Who Will Lead Us?

earthrise : NASA Photo
A lot of what is written on this site has to do with what I consider threats to our national parks. I have tried to dissect these problems and speculate at a root cause. Is it the influence of the big money industrial tourism? Is it a culmination of 20 years of 'Wise Use' policies? Are NPS problems connected to the Bush plan to privatize government? Is it a combo of many different influences? Whatever the causes, the result is that we, as a nation, are losing that personal connection we used to share with the wild outdoors. Last week I defined this result as "massive disinterest".

This week I've let my mind wander back a few decades. I've been thinking about the 1960's. I've been wondering how our modern day problems would have been solved by the leaders of the past. What would David Brower do? Brower's work is credited with helping to establish nine national parks and seashores, including the North Cascades National Park. As the first executive director of the Sierra Club, he took the organization from a group centered predominantly on mountain outings, to one focused on conservation and stewardship. As director of the Sierra Club, he stopped construction of dams which would have flooded Dinosaur National Monument, and the Grand Canyon. Brower was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. He was influential in the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act.

And what of Stewart Udall, the Secretary of the Interior for presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson between 1961 and 1969? Can you imagine Gale Norton or Dirk Kempthorne introducing the Endangered Species Preservation Act? Probably not. But Udall was at the helm for many great environmental acts; Wilderness Act, Clear Air, Water Quality and Clean Water Restoration Acts and Amendments, National Trail System Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, National Historic Preservation Act, National Environmental Policy Act among others. The legislation was part of a larger movement called the "Great Society" of which president Johnson said:
The air we breathe, our water, our soil and wildlife, are being blighted by poisons and chemicals which are the by-products of technology and industry. The society that receives the rewards of technology, must, as a cooperating whole, take responsibility for [their] control. To deal with these new problems will require a new conservation

It was in 1968 that the famous NASA photograph "earthrise" was taken. This photo has been described as among the "100 Photographs that Changed the World". For many, it represents what we've got; a finite resource, a solitary ship floating in space. It was images like this that captured the national psyche. It was easy to fight for the wilderness, because for the first time, we could see what a very precious resource it was. Once gone, gone for good.

So, how do we capture the imagination of a nation today like it had been captured back in the 60's? Does it require a new leader to capture our hearts, or will it take a new voice in government, or could it come from something as simple as a photograph?


Frustration with the loss of "that personal connection we used to share with the wild outdoors" seems to me like a nostalgia that forgets why the 1960s produced so much environmental initiative. Those were angry times of upheaval, and the environmental movement rode in on the wave of public sentiment spurred first by the civil rights movement followed by growing outrage over the war in southeast Asia. The Earthrise photo helped us to see differently in a year when American cities erupted in violence following Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, followed soon by the assasination of Robert Kennedy; when the debacle in Vietnam brought images of death and destruction into our living rooms nearly every day; when an invasion in Czechoslovakia and a massacre in Mexico City leading up to the summer Olympics reminded us of the brutality that humans suffer at the hands of political expedience. Amidst all of this, we watched the earthrise with eyes that were weary of humanity's inhumanity, and somehow we saw hope in the beautiful fragility of the planet. Today, however, we have better strategies for ignoring inhumanity. In fact, one might wonder if all the fun people have in our beautiful parks might be just such a strategy, a way to forget that other people in far less forgiving environments have no such luxury of enjoying their connection to wild outdoors. With this in mind, I'm afraid it will take more than a good picture to get folks back into our parks.
I agree, to pick and choose from the "best" of the 60's, as I had done, ignores the larger context from which these things were borne. I appreciate very much your perspective here. I wonder if there will be another time when a wave of public sentiment forces change, as had been done back then.