Over the past six months, the United States has sweltered through record-breaking high temperatures and dangerous weather anomalies. Thanks to everything from derechos to droughts, renewed anxiety for our planet — and ourselves — is inevitable. For AAUW, environmental concerns are a fascinating part of our heritage.
Did you know that in the late 1960s and early 1970s AAUW undertook a battle for environmental reform? At that time, the nation was awakening to the ecological distress caused by pollution from everyday human activity and beginning to recognize the effect these toxins were having on the environment and on people. The forward-thinking AAUW program This Beleaguered Earth – Can Man Survive? put a “focus on the ecological problems faced by mankind today … how and why we are threatened as a species. It also suggest[ed] ideas for action to reverse environmental pollution and deterioration.”
In an effort to identify and define environmental issues on the local, national, and even international level, AAUW called on lawmakers and citizens alike to learn about the ecological struggles at hand and to take up the fight for a cleaner, safer world. AAUW branches focused on specific issues, many of which related to local problems within the broader topic of environmental reform. Members studied topics ranging from the obvious, such as water and air pollution, to the revolutionary, such as soundscape protection and noise reduction and alternative energy sources like solar and nuclear power.
These studies resulted in a wealth of information. To ensure its effective application, the AAUW national office held conferences, narrated public service announcements, and produced educational publications such as This Beleaguered Earth: Models for Citizen Action and the Tool Kit for Community Action. Among other things, these documents suggested activism projects and ways to influence change. The power of individual branches combined under a nationally organized campaign allowed AAUW to stand as a united force against environmental destruction.
This work continues to resonate today. For example, the AAUW Queens (NY) Branch’s home ecology quiz from January 1973 helped individuals recognize everyday threats to the environment and identify ways to make a difference. Considering today’s ecological concerns, which questions do you think are still relevant? How would you update the questions to better reflect the problems our planet faces today? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and take the quiz to see how you score! I’m “almost there.”
This post was written by AAUW Archives Intern Kelsey Conway.