Monday, April 15, 2013

On the Birth of American Environmentalism

On the Birth of American Environmentalism: In 2009, American filmmaker Ken Burns directed a PBS documentary titled "The National Parks: America's Best Idea." The title originated with Wallace Stegner's 1954 book Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, which traced the life of John Wesley Powell and his 1869 expedition to explored the interior of the Colorado River watershed. As some historians have argued, most notably Douglas Brinkley in Wilderness Warrior (2009), the Progressive conservationist movement, which centered on the 1906 Antiquities Act, marked the greatest American achievement between the Civil War and World War I. Perhaps President Theodore Roosevelt captured the central ethos of the future National Parks system when he remarked in 1903 about the Grand Canyon in Arizona, "Leave it as it is. You cannot improve it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it." Ultimately for Burns (and co-producer Dayton Duncan), the National Parks symbolized a practical application of the Jeffersonian impulse, namely the pursuit of happiness. And what better way to express that impulse than to set aside public lands for the benefit of all.

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