Teacher's Guide: Endangered Planet

In the second half of the century, economic growth boosts economies, brings jobs, and promises to improve the quality of life in developing and industrialized countries. It also brings disease and destruction to land, air, water, and living thingsspurring the environmental movement.

Unit Themes and Topics:
environmental costs of economic development
human rights and the struggle for justice
social movements and political change

Connections Across History
connection: when: where: program:
feminist movement 1917-1996 Iran, Mexico, United States "Half the People"
civil rights movement 1945-1994 South Africa, United States "Skin Deep"
youth movement 1950-1975 France, Great Britain, United States "Young Blood"
religious fundamentalist movements 1978-1992 Iran, United States "God Fights Back"

Tomiji Matsuda (top)
(citizen born with Minamata disease, Japan)

"I think people must be very careful about progress. It doesn't just bring benefits; it brings danger. as well."

Mukesh Gupta
(foundry owner, India)

"I'm sorry if our pollution harms the environment, but you must realize we have to meet our basic needs."

photographic portrait of Tomiji Matsuda and Mukesh Gupta

Note to Teachers:

This program contains graphic scenes of diseases caused by environmental pollution. We recommend that you preview the program before using it in the classroom.


Before Watching

1. As students watch the program, have them write down examples of local, regional, and global environmental issues and how the issues were addressed by governments, businesses, and individuals.

After Watching

1. Why were the Chisso Corporation and the Japanese government slow to respond to the poisoning of Minamata Bay? Give other examples from the program of how businesses and governments responded to environmental problems and what strategies people used to force them to take action.

2. Do you agree with journalist Anil Agarwal that the environmental movement has led to a "new form of democracy"? Why or why not? In general, how do you think citizens' views of industry and environmentalists have changed since the 1950s? How have these views influenced or not influenced business practices and citizens' economic and environmental priorities?

3. How do industries such as steel production benefit society? How can these benefits be preserved while still protecting the environment?


To explore the tradeoffs between environmental protection and economic growth, ask students to research the perspectives reflected in the quotations above by Tomiji Matsuda and Mukesh Gupta. First, divide students into pairs to research specific environmental issues, such as population growth, global warming, soil erosion, acid rain, deforestation, the destruction of coral reefs, or endangered species. Ask students to use their research to assess the costs of environmental protection vs. damage caused by economic growth in this area.

The Price of Progress

The following lesson focuses on a program segment about mercury poisoning in Minamata Bay, Japan; the discovery of the toxic effects of DDT on pelicans; and the 1962 publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, which called public attention in the United States to the environmental costs of progress. Environmental activists, former industry employees, and Minamata Bay citizens describe how their lives were changed by these events.

Program Segment
approximately 17 minutes

The beginning of the program

Astronaut Gene Kranz describes how seeing Earth from outer space changed his view of the environment.


Before Watching

1. What activities do you perform every day? How do you think these activities help or harm the environment?

2. As students watch the program segment, have them write down examples of how human activity in one area affects another area.

After Watching

1. What problems surfaced in the 1950s and 1960s that made people aware of environmental issues? What were some of the causes of these problems? What were some of the consequences? What does the mercury poisoning of Minamata Bay and the effects of DDT on pelicans reveal about changes in people's understanding of ecology and their attitudes toward economic growth?

2. Developing nations today are eager to raise the standard of living of their citizens through increased industrialization and consumer goods, just as industrialized nations did in the 1950s and 1960s. As a class, discuss the rights of developing nations to improve their standard of living despite the ecological cost vs. the desire of industrialized nations to control environmental harm.

3. How did these environmental problems challenge scientific and political ideas about science and progress? How did they encourage people to question conventional authority?

4. Why do you think the environment has become an important political issue at this point in human history? What are some ways that environmental issues might affect people's lives in the next century?


Imagine you are running for president in the 21st century. What part would environmental issues play in your campaign? Ask students to develop a political platform about the environment. What are the major issues facing the nation and the international community? Have students write a campaign speech explaining their environmental concerns and the programs they propose to address those concerns.

Have the class investigate a current local or national environmental controversy. Divide the class into two teams. Have one team present the pros and the other team the cons of the issue. Have the class discuss what action, if any, they would like to take. Develop a plan to implement one or more of the proposed ideas and follow through.

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