rise of corporations, heavy industry, and mechanized farming transformed American society
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 5. Understands how rapid increase in population and industrial growth in urban areas influenced the environment (e.g., inefficient urban garbage collection and sewage disposal, how city leaders and residents coped with environmental problems in the city)
 Standard 18.Understands global development and environmental issues
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 3. Understands contemporary issues in terms of Earth's physical and human systems (e.g., the processes of land degradation and desertification, the consequences of population growth or decline in a developed economy, the consequences of a world temperature increase)
Student Product:One to two page essay.
Material & Resources:The following websites can provide some information on current issues as well as historical information:
Sierra Club, Audubon Society, US EPA
Teacher's Note:No supplementary notes for this activity.
To begin, the teacher can ask students to describe what they consider "the environment."  The teacher should encourage students to think of many aspects of the environment, including urban and suburban environments, and issues of public health.  After students have "brainstormed" some ideas, they can be split into two groups for research.  One group will research the roots of the environmental and conservation movement (beginning in the industrial era), and the second group will research contemporary issues.  Each group will present a brief outline describing its findings, and then the teacher will facilitate a discussion comparing and contrasting how "environmentalism" has changed over the years.

Some issues to consider:
History -
1. What were the economic reasons for massive strip mining and lumbering operations?
2. How did the new forms of agricultural technology damage the environment?
3. What were some of the agencies that were created during that time, and what actions did the government take to respond to environmental problems?  
4. What were the causes and effects of the primary environmental health threats in urban areas(e.g., garbage disposal, sewer systems, contagious diseases)?
5. How did cities attempt to deal with environmental health threats?

Contemporary issues-
1.  Endangered species - what is the tension between conservationists and private land-owners?
2.  Loss of agricultural land and open space - what are the economic causes?
3.  Air pollution and acid rain - what are causes and effects?
4.  Water pollution - what types of activities cause water pollution and what are the effects?
5.  How are environmental issues treated in the current political scene?