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Big Era Eight: Landscape Unit 8.7

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Environmental Change: The Great Acceleration
1900-1950 CE

Why This Unit?

Why and how did human impact on the environment become regional and global in this period, and what were the effects?

Most of the environmental degradation we decry today was set in motion in the nineteenth century, but it greatly accelerated in the first half of the twentieth. Human determination to master the natural world, sustain continuous economic growth, and expand military power had  deleterious effects on earth’s land, water, atmosphere, and biological species. The invention of the internal combustion engine, which powered the early twentieth-century phase of the Industrial Revolution, had particularly drastic effects on the natural and physical environment. Governments and public interest groups, however, did not think much about reversing the negative effects of technological change, population growth, capitalist production, and other factors until the second half of the twentieth century. And it is clear that these issues will be humanity’s headache throughout the twenty-first century.

In this unit, students will consider various aspects of the human/nature relationship, recognizing that ideas about environmental change gain or lose currency depending on the circumstances of time and place. Societies value certain ideas concurrently with antithetical ideas. Students will examine economic and political factors that set in process long-term and sometimes irreversible destruction of the earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere. Students will consider positive, negative, and neutral consequences for the global environment of the choices and decisions societies have made about technological advancement.

Unit Objectives

Upon completing this unit, students will be able to:

1. Interpret charts and graphs to use as evidence of environmental change.

2. Construct diagrams or models showing the relationship between technology, population increase, urbanization, and environmental change.

3. Identify factors of environmental change: technology, ideologies, politics, economics, and population increase and migration.


Time and Materials

Time: Two to three class periods with homework.

Materials: Drawing paper and pencils, colored pencils and markers (or paints and brushes), cardboard, glue, string, metal fasteners, and other model construction supplies teachers may wish to use.

Table of Contents

Why this unit?


Unit objectives


Time and materials




The historical context


This unit in the Big Era timeline


Lesson 1: Using charts and graphs as evidence of environmental change


Lesson 2: Ideological, economic, and political choices causing environmental change


This unit and the Three Essential Questions


This unit and the Seven Key Themes


This unit and the Standards in Historical Thinking




Correlations to National and State Standards and to textbooks


Conceptual links to other lessons


Complete Teaching Unit in PDF Format


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