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ACT 1: Conservation

Act 1


ACT 2: Pollution

Act 2


ACT 3: Radical Ecology

Act 3


ACT 4: Going Global

Act 4


ACT 5: Climate Change

Act 5


Act 2: Pollution

Act 2 explores the environmental movement of the ‘70s and issues of pollution and toxic waste, which exploded at Love Canal.


The 1970s are a golden age of environmentalism. Within that decade all of the important laws are enacted: the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts; NEPA and the Endangered Species Act; and hazardous waste laws culminating in Superfund. Soon after Earth Day, President Nixon forms the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the new laws. It takes a command-and-control approach, setting standards and forcing technology.  Before long, fighting pollution becomes a matter of wrangling over rules and definitions. Rising to the challenge is a new breed of professional environmentalist – lawyers and policy experts equally adept at working with government agencies or suing them. They litigate and legislate and lobby over everything from reducing atmospheric pollutants to banning toxic chemicals. By decade’s end the problems are getting harder, opposition stronger. Then the toxic time bomb hits.

Love Canal is not the first battle over a toxic waste dump, what makes it special is Lois Gibbs. The archetypal angry mother with sick children, she leads her community’s fight for justice with such force that Love Canal becomes the model for a new kind of environmental activism. The story begins in 1978, when residents of a working-class neighborhood in Niagara Falls discover they are living on a leaking chemical dump.

Lois Gibbs’ kids become ill;  in talking to other parents, she uncovers a wide range of mysterious ailments. They conduct their own health survey to demonstrate the dangers and disease, and appeal to authorities for help. Instead they are told to stay out of their basements and not get pregnant. Lois and the Love Canal residents prove relentless -- attending hearings, confronting officials, organizing protests, making demands. At one point they take EPA officials hostage, barricading them inside a house while Lois Gibbs calls the White House to say they are holding them until President Carter agrees to buy out all the residents of Love Canal. After years of official stalling, they finally receive a $15 million settlement. By then Lois Gibbs has become a national figure, an inspiration to others. Rather than go back to being a housewife, she decides to help people facing similar problems. So Mrs. Gibbs goes to Washington, sets up the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, and becomes the nucleus of a grassroots movement to, in her words, “plug up all the toilets.”

In the wake of Love Canal a new wave of populist pollution fighters comes to the fore: poor folks, women and minorities trying to save their homes and their lives. In Warren County, North Carolina, protests against a black community being dumped on lead to charges of environmental racism and the emergence of an environmental justice movement.


Interviewees ACT 2

Lois Gibbs

The angry housewife who blew the lid off toxic waste at Love Canal, then became the nexus of nationwide grassroots groups battling toxicity.

John Adams

Founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the “movement’s lawyer” for forty years.

Carl Pope

An activist in the battle for the Clean Air Act, who went on to lead the Sierra Club through the last two decades.

Hugh Kaufman

Chief of Hazardous Waste Enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency, who authored and then defended Superfund from counterattack by Reaganites.

Russell Train

Nixon’s environmentalist, first chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, second administrator of the EPA, founder and head of the World Wildlife Fund.

Bob Bullard

Environmental justice advocate, author and leader.


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