Timeline of environmental journalism and literature

Note: Also see related Environmental History Timeline by Bill Kovarik. 

  • 1661 — John Evelyn writes “Fumifugium, or the Inconvenience of the Aer and Smoake of London Dissipated” to propose remedies for London’s air pollution problem. These include large public parks and lots of flowers.   “The immoderate use of, and indulgence to, sea-coale in the city of London exposes it to one of the fowlest inconveniences and reproaches that can possibly befall so noble and otherwise incomparable City…  Whilst they are belching it forth their sooty jaws, the City of London resembles the face rather of Mount Aetna, the Court of Vulcan… or the suburbs of Hell [rather] than an assembly of rational creatures…”
  • 1704 — Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) publishes The Storm, a pioneering work of science writing describing the experiences of  about 60 people during a major hurricane that hit England the week of Nov. 24, 1703.
  • 1712 — Bernardo Ramazzini (1633 – 1714), the father of occupational medicine, publishes De Morbis Artificum Diatriba.  Ramazzini also noticed that nuns tended to have a higher incidence of breast cancer and that lead miners and workers often had skin the same color as the metal. “Demons and ghosts are often found to disturb the [lead] miners,” he said.
  • 1739  — Benjamin Franklin, editor of the Gazette, and his neighbors petition Pennsylvania Assembly to stop dumping in Dock Creek and remove the slaughterhouses and tanneries from Philadelphia’s commercial district. “A Petition from a great Number of the Inhabitants of the City of Philadelphia, was presented to the House, and read; setting forth the great Annoyance arising from Slaughter-Houses, Tan-Yards, Skinner Lime-Pits, & c. erected on the publick Dock, and Streets, adjacent. Franklin argued for  “public rights,” and said the restraints on the liberty of the tanners would be “but a trifle” compared to the “damage done to others, and the city, by remaining where they are.” (See McMahon, 1992)
  • 1750 — William Hogarth publishes the engraving “Gin Lane” depicting moral and physical pollution from alcohol addiction.
  • 1812 — London Times, US publications (Niles Register) report Luddite riots.
  • 1827 — John James Audubon’s Birds of America is an enormous success when it was printed in Britain in various editions beginning in  1827.  It was a monumental work with large page sizes featuring 435 hand-colored, life-size prints of 497 bird species. The book’s success signaled a new interest in nature and in the environment.
  • 1832 — Francis Trollope writes Domestic Manners of the Americans following a tour from New Orleans to New York.
  • 1835 — New York Sun’s “Moon Hoax” —  “We could perceive that their wings possessed great expansion and were similar in structure of those of the bat, being a semitransparent membrane expanded in curvilinear divisions by means of straight radii, united at the back by dorsal integuments…”
  • 1835 — Alexis de Tocqueville, in Journey to England, writes:   “Thirty or forty factories rise on the tops of the hills…six stories (high). The wretched dwellings of the poor are scattered haphazard around them. Round them stretches land uncultivated but without the charm of rustic nature.,, the fetid, muddy waters stained with a thousand colours by the factories … Look up and all around this place and you will see the huge palaces of industry. You will hear the noise of furnaces, the whistle of steam. These vast structures keep air and light out of the human habitations which they dominate; they envelope them in perpetual fog; here is the slave, there the master; there is the wealth of some, here the poverty of most.”
  • 1836 — Ralph Waldo Emerson writes Nature
    “In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,—no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God…”
  • 1840 — Frances Trollope writes  Michael Armstrong: Factory Boy —  “My eye caught the little figures of a multitude of children, made … visible, even by that dim light, by the strong relief in which their dark garments showed themselves against the snow. A few steps farther brought me in full view of the factory gates, and then I perceived considerably above two hundred of these miserable little victims to avarice all huddled together on the ground … I knew full well what, and how great, was the terror [of beating by mill foremen] which had brought them there too soon, and in my heart of hearts I cursed the boasted manufacturing wealth of England, which … gives power, lawless and irresistible, to overwhelm and crush the land it pretends to fructify.”
  • 1842 — Charles Dickens reports on his trip through America.
  • 1846 — Scientific American first published.
  • 1850s — Conservation photography begins with the Bisson Brothers photos of Alpine glaciers.
  • 1852 — Bleak House by Charles Dickens epitomizes the environmental problems in London:
    “Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.” 
  • 1854 –Aug. 1 — London Times writes of the victory in overturning what were seen at the time as burdensome public health laws.  “We prefer to take our chance of cholera and the rest than be bullied into health,” the Times writes.
  • 1854 — Henry David Thoreau publishes Walden — “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived… “
  • 1859 —  New York Tribune publisher and editor Horace Greeley visits Yosemite and advocates protection of forests.  “I know of no single wonder of nature on earth which can claim superiority over Yosemite.” He called on the state of California to protect “the most beautiful trees on earth.” The mountains “surpass any other mountains I saw.”
  • 1870s – 1914 — Smoke abatement (air pollution control) is a constant theme in US and UK newspapers.
  • 1871 — Horace Greeley hires John Muir to to write about the Yosemite   in the New York Tribune. These are the  first of 65 newspaper and magazine articles he wrote over the next 20 years.
  • 1873 — Forest and Stream magazine founded by Charles Hallock and edited by George Bird Grinnell — The magazine sparks the Western conservation movement, including exploration, the founding of national parks, and laws to conserve wildlife. The magazine merged with Field and Stream in 1930.
  • 1888 — Photographer / journalist Jacob Riis takes on slum housing in How the Other Half Lives.
  • 1900 – 1914 — Muckraking magazine era — History of Standard Oil by Ida Tarbell;  Railroads on Trial by Ray Stannard Baker; and The Jungle by Upton Sinclair  are among exposes published.
  • 1903 — E.W. Scripps, newspaper publisher, co-founds the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.
  • 1905 — Samuel Hopkins Adams exposes patent medicine fraud in Colliers Weekly.
  • 1906 — Carr Van Anda becomes editor of the New York Times and works for a more serious approach to science news.
  • 1907 — Newspaper publisher E.W. Scripps funds a University of California research station that eventually becomes the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
  • 1908 –Photographer  Lewis Hine begins documenting child labor issues.
  • 1912 — Francis Molena writes “Remarkable Weather of 2011” for Popular Mechanics magazine, noting that increasing amounts of coal combustion adds CO2 to the air and has a long-term tendency to raise the earth’s temperature.
  • 1913 — John Bertram Oakes (1913-2001),  New York Times editor and pioneer of environmental journalism. “At a time when no newspapers had environmental reporters and the idea of an environmental beat did not yet exist, Oakes’ editorial page made the environment a prominent topic in the national debate.”
  • 1913, March 30 — Women’s fight against the smoke nuisance, New York Times
  • 1914 — Margaret Sanger begins publishing “The Woman Rebel” to provide accurate information on birth control.
  • 1921 — Kansas City, Missouri, press “war” over public health and pasteurized milk.
  • 1922 — Scripps  Science Service founded
  • 1925 — Silas Bent of the New York  Times investigates oil refinery deaths from  “loony gas” (tetraethyl lead).
  • 1928 — Walter Lippman of the New York World champions the cause of the Radium Girls.
  • 1931 — Grey Owl (Archibald Belaney)  writes Men of the Last Frontier, beginning a somewhat checkered literary career.
  • 1934 — US National Association of Science Writers is founded.
  • 1935 — Dust bowl coverage — Margaret Bourke White writes- “By coincidence I was in the same parts of the country where last year I photographed the drought, As short a time as eight months ago there was an attitude of false optimism. “Things will get better,” the farmers would say. “We’re not as hard hit as other states. The government will help out. This can’t go on.” But this year there is an atmosphere of utter, hopelessness. Nothing to do. No use digging out your chicken coops and pigpens after the last “duster” because the next one will be coming along soon. No use trying to keep the house clean. No use fighting off that foreclosure any longer. No use even hoping to give your cattle anything to chew on when their food crops have literally blown out of the ground.” ( “Dust Changes America” The Nation May 22 1935 )
  • 1936 — Dorothea Lange takes “Migrant Mother” photo.
  • 1937 —  Pulitzer prizes awarded for science coverate to: Gobind Lal (Hearst); William L. Laurence (NY Times); David Dietz (Scripps-Howard); Howard W. Blakeslee (AP); John J. O’Neill (Herald Tribune)
  • 1939 — St. Louis Post-Dispatch crusades against the Smoke Menace and wins the first Pulitizer Prize for specifically covering the environment in 1941.
  • 1945 — William L. Lawrence first writes about the mysterious new atomic bomb.  Wins a Pulitzer in 1946.
  • 1946 — John Hershey’s  “Hiroshima,” is published by the New Yorker.  It is considered a masterpiece of literary journalism.
  • 1948 –  Oct 31 — News dispatches from the strickened town of Donora Pennsylvania first describe the air pollution disaster there.
  • 1949 — Vannevar Bush insists that democracy and science must be linked. “The democratic process and the applications of science … are intimately intertwined, for science does not operate in a vacuum… Discussions on the air or at the corner store revolve about these two central subjects…  (which are always) in the background. They determine our destiny, and well we know it.”
  • 1954 — Los Angeles newspapers demand “war” on smog.
  • 1954 — US Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas first leads the “blister brigade” of Washington Post staffers and families down the old Chesapeake and Ohio canal from Cumberland, Md. to Washington D.C.  Douglas was hoping to get the Post to support creation of a new park. He was successful.
  • 1956 — Jacob Bronowski —  “The world today is … powered by science… To abdicate an interest in science is to walk with eyes open toward slavery.”
  • 1958 — Environment magazine (US) founded by Barry Commoner.
  • 1958  — Unchained Goddess, a  science education film series, is produced by Frank Capra for Bell & Howell. “Even now, man may be unwittingly changing the world’s climate through the waste products of his civilization … Carbon dioxide, helps air absorb heat from the sun … It’s been calculated that a few degrees rise in the earth’s temperature would melt the polar ice caps… and if this happens, an inland sea would fill a good portion of the Mississippi Valley.”
  • 1962 — First installments of a controversial book by Rachel Carson, called Silent Spring, are published in the New Yorker.
  • 1967 — Pulitzer prizes are awarded for two environmental news projects: To the Milwaukee Journal “for its successful campaign to stiffen the law against water pollution in Wisconsin, a notable advance in the national effort for the conservation of natural resources;” And to the Louisville Courier-Journal “for its successful campaign to control the Kentucky strip mining industry, a notable advance in the national effort for the conservation of natural resources.”
  • 1968 —  Garrett Harden publishes The Tragedy of the Commons in Science Magazine.  “Every new enclosure of the commons involves the infringement of somebody’s personal liberty…  cries of “rights” and “freedom” fill the air. But what does “freedom” mean? When men mutually agreed to pass laws against robbing, mankind became more free, not less so. Individuals locked into the logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruin …”
  • 1968 — Christmas Eve —  US astronauts take the first photo of the earth from the moon.
  • 1969 — Cuyahoga River fire of  June 22 leads news editors to conclude that the environment beat is here to stay.  New York Times devotes one reporter, and later an entire desk, to environmental coverage (ending in 2012).  And similar efforts are seen throughout the mainstream media.
  • 1970 — The Ecologist magazine founded (UK) — last published 1990.
  • 1970 — April 22 — World media cover Earth Day 1970, a symbolic, social, media event that marked a turning point in public attitudes toward the environment.
  • 1970 — June 22 — CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite begins an occasional feature called: “Can the World Be Saved?”
  • 1970 — Philip Fradkin starts environment beat at LA Times, but later is reassigned for “not being objective.”
  • 1971 — Winston-Salem (NC) Journal and Sentinel Pulitizer  — For coverage of environmental problems, as exemplified by a “successful campaign to block strip mining operation that would have caused irreparable damage to the hill country of northwest North Carolina.”
  • 1972 — June 2 — Life Magazine publishes W. Eugene Smith’s photos from Minamata Japan depicting the grostequely crippling effects of mercury poisoning.  Smith is savagely beaten by thugs from the Chisso Chemical company, and dies several years later.
  • 1973 — Jacob Bronowski — “If we are anything we must be a democracy of the intellect. We must not perish by the distance between people and power, by which Babylon and Egypt and Rome failed. And that distance can only be closed if knowledge sits in the homes and heads of people with no ambition to control others, and not in isolated seats of power.”
  • 1979  —  Three Mile Island disaster — Nuclear industry says there was hysterical and sensation seeking news coverage, but the Tom Wicker of the New York Times sees  that “The effort to shift the burden of guilt to the press is familiar.”  Those whose failures and errors threatened catastrophe, he said, were quick to  “point a finger at reporters whose duty was to inform the public as best they could.”   Three Mile Island Commission reports next year that the press did not have adquate access to emergency information.
  • 1980 — The Philadelphia Inquirer  wins a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster.
  • 1983 —  Gina nuclear accident coverage leads to a Pulitzer for the Rochester Democrat;  Coverage of the nuclear industry bankruptcy is rewarded with a Pulitzer to the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
  • 1989 — Phil Shabecoff, New York Times environment reporter, leaves in 1989 after being reassigned for supposedly getting too close to environmental groups
  • 1990 — Society of Environmental Journalists is founded.
  • 1990 — E magazine (US) founded;
  • 1992 — Down to Earth (India)  founded by the Society for Environmental Communications
  • 1992 —  Pulitzer awarded for “Louisiana in Peril,” articles about the toxic waste and pollution that threaten the future of the state by James O’Byrne, Mark Schleifstein and G. Andrew Boyd of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
  • 1993 —  John-Thor Dahlburg  of the  Los Angeles Times is awarded a Pulitzer Prize for articles about Nuclear pollution in the former Soviet Union.
  • 1995 — Carl Sagan publishes the Demon Haunted World.  “I have a foreboding of … a (future) service and information economy … when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority … The dumbing-down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media … ”
  • 1995 —   Nov. 10. — Nigerian government executes environmental journalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other environmentalists. They had been active in fighting pollution from Shell Oil Co. in the Ogani homeland. International protests of Shell activities continues.
  • 1996  — Mass Media and Environmental Conflict by Mark Neuzil and Bill Kovarik published by Sage.
  • 1998 — Pulitzer Prize is awarded to Gary Cohn and Will Englund of  The Baltimore Sun for articles about the international shipbreaking industry.
  • 1999 — Presidential candidate Al Gore’s environmental credentials are knocked when Washington Times’ Bill Sammon reports that local authorities had granted Gore a special favor when they released nearly 4 billion gallons of water from a nearby dam into the drought-stricken Connecticut river in order to keep the vice president’s boat afloat. Cost:  $7 million. Implication: clumsy abuse of power by a supposed friend of the environment. Fallout: New York Times:  “mishap,” Washington Post: “Four billion gallons for a photo op” ; Newsweek:  “photo op from hell;”  CNN: “wave of criticism after floodgates are opened on a New Hampshire river to keep Al Gore afloat.”  Facts: 1. Nobody from the Gore campaign asked for the water to be released. 2. 500 million not 4 billion; 3. release was routine but moved up; and 4. No cost – The water generated power as intended .
  • 2002 — Mark Schleifstein and John McQuaid of the New Orleans Times Picayune write: “The Big One” noting:  “A major hurricane could decimate the region, but flooding from even a moderate storm could kill thousands. It’s just a matter of time.”  A year after Hurricane Katrina hits in 2006, they are awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
  • 2004 — Naomi Oreskes notes that while virtually all of the climate science shows a link between climate change and human activity, most newsreporting is split between actual science and industry-funded public relations.
  • 2005 –  Pulitzers for Hetch Hetchy Dam restoration — Sacramento Bee editorial;  investigation of beryllium industry in the production of metal used in nuclear bombs, Toledo Blade.
  • 2006 — Documenary “Inconvenient Truth”  is produced and has an enormous effect on public opinion about climate change.  Al Gore, star of the documentary, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.  One of the issues raised is the Oreskes study contrasting media coverage with actual climate science.
  • 2006 — Earth Journalism network founded to train journalists in developing countries.
  • 2006 — The Environmentalist magazine founded.
  • 2006 –  Pulitzer Prize for articles about the White dolphins of the Yangtze River goes to   Shai Oster, Wall Street Journal
  • 2007 — Savage attacks on scientists and journalists who report climate science escalate.  One attack is in the polemical documentary “The Great Global Warming Swindle.”   A sciencee writer named Nigel Calder says:  “The thing that has amazed me as a lifelong journalist is how the most  elementary principles of journalism seem  to have been abandoned on this subject. You’ve got a whole new generation of reporters – environmental journalists. If you’re an environmental journalist, and if the global warming story goes in the trash can, so does your job. It really IS that crude.”   Au contraire, Mr. Calder.
  • 2007 — Pulitzers for articles about China and pollution go to  Shai Oster and Jane Spencer of the Wall Street Journal.
  • 2007 — Pulitzer for articles about ocean acidity go to  Usha Lee McFarling, Los Angeles Times
  • 2007 — Great Global Warming Swindle “documentary” released.  In one section, there’s a dialogue with former science writer Nigel Calder, who says:
    • Narrator — “In fact the theory  of manmade global warming  has spawned an entirely new branch of journalism.”
    • Calder – “You’ve got a whole new generation of reporters – environmental journalistsIf you’re an environmental journalist, and if the global warming story goes in the trash can, so does your job. It really IS that crude.”
  • 2008 — Dec. 22 —  Kingston ash disaster, Tennessee Valley Authority, use of newer low-cost  water sampling tests begin to create a new paradigm for environmental reporting.
  • 2008 — Mark Neuzil writes  The Environment and the Press: From Adventure Writing to Advocacy (Northwestern University Press).
  • 2008 — Pulitzers for articles about lead tainted Chinese toys in the Chicago Tribune to to  Evan Osnos, Michael Oneal and Maurice Possley.
  • 2009 — Unscientific America, a book by Chris Mooney,   notes that the number of newspapers with weekly science sections has shrunken by two-thirds over the past several decades.
  • 2009 —  Pulitzer Prizes for articles about  dangerous chemicals in everyday products, such as some “microwave-safe” containers, go to Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • 2014 — Water sampling by news and environmental groups breaks open a Dan River, NC, coal ash spill cover-up by Duke Energy.
  • 2014 — Dan Fagin wins Pulitzer Prize for “Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation,  “a book that deftly combines investigative reporting and historical research to probe a New Jersey seashore town’s cluster of childhood cancers linked to water and air pollution,” according to the Pulitzer citation.