February 5, 2009

Where Are We Going?

A Really Concise History of Environmentalism

In Van Jones' latest book, The Green Collar Economy, he believes that we’re in the “third wave of environmentalism” in America. I hope you’ve jumped onboard with both feet—even if you’re not yet driving a hybrid.

First wave in the early 1900s: The conservation or preservationist movement promoted by John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt focused on “saving” some of our pristine lands for the public. However, during this same period, Gifford Pinochet, the chief of the U.S. Forestry Service, argued that conservation and development co-existed. In 1910, he said, “Conservation does not mean provision for the future, but it also means also and first of all the the recognition of the right of the present generation to the fullest necessary use of all the resources with which this country is so abundantly blessed. Conservation demands the welfare of this generation first, and afterwards the welfare of the generations to follow.” Thus began the battle between those who want to preserve our natural resources for future generations and the Pinochet-thinkers who see the rights of development. We still seek a happy compromise in our communities across America and here in Virginia.

Second wave of the 1960s and ‘70s: In this era of regulation, the EPA was born. The Clean Air Act (1963), the Wilderness Preservation Act (1964), and the Endangered Species Act (1973) passed. The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 and Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb in 1968, that coined the term “zero-poulation growth,” opened people’s eyes to new environmental threats. Then came the discovery in the late 1970s of the toxic chemical dump under Love Canal in Niagara Falls, which led to the passage of the Superfund Act.

Now we’re in the third wave (although both the first two waves continue today): The focus now is on inventing solutions to the environmental threats we face and investing in clean energy.