Environmental issues in the United States include climate change, energy, species conservation, invasive species, deforestation, mining, nuclear accidents, pesticides, pollution, waste and over-population. Despite taking hundreds of measures, the rate of environmental issues is increasing rapidly instead of reducing.

Movements and ideas

20th century

Both Conservationism and Environmentalism appeared in political debates during the Progressive Era in the early 20th century. There were three main positions. The laissez-faire position held that owners of private property—including lumber and mining companies, should be allowed to do anything they wished for their property.[1]

The Conservationists, led by President Theodore Roosevelt and his close ally Gifford Pinchot, said that the laissez-faire approach was too wasteful and inefficient. In any case, they noted, most of the natural resources in the western states were already owned by the federal government. The best course of action, they argued, was a long-term plan devised by national experts to maximize the long-term economic benefits of natural resources.

Environmentalism was the third position, led by John Muir (1838–1914). Muir's passion for nature made him the most influential American environmentalist. Muir preached that nature was sacred and humans are intruders who should look but not develop. He founded the Sierra Club and remains an icon of the environmentalist movement. He was primarily responsible for defining the environmentalist position, in the debate between Conservation and environmentalism.

Environmentalism preached that nature was almost sacred, and that man was an intruder. It allowed for limited tourism (such as hiking), but opposed automobiles in national parks. It strenuously opposed timber cutting on most public lands, and vehemently denounced the dams that Roosevelt supported for water supplies, electricity and flood control. Especially controversial was the Hetch Hetchy dam in Yosemite National Park, which Roosevelt approved, and which supplies the water supply of San Francisco.

Climate change

The United States is the second largest emitter, after China, of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.[2] The energy policy of the United States is widely debated; many call on the country to take a leading role in fighting global warming.[3] The U.S. is one of only two countries that has not signed up to the Kyoto Protocol.


Satellite image showing the light output at night in the United States

Since about 86% of all types of energy used in the United States are derived from fossil fuel consumption it is closely linked to greenhouse gas emissions. The energy policy of the United States is determined by federal, state and local public entities, which address issues of energy production, distribution, and consumption, such as building codes and gas mileage advancements. The production and transport of fossil fuels are also tied to significant environmental issues.

Species conservation

Many plant and animal species became extinct in North America soon after first human arrival, including the North American megafauna; others have become nearly extinct since European settlement, among them the American bison and California condor.[4]

The last of the passenger pigeons died in 1914 after being the most common bird in North America. They were killed as both a source of food and because they were a threat to farming. Saving the bald eagle, the national bird of the U.S., from extinction was a notable conservation success.

As of 13 December, 2016, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List shows the United States has 1,514 species on its Threatened list (Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable categories).

Invasive species

Invasive species are a significant problem, some of the most notable being zebra mussels, Burmese pythons, kudzu, brown tree snakes and European starlings. Economic damages are estimated at $120 billion per year.



The most notable accident involving nuclear power in the United States was Three Mile Island accident in 1979. Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station has been the source of two of the top five most dangerous nuclear incidents in the United States since 1979.[5]

Nuclear safety in the United States is governed by federal regulations and continues to be studied by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The safety of nuclear plants and materials controlled by the U.S. government for research and weapons production, as well those powering naval vessels, is not governed by the NRC.

The anti-nuclear movement in the United States consists of more than eighty anti-nuclear groups which have acted to oppose nuclear power and/or nuclear weapons in the USA. The movement has delayed construction or halted commitments to build some new nuclear plants,[6][7] and has pressured the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to enforce and strengthen the safety regulations for nuclear power plants.[8] Anti-nuclear campaigns that captured national public attention in the 1970s and 1980s involved the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant, Diablo Canyon Power Plant, Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, and Three Mile Island.[6]


Pesticide use in the United States is predominately by the agricultural sector and about a quarter of pesticides used are used in houses, yards, parks, golf courses, and swimming pools.[citation needed]

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) was first passed in 1947, giving the United States Department of Agriculture responsibility for regulating pesticides. In 1972, FIFRA underwent a major revision and transferred responsibility of pesticide regulation to the Environmental Protection Agency and shifted emphasis to protection of the environment and public health.


Air pollution

Water pollution

Marine pollution

Solid and hazardous waste

At 760 kg per person the United States generates the greatest amount of municipal waste.[9]


The total U.S. population crossed the 100 million mark around 1915, the 200 million mark in 1967, and the 300 million mark in 2006 (estimated on Tuesday, October 17).[10][11] The U.S. population more than tripled during the 20th century — a growth rate of about 1.3 percent a year — from about 76 million in 1900 to 281 million in 2000. This is unlike most European countries, especially Germany, Russia, Italy and Greece, whose populations are slowly declining, and whose fertility rates are below replacement.

Population growth is fastest among minorities, and according to the United States Census Bureau's estimation for 2005, 45% of American children under the age of 5 are minorities.[12] In 2007, the nation’s minority population reached 102.5 million.[13] A year before, the minority population totaled 100.7 million. Hispanic and Latino Americans accounted for almost half (1.4 million) of the national population growth of 2.9 million between July 1, 2005, and July 1, 2006.[14]

Based on a population clock maintained by the U.S. Census Bureau, the current U.S. population, as of 5:55 GMT (EST+5) 27 April 2012 is 316,237,337.[15] A 2004 U.S. Census Bureau report predicted an increase of one third by the year 2050.[16] A subsequent 2008 report projects a population of 439 million, which is a 44% increase from 2008.


Conservation and environmental movement

Today, the organized environmental movement is represented by a wide range of organizations sometimes called non-governmental organizations or NGOs. These organizations exist on local national and international scales. Environmental NGOs vary widely in political views and in the amount they seek to influence the government. The environmental movement today consists of both large national groups and also many smaller local groups with local concerns. Some resemble the old U.S. conservation movement - whose modern expression is the Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society and National Geographic Society - American organizations with a worldwide influence.

See also


  1. ^ Samuel P. Hays, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890-1920 (1959)
  2. ^ Vidal, John; David Adam (2007-06-19). "China Overtakes US as World's Biggest CO2 Emitter". Guardian. Retrieved 2007-06-27. 
  3. ^ "U.S. Faces International Pressure on Climate Change Policy". Online NewsHour. PBS. 2005-07-05. Retrieved 2007-05-05. 
  4. ^ Pleistocene Megafauna Extinctions Archived 2010-03-08 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Nuclear Regulatory Commission (2004-09-16). "Davis-Besse preliminary accident sequence precursor analysis" (PDF). Retrieved 2006-06-14.  and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (2004-09-20). "NRC issues preliminary risk analysis of the combined safety issues at Davis-Besse". Archived from the original on 2006-10-03. Retrieved 2006-06-14. 
  6. ^ a b Giugni, Marco (2004). Social Protest and Policy Change: Ecology, Antinuclear, and Peace Movements p. 44.
  7. ^ Lights Out at Shoreham: Anti-nuclear activism spurs the closing of a new $6 billion plant Newsday.com, undated.
  8. ^ Jerry Brown and Rinaldo Brutoco (1997). Profiles in Power: The Anti-nuclear movement and the Dawn of the Solar Age, p. 198.
  9. ^ http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/env_mun_was_gen-environment-municipal-waste-generation Municipal waste generation
  10. ^ "Statistical Abstract of the United States" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. 
  11. ^ "U.S. population hits 300 million mark". MSNBC (Associated Press). 2006-10-17. Retrieved 2006-10-17. 
  12. ^ "Population Is Now One-Third Minority". Archived from the original on 2008-10-11. 
  13. ^ US Census Press Releases, U.S. Census Bureau
  14. ^ "U.S. Census Bureau: Minority Population Tops 100 Million". Archived from the original on 2007-05-20. 
  15. ^ "U.S. Population Clock". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  16. ^ "Resident Population Projections by Sex and Age: 2010 to 2050" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original (PDF (455k)) on 2008-05-28. Retrieved 2008-04-29. 

Further reading

  • Bates, J. Leonard. "Fulfilling American Democracy: The Conservation Movement, 1907 to 1921", The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, (1957), 44#1 pp. 29–57. in JSTOR
  • Brinkley, Douglas G. The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, (2009) excerpt and text search
  • Cawley, R. McGreggor. Federal Land, Western Anger: The Sagebrush Rebellion and Environmental Politics (1993), on conservatives
  • Flippen, J. Brooks. Nixon and the Environment (2000).
  • Hays, Samuel P. Beauty, Health, and Permanence: Environmental Politics in the United States, 1955–1985 (1987), the standard scholarly history
    • Hays, Samuel P. A History of Environmental Politics since 1945 (2000), shorter standard history
  • King, Judson. The Conservation Fight, From Theodore Roosevelt to the Tennessee Valley Authority (2009)
  • Nash, Roderick. Wilderness and the American Mind, (3rd ed. 1982), the standard intellectual history
  • Rothman, Hal K. The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States since 1945 (1998)
  • Scheffer, Victor B. The Shaping of Environmentalism in America (1991).
  • Sellers, Christopher. Crabgrass Crucible: Suburban Nature and the Rise of Environmentalism in Twentieth-Century America (2012)
  • Strong, Douglas H. Dreamers & Defenders: American Conservationists. (1988) online edition, good biographical studies of the major leaders
  • Turner, James Morton, "The Specter of Environmentalism": Wilderness, Environmental Politics, and the Evolution of the New Right. The Journal of American History 96.1 (2009): 123-47 online at History Cooperative

External links