Taking Rachel Carson’s SILENT SPRING (1962) as the inaugurating event, Sale’s THE GREEN REVOLUTION chronicles the environmental movement from its inception through 1992. His narrative is divided into four major chapters and a conclusion. The first, covering events from the beginning through Earth Day, 1970, deals with the awakening of consciousness of large numbers of people to environmental threats and the gradual shift of established organizations like the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club from exclusive interest in conservation to preservation of the quality of life for human beings. In the second period, 1972-1978, the movement concentrated upon lobbying activities and the political process, with its center shifting to Washington. The third period was marked by a reaction during the Reagan presidency, when environmentalists, first thrown on the defensive, regained their strength following a series of environmental catastrophes. The period witnessed membership growth in established organizations and development of more radical groups. The final period, that of the Bush Administration, showed some gains for the environment but also numerous lost opportunities, even as membership in environmental organizations increased.
Sale’s account clarifies major events and trends affecting environmental issues as well as philosophical concepts embraced by environmental groups. Exploring both objectives and tactics, his narrative cites the difficult, costly compromises that have been hammered out in the political arena. While he cites many victories, such as the Clean Air Act and the Wilderness Act, Sale writes in the urgent, sometimes shrill tone that marked Rachel Carson’s initial work. Although his bleak assessment appears exaggerated at times, his primary message—that much remains to be accomplished—appears sound.