American Environmentalism: Values, Tactics, Priorities

By Joseph M. Petulla | Go to book overview
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Friends of the Wilderness

IT seems that the biocentric ethic waxes strong in the United States in proportion to the increase of affluence. Ironically, the trappings of wealth have both separated Americans from the workings of nature and made the natural world accessible. At the same time, industrial production has wreaked havoc on the natural environment. Modern civilization offers people the tools--automobiles, roads to wilderness areas, leisure time, education, even lightweight camping gear and freeze-dried food--with which they can appreciate and enjoy the wonders of nature about which Muir spoke so glowingly. Thus, capitalism both takes its severe toll on the environment and offers commodities through which nature can be enjoyed.

In the abundance generated by the aftermath of World War II, the first great modern awakening to wilderness values took place on the occasion of an environmental struggle. The call was given to stop the damming of the Green River at Echo Park in the 320-square-mile Dinosaur National Monument on the Colorado-Utah border. The area, designated by Woodrow Wilson as a national monument in 1915 because of prehistoric dinosaur fossils, also was blessed with the kind of deep, narrow gorge at Echo Park that hydraulic engineers seek out for dams, especially in the West.1

During the 1940s the federal Bureau of Reclamation began a comprehensive plan to develop a ten-dam Colorado River Storage

R. Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), pp. 209-220. This work contains excellent bibliographical information in its footnotes.


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