Nature and the American: Three Centuries of Changing Attitudes

Nature and the American: Three Centuries of Changing Attitudes

Nature and the American: Three Centuries of Changing Attitudes

Nature and the American: Three Centuries of Changing Attitudes

Excerpt

This book WAS written at a time when pioneers in conservation had limited influence, the dangers of pollution were only beginning to be recognized, and the word ecology had to be looked up in the dictionary to be understood. Today all that is changed. Surely every responsible person, public agency, and industrial establishment is convinced that action, total concerted action, is essential to guarantee the survival of mankind. Public opinion has been aroused all over the world, and, indeed, the only idea today about which there seems to be consensus among all nations is the importance of conservation.

The United States has been accused of wasting and polluting earth, air, and water more than any other country. And it is true that the abundance of natural resources offered the pioneer has been wantonly and shamelessly depleted by ruthless exploiters and industrialists. Yet in 1864 an American was the first in any country to raise his voice in protest against the abuse of nature. George Perkins Marsh was the man who placed the fundamental issue of conservation before the conscience of mankind in a thoroughly documented book originally entitled Man and Nature. (The second edition, published in 1874, was called more accurately The Earth as Modified by Human Action.) As American minister to united Italy in 1861, Marsh took advantage of the opportunity to study the territory around the Mediterranean Sea. Here he observed the destruction of the harmony of nature and became convinced that the devastation perpetrated by the Romans had been an important reason for the decline of the Roman Empire. Marsh was farsighted enough to bring the results of his study to the attention of his native country as a warning that must be heeded.

In the same spirit Frederick Law Olmsted, another early American conservationist, was the first to advance the idea of placing certain areas under government protection. His success was attested in the bill, signed by President Abraham Lincoln on June 29, 1864, designating Yosemite "for public use, resort and recreation, [to be] held inalienable for all time." This was the first time that a national government set . . .

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