How does the way we live impact our environment?
"The land was ours before we were the land's" wrote the poet Robert Frost. Since the earliest days of humans on Earth, people have adapted to the physical landscape around them. It shapes the food they eat, the homes they build, the way they move around and the environment they live in. Studying environmental history involves understanding relationships — and sometimes trade-offs — that people make with the landscapes around them.
The land itself is the most important factor in human settlement. Do we live in the mountains, on the plains, in the forest, on a river or on the beach? Or on an island? Rivers and oceans were the first human highways. Ships moved people and goods faster and easier than people and animals on land could. Mountains and forests impeded transportation, which could have been a problem or a benefit if it protected residents from outsiders. Ocean-front housing could provide a mild climate or subject inhabitants to brutal storms. Iowans are blessed with incredibly rich soil and rainfall while desert people must be creative to grow food or raise livestock. Where we live has a major impact on the lifestyle of any people.
The air humans breathe is also a factor in our environment. For most of human history, the quality of the air has not been impacted by human activity, but with the Industrial Revolution and a demand for energy from fossil fuels like coal or gasoline, people have polluted the air with carbon products that can create a variety of challenges, like smog or acid rain. Oxygen-depleting pollutants have reconfigured the layers of air surrounding the earth leading to warming temperatures and evolving rainfall patterns.
Water also is an important environmental factor. When water is in short supply, efforts sometimes divert rivers for agriculture or store it behind massive dams to create hydroelectric power. Fertilizer run-off from farm fields seeps into underwater water reserves or flows into rivers and streams altering natural balances.
Some energy sources like wind power or sun light are termed renewable energy sources because using them does not decrease their availability. Fuels derived from plant matter like wood, natural gas, oil or coal are nonrenewable sources because they can be depleted. For the most part, fossil fuels present the greatest environmental challenges because they increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Nuclear fuels pose the danger of increased radioactivity when a reactor malfunctions and nuclear wastes create a problem for disposal. When nations were conducting nuclear tests in the atmosphere, radioactive drift traveled far beyond the test site to threaten resources thousands of miles away.
Environmental protection challenges a world divided into nation states because human activity can impact land, the air and water far beyond the site were the activity occurs. Keeping our world safe is a truly world challenge.
Why are landforms important?
- Sierra Nevada Mountain Pass, 1867 (Image)
- Valley of the Mississippi River near Clinton, Iowa, 1899 (Image)
- Des Moines River Valley, 1901 (Image)
- Grand Canyon in Arizona, 1913 (Image)
- Zion National Park in Washington County, Utah, 1993 (Image)
- Sweet Corn Field near Marengo, Iowa, August 8, 2016 (Image)
What are renewable and nonrenewable resources?
- Mississippi River Power Plant in Keokuk, Iowa, 1910 (Image)
- Thomas Lake Logging Camp, April 21, 1910 (Image)
- Harvesting Wheat in Walla Walla County, Washington, between July and September 1941 (Image)
- Remains of the Old Carissa Gold Mine in South Pass City, Wyoming, May 27, 2016 (Image)
- Farm Scene with Wind Turbines in Hardin County, Iowa, August 18, 2016 (Image)
What impact do people have on our environment?
- Cabinet Portrait of Iowa U.S. Representative John Lacey, ca. 1890 (Image)
- U.S. Rep. John Lacey’s Bill about the Department of Agriculture, 1900 (Document)
- President Theodore Roosevelt and Conservationist John Muir on Glacier Point, 1903 (Image)
- Letter from Louis Hermann Pammel to the Bank President in Steamboat Rock, Iowa, December 27, 1916 (Document)
- "Legislation on State Parks" Essay from The Annals of Iowa, 1921 (Document)
- Louis Hermann Pammel Speaking at Dedication of Ledges State Park in Iowa, October 9, 1924 (Image)
- Iowa State Parks including Lakes and Streams, 1927 (Map)
- Polluted Stream in Dubuque, Iowa, April 1940 (Image)
- Girl Scout in Canoe Picking Up Trash in Potomac River, April 22, 1970 (Image)
- Traffic on Interstate 405 in Los Angeles, California, 2012 (Image)
- Aerial View of Four-Way Interchange in Los Angeles, California, Date Unknown (Image)
Sierra Nevada Mountain Pass, 1867
Valley of the Mississippi River near Clinton, Iowa, 1899
Des Moines River Valley, 1901
Grand Canyon in Arizona, 1913
Zion National Park in Washington County, Utah, 1993
Sweet Corn Field near Marengo, Iowa, August 8, 2016
Mississippi River Power Plant in Keokuk, Iowa, 1910
Thomas Lake Logging Camp, April 21, 1910
Harvesting Wheat in Walla Walla County, Washington, between July and September 1941
Remains of the Old Carissa Gold Mine in South Pass City, Wyoming, May 27, 2016
Farm Scene with Wind Turbines in Hardin County, Iowa, August 18, 2016
Cabinet Portrait of Iowa U.S. Representative John Lacey, ca. 1890
U.S. Rep. John Lacey’s Bill about the Department of Agriculture, 1900
President Theodore Roosevelt and Conservationist John Muir on Glacier Point, 1903
Letter from Louis Hermann Pammel to the Bank President in Steamboat Rock, Iowa, December 27, 1916
"Legislation on State Parks" Essay from The Annals of Iowa, 1921
Louis Hermann Pammel Speaking at Dedication of Ledges State Park in Iowa, October 9, 1924
Iowa State Parks including Lakes and Streams, 1927
Polluted Stream in Dubuque, Iowa, April 1940
Girl Scout in Canoe Picking Up Trash in Potomac River, April 22, 1970
Traffic on Interstate 405 in Los Angeles, California, 2012
Aerial View of Four-Way Interchange in Los Angeles, California, Date Unknown
- U.S. National Parks for Kids - Landforms
This website allows students to use an interactive map to research national parks throughout the country. This specific webpage focuses on landforms, such as mountain ranges, lakes and rivers.
- Gaylord Nelson Letters
This online collection includes letters from elementary school students to Wisconsin politician Gaylord Nelson about pollution.
- First Earth Day - April 22, 1970
This history.com webpage about "This Day in History" focuses on the very first Earth Day, which was championed by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, a staunch environmentalist who hoped to provide unity to the grassroots environmental movement and increase ecological awareness.
- Clean Air and Water Act
This Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) webpage has a summary of the Clean Air and Water Act, which was passed in 1972.
- The Wartville Wizard by Don Madden
This children's book focuses on the imaginary town of Wartville, which is being buried in trash. Then one day, one tidy man realizes he has the power to get rid of all the trash forever and teach his town about their responsibility to keep their land free of trash.
- The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks by Barb Rosenstock
This illustrated story book begins in 1903 when President Theodore Roosevelt joined naturalist John Muir on a trip to Yosemite. Camping by themselves in the uncharted woods, the two men saw sights and held discussions that would ultimately lead to the establishment of America's national parks.
- A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry
"A River Ran Wild" tells a story of restoration and renewal. The book focuses on the modern-day descendants of the Nashua Indians and European settlers were able to combat pollution and restore the beauty of the Nashua River in Massachusetts.
- U.S. Landforms (TrueBooks: US Regions) by Dana Meachen Rau
This book allows readers to learn about the nation's deserts, mountains and plains. There are numerous photographs of famous landmarks, such as California's Death Valley and the hot water geysers of Yellowstone National Park.
- The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
This well-known book by children's author, Dr. Seuss, chronicles the plight of the environment and the Lorax, who speaks for the trees against the Once-ler, who is cutting them down.
- Our Natural Resources by Jennifer Overend Prior
This children's book includes colorful images, supporting text, a glossary, table of contents and index that all work together to help readers better understand the importance of natural resources.
Iowa Core Social Studies Standards (2nd Grade)
Listed below are the Iowa Core Social Studies content anchor standards that are best reflected in this source set. The content standards applied to this set are high school-age level and encompass the key disciplines that make up social studies for second-grade students.
- SS.2.8. Explain the purpose of different government function.
- SS.2.9. Develop an opinion on a decision about a local issue. (21st Century)
- SS.2.11. Evaluate choices about how to use scarce resources that involve prioritizing wants and needs.
- SS.2.13. Describe examples of the goods and services that governments provide.
- SS.2.19. Make a prediction about the future based on past related events.
- SS.2.21. Compare perspectives of people in the past to those in the present with regards to particular questions or issues.
- SS.2.22. Identify context clues and develop a reasonable idea about who created the primary or secondary source, when they created it, where they created it and why they created it.
- SS.2.23. Describe the intended and unintended consequences of using Iowa’s natural resources.