Endangered Planet

Full Program Description

Endangered Planet
Runaway growth brings prosperity at a price
Original broadcast: Tuesday, June 15, 1999 at 10pm
(check local listings for re-broadcast dates)

"When I first started working on this issue, most people saw pollution as a local issue: they had steel mills in Pittsburgh, car pollution in Los Angeles. Within the next ten years we began to understand it was continental in proportions: acid rain covered half of North America and much of Europe. Within another five years we realized that the problem was indeed global, that there were threats to the viability of the atmosphere itself."
-- Richard Ayres, environmental lawyer, United States

Throughout the twentieth century, the natural world has been assaulted as never before by advancing technology and unbridled economic growth. Cheaper fuel, bigger factories, more cars, pesticides -- all promised such rewards that their byproducts were tolerated as the price of progress. For many, however, evidence of industry's environmental toll emerged in the late 1950s -- in Minamata, Japan, where thousands were poisoned over many years by the outflow from a local aluminum factory. This was only one of many environmental disasters to hit the headlines as the cost of mass industrialization the world over was realized.

Rachel Carson warned of these dangers in 1962 with the publication of Silent Spring, but growing concern for the environment wasn't acknowledged on a national scale until 1970, when twenty million Americans took to the streets in support of "Earth Day." That same year, President Richard M. Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 1972, the United Nations held the first World Conference on the Environment in Stockholm. Meanwhile, Greenpeace and other activist groups kept the issues of pollution and over-exploitation of the Earth's resources in the fore as people reeled from one ecological disaster to another: the Amoco Cadiz, Love Canal, Bhopal, acid rain. Over time, it has become painfully clear that threats to the environment are threatening to all humanity.

But even as the West adopts more earth-friendly environmental policies, the nations of the Third World struggle to industrialize -- and pressure to set high environmental priorities is sometimes rejected as First World hypocrisy.

The people remember: Minamata, Japan, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, DDT, smog, Torrey Canyon, Earth Day, Environmental Protection Agency, acid rain, ozone layer, Greenpeace, chemical accidents, Love Canal, Rio summit.

Endangered Planet is produced and directed by Max Whitby. Series senior producer is David Espar. Series executive producer for WGBH Boston is Zvi Dor-Ner; Peter Pagnamenta is executive producer for the BBC.

John Forsythe narrates.

About the Series | Episodes | Timeline | Your Stories | Thematic Overview | Teacher's Guide

People's Century | WGBH | PBS Online | Search PBS | Feedback | Shop | ©