Remembering why society cares about the environment

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  was in the news again this week, thanks to comments by the EPA’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt, who expressed disbelief in carbon dioxide’s contribution to global climate change. The EPA’s role in combatting global climate change has been debated for a number of years, with arguments both for and against. Unfortunately, the consequences of climate change are hard for an individual to see in their every day life, which is one of the great challenges in gathering support to combat climate change.

When the EPA was started, however, rampant pollution was widespread and easily seen by citizens. Many of us today have no memories of the extent of pollution in the atmosphere and in our rivers and lakes during the 20th century. Fortunately, from 1972 to 1977 the EPA ran a program called DOCUMERICA that worked to photographically document the state of America’s environment. And thanks to our modern internet, the U.S. National Archives, and Flickr, we now have easy access to this documentary archive.

Highlights of these images, provided by The Atlantic, show that industry had taken a heavy toll on the environment throughout America, including Denver. The passage of the Clean Air Act, which established the EPA, was the turning point that allowed heavily polluted places, for example, Los Angeles, to successful combat pollution. In fact, the Clean Air Act Extension of 1970 and the EPA have been so successful that many of us today have no idea just how bad the environment was in the mid-20th century.

Peruse the DOCUMERICA website to learn/remember just how bad things were environmentally, remember how far we have come, and feel encouraged that we can go even farther if we keep demanding that industry, society, and government provide a healthy, safe, and sustainable environment for us to live in.


  1. Beth Dettmer


    I appreciate that you took the time to write and share. The photos from The Atlantic are a solid visual reminder. I am sharing with others.

    Best regards,

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