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After the rise of the modern-day environmental movement, environmentalism in the United States focused more and more on issues and crises related to the areas in which people lived and to the aspects that impacted public health. In particular, the crisis at Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York during the late 1970s and early 1980s provided a starting point to the awareness and activism of modern environmental history. Recently, an environmental crisis related to drinking water occurred in Flint, Michigan in the mid-2010s that showcases how various aspects of the environmental movement have developed over time since the Love Canal crisis. A comparison between the two events yields insights into the reactions that governmental figures, the medical and scientific community, and the public have in regards to environmental crises.
While these events show a consistency in how government officials and the public react to environmental crises impacting public health, the medical and scientific community shows a change in its actions and its ethical code in regards to these crises. Government officials tend to react to environmental crises impacting public health with apathy and denial until substantial citizen action prompts them to acknowledge and attempt to solve the problem. The way the public initially reacts to environmental crises causing public health issues has changed, with the public now generally trusting and supporting those impacted by the crises versus initially distrusting their claims, but the relationship between government action and citizen action has remained stable. In contrast, the orientation of the scientific and medical community towards activists in health-based environmental crises has remarkably changed; a comparison between the actions of scientific and medical experts in the Love Canal crisis and the Flint water crisis shows a historical shift where these experts now respond favorably to the activists’ request for help, as opposed to staying uninvolved and to not having an ethical obligation to help residents fight against environmental injustice.
Hughey, Sarah, "From Love Canal to the Flint Water Crisis: Government, Public Opinion, and Environmental Crises" (2016). Honors Theses. 2871.
Honors Thesis-Open Access