A new PBS documentary, airing nationally on Earth Day, April 22, traces the environmental movement from its early days: the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 and  the First Earth Day in 1970; to the grassroots activism by residents of Love Canal near Niagara Falls, N.Y. and other areas affected by chemical pollution; and finally to a global movement fighting what is perhaps the earth’s greatest challenge, climate change.

According to one of the activists featured in the film, engineers and contractors can play a vital role in developing solutions to address some of the planet’s most troubling environmental concerns. Keep reading to see her suggestions.

Earlier this month, the U.N. Intergovernmental Governmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most dire warnings yet. The panel’s latest report suggests that although the technology to prevent the worst from happening—if put in place in time—exists, time may be running out.

Environmental leaders interviewed for the film suggest that it will be the grassroots efforts by groups of passionate individuals that perhaps can save the planet.

Lois Gibbs was the New York housewife who became famous in the 1978 when she and other area residents of the Love Canal community demanded that the federal government do something about the dioxin and other chemicals seeping up through their basement floors and causing birth defects in the babies being born in their area. She now runs the Center for Health, Environment and Justice in Arlington, Va., which provides training and assistance to help local communities fight pollution and chemical hazards.

In an interview with ENR, she said that the PBS film shows that concerned citizens can make a difference. “Every single change in that film shows that it happened because of grassroots people. It wasn’t some bright…guy in Washington who said, ‘Gee, let’s do this.’” She adds, “You can really see how local energy at the local level changed national policy, and international policy, for that matter.”

And engineers and contractors, too, can play a key role, she says. “I think they are very important because they are ground zero around the country.” It is the engineers and contractors who can spur innovation, she says. “I have spoken with people on [cleanup] sites who have said, ‘This is not really a good cleanup, but this is what we have been told to do.’”

Rather than simply accepting the government’s or responsible party’s cleanup plan, if contractors performing the cleanup can see a better way to do it, they should speak up, she says. “They could be great advocates from the inside…. and say, ‘we can do it this way, but for X amount of dollars more, we can do it this way, and down the line you could use this property and develop it.’”

The PBS film airs nationally at 9 on the American Masters program. It will also be available for online viewing at this link.