40th Anniversary of Earth Day

“Earth Day can–and it must–lend a new urgency and a new support to solving the problems that still threaten to tear the fabric of this society….Environment is all of America and its problems. It is rats in the ghetto. It is a hungry child in a land of affluence. It is housing that is not worthy of the name….” So spoke then-Senator Gaylord Nelson, the passionate founder of Earth Day, on April 22, 1970. Earth Day has evolved over time from teach-ins to “going green.” However, concern for the environment and its conservation are not  20th century phenomena. The Library of Congress has some excellent resources that provide needed background information: Documentary Chronology of Selected Events in the Development of the American Conservation Movement, 1847-1920 (with links to original sources); and The Evolution of the American Conservation Movement, 1850-1920 (containing historical full text documents). John Burroughs, a native New Yorker, was one of the country’s most influential nature writers. He befriended both John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt and spent time hiking and camping with them; his writings can be found here. Other names not to be ignored include John Muir, a Scot immigrant who became our most ardent conservationist and helped found the Sierra Club; many of his writings are available online. Muir was the head of a group called the Preservationists who wanted the land left pristine; he was opposed by the Conservationists led by Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the Forest Service, who believed in managed use of our natural resources. Their divergent views came to a head during the Hetch Hetchy Dam controversy, a landmark event in conservation history. This occurred during the Theodore Roosevelt’s administration. Among other accolades bestowed on him, he is considered our first environmentally-minded chief executive. Some of his writings are available online. An excellent bibliography – Conservation, Preservation, and Environmental Activism: A Survey of the Historical Literature – should be perused.

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