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Environmental issues


Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson

A movement to preserve the environment took root with the best-selling book Silent Spring (1962) by Rachel Carson. The book attacked toxic pesticides like DDT. Carson described how DDT threatened both animals and human beings. Her book raised Americans’ awareness of threats to the environment and moved many to take action. Students and teachers at over 1,500 colleges and universities and at over 10,000 schools held teach-ins on the environment. Hundreds of thousands of other Americans staged protests and rallies around the nation. These activists formed a number of environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund in 1967, Friends of the Earth in 1968, Greenpeace in 1970, and the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund in 1971. In 1970 some 20 million Americans gathered for what organizers called Earth Day to protest abuse of the environment.

In response to growing citizen protests, Congress in 1970 passed the National Environmental Policy Act, which created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an independent agency responsible for protecting the environment and maintaining it for future generations.

Congress also enacted laws to curb pollution, preserve wilderness areas, and protect endangered species. The Supreme Court allowed conservationists to sue businesses for polluting the environment and government agencies for failure to enforce the law.

Several events in the 1970s suggested the danger of environmental threats. In 1978 residents of Love Canal in New York, who had been experiencing high disease rates, were found to be living on a former chemical waste dump; the area was evacuated. In 1979 an accident at the nuclear power plant on Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania showed the potential dangers of radioactive material in nuclear reactors.

As concern for the environment spread, more Americans became involved in efforts to maintain forests, parks, and wildlife refuges; prevent air and water pollution; conserve energy; and dispose of hazardous waste safely. Environmentalists persisted in their efforts into the 1980s, although often challenged by conservatives who believed that environmental regulations restricted property rights protected by the Constitution.

The Warren Court


Judicial activism (taking an active role in shaping public policy) completed the liberal agenda of the 1960s. Ever since Earl Warren’s appointment as chief justice in 1953, the Supreme Court had enraged critics on the right, who pressed for Warren’s impeachment. In the 1950s the Warren Court had integrated public schools in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954). In the 1960s Kennedy and Johnson appointed four Supreme Court justices, including Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP lawyer who had argued the Brown case and the high court’s first African American justice. With a liberal majority in place, the Warren court handed down a series of landmark cases that enhanced civil liberties and spurred or legitimized social change.

The Warren Court of the 1960s declared prayer in public schools unconstitutional, enabled Communists to obtain passports, and limited communities’ power to censor books and movies (thus making sexually explicit material available to adults). In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) the Court ruled that state bans on contraceptives were unconstitutional.

The Court also consistently upheld civil rights. It found local ordinances upholding segregation in private businesses (such as lunch counters) unconstitutional; reversed the convictions of black demonstrators who had refused to disperse; upheld the civil rights laws of 1964 and 1965; declared delays in school desegregation intolerable; and upset a state law that forbade marriage between persons of different races.

Warren Court decisions of the 1960s affected electoral procedures, too. In Baker v. Carr (1962), the Court upheld the principle of “one man, one vote,” which meant that state legislatures had to be reapportioned on the basis of population. Finally, the Court issued controversial decisions that transformed criminal justice. In Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), the Court held that a poor person charged with a felony had the right to be represented by a state-appointed lawyer. In Miranda v. Arizona (1966) the Court declared that a confession could not be introduced as evidence unless the defendant had been informed of his or her rights, including the right to remain silent. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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