Ecofiction is an elastic term, capacious enough to accommodate a variety of fictional works that address the relationship between natural settings and the human communities that dwell within them. The term emerged soon after ecology took hold as a popular scientific paradigm and a broad cultural attitude in the 1960s and 1970s. Two key events helped spark this new environmental awareness: the controversy surrounding proposed dams on the Colorado River that led ultimately to the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam (begun in the mid-1950s and completed about ten years later), and the 1962 publication of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson's exposé of the environmental impact of toxic pesticides like DDT. Both generated widespread media coverage, bringing complex and urgent environmental issues and the ecological vocabularies that helped explain them into the American lexicon. Variations on these themes would thread their way through much writing about the environment for the next half-century. Before these controversies, few Americans thought about the unintended consequences of “progress” on the environment and its inhabitants. This innocence would be seriously challenged in the aftermath of Glen Canyon, Silent Spring, and the many environmental crises and controversies that followed.
The 1960s and 1970s also saw a growing awareness and acceptance of the new tools being used by scientists, journalists, and others to understand the natural world. Ecology, which had first emerged among naturalists in the late nineteenth century, became the default framework through which many people would view the natural world. Grounded in evolutionary theory, ecology came to stand for the biological framework that foregrounds the interrelations among plants, animals, soil and other landforms, and climate that constitute and sustain any natural community.