When the historian Douglas Brinkley wrote “The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Campaign for America” (2009), The New York Occasions known as it a “huge, inspiring and enormously entertaining e book” for its depiction of an amazing conservationist president who saved 234 million acres of America’s wilderness.
Brinkley, a professor of historical past at Rice College in Houston, adopted up that quantity seven years later with “Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America,” a portrait of the person thought of by many to be the nation’s biggest environmental president. FDR created 140 nationwide wildlife refuges and 29 nationwide parks. His Civilian Conservation Corps planted over 2 billion timber and created 13,000 miles of trails.
Now, proper on schedule, Brinkley is about to publish a 3rd e book on this theme, “Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and the Nice Environmental Awakening,” which connects these leaders with a collection of nice legislative accomplishments, from the Wilderness Act to the creation of the Environmental Safety Company.
I lately interviewed Brinkley concerning the environmental information of Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon and requested him to grade those that adopted, from Gerald Ford to Donald Trump. This transcript of our dialog has been evenly edited for size and readability.
You’re making ready the third of three books on presidents and the American environmental and conservation motion. I ponder why you selected this matter within the first place?
Once I was younger, rising up in Georgia and Ohio, my dad and mom used to take us on journeys throughout america. They had been lecturers, so they’d some months off throughout the summer season. So I had the extraordinary alternative of getting to go to Glacier Nationwide Park in Montana or Joshua Tree Nationwide Park in California or the Everglades in Florida, and it actually bought me excited. I made a decision to attach my love of U.S. presidential historical past with ecology, wildlife conservation, the Nationwide Park motion and what right this moment is named environmentalism. I believed presidents must be graded on their environmental stewardship throughout their time within the White Home, and so I’m in a position to do this with these books. I spotted that Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt after which John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon are actually the presidents that made a distinction on the environmental entrance.
These books make us take into consideration the 2 Roosevelts in several methods. How will we predict in a different way after we learn your e book about presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon?
Whereas John F. Kennedy was working for president in 1960, he was articulating what we might name an environmental agenda, which started within the Fifties with folks starting from Aldo Leopold, who wrote “A Sand County Almanac” , to early Rachel Carson writing concerning the world’s oceans  to Barry Commoner warning concerning the makes use of of DDT and different pesticides and even to Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King warning about nuclear testing in Nevada. When Kennedy is available in, the nice novelist Wallace Stegner writes his “Wilderness Letter” —virtually a foundational doc for right this moment as a result of he’s speaking about placing huge components of our nationwide panorama apart for no roads, to have areas that turn into wilderness areas the place nothing ought to be allowed to be constructed. You construct the street, you’re going to get the vehicles, you’re going to get commercialization, industrialization. And Stegner is only one of many.
That group has two crowning achievements, one in 1964 with the Wilderness Act, which Lyndon Johnson indicators on Sept. 3, and it’s this main second the place 9.1 million acres of America had been declared roadless; that custom has continued to designate lands which can be going to stay as wild as we will preserve them. After which, in 1968, Johnson signed a Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. So as an alternative of Democrats selling the damming of rivers, which had been a convention: Franklin D. Roosevelt was recognized for dams—Grand Coulee Dam, Tennessee Valley Authority, I might go on and on—however immediately, Democrats are saying let’s have rivers stored in pristine situation.
Richard Nixon, whose picture has modified because the years have passed by, is lastly being acknowledged as an environmental president. His picture has utterly reworked in recent times, hasn’t it?
Properly, it has. I name Nixon a “reluctant environmentalist.” Not like John F. Kennedy, who liked the oceans—Kennedy had what we name a “blue thoughts,” as he solely relaxed when he was on water—Nixon is at all times carrying his swimsuit and wingtips. He’s not a part of the membership. But Nixon does a lot to assist the setting. When he ran for president in 1968, Democrats had been terrified that if he received, there goes the environmental momentum. They had been positive of it. Properly, the alternative occurred, partially as a result of when Nixon was president eight days, there was the Santa Barbara oil spill. It created such an outrage in Nixon’s house state of California. The identical yr, all kinds of rivers are catching on fireplace. Dr. Seuss writes, “Lake Erie is dying.” From his western White Home in San Clemente, Nixon indicators the Nationwide Environmental Coverage Act, and it’s a recreation changer. And Nixon offers his well-known 1970 State of the Union deal with, the place the entire deal with is virtually on the setting. And he feels like a visionary environmentalist. There’s one thing: Rachel Carson, who had died in 1964, would have been honored to listen to a speech that Nixon. He then gave a quasi-endorsement of the primary Earth Day in April 1970.
He additionally had the FBI spy domestically on environmentalists, however by the summer season of 1970 Nixon creates the groundwork for the [Environmental Protection Agency] of right this moment and the [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] for coping with oceans. Each turn into regulation. The important thing to Nixon is a person named John Ehrlichman, who we all know from Watergate shenanigans, however he was the main water and land lawyer in Puget Sound and Seattle. He took Nixon boating and so they liked it, and he confirmed Nixon all the beautiful websites by water of the Seattle space. So plenty of radicals or progressives of the ’60s would name John Ehrlichman a covert inexperienced as a result of he liked the stuff. He would push [environmental matters] on Nixon and get stuff signed. And yeah, it’s tragic.
Who had been the presidential heroes of the setting motion?
The usual then and now could be Theodore Roosevelt. As a result of TR was a wildlife biologist by coaching, he wrote fantastically concerning the pure world. A few of his writings, for instance, on the battle lands of the Dakotas are nonetheless the prettiest, most stunning nature writing we’ve examine species. On the time of his dying, he was writing articles concerning the gopher tortoise of Florida, whose habitat simply bought devastated. He saved 234 million acres of untamed America. In every single place he talked, he’d say, conservation is my No. 1 precedence as president. No person has put the setting No. 1 since TR.
FDR and Eleanor ran a tree farm that’s up in Dutchess County. Every time FDR would fill out a kind [asking about his] occupation, he’d write “tree farmer.” FDR was an avid chook watcher. So this all got here fairly naturally to him. He visited all of the nationwide parks that he might, [and] he created lots of them that we’ve right this moment.
Truman was extra enthusiastic about business, factories, improvement, roads and had virtually little interest in the pure setting. Sure, he gave a speech on the Everglades. FDR actually created it, however they wanted to seek out some more money to open it. However I might name him an anti-environmental president. Eisenhower [cared] about it solely on the very finish of his second time period. Solely after assembly with Supreme Courtroom Justice William O. Douglas, who had traveled as much as Arctic Alaska, did Eisenhower do one thing crucial: he stopped the militarization of Antarctica in a global treaty. And he put aside the ANWR, the Arctic Nationwide Wildlife Refuge, which has been such a contentious place as a result of they discovered oil there in 1968. However Eisenhower had made it our nation’s largest wildlife refuge.
Kennedy grew to become an environmental president as a result of William O. Douglas was an ardent environmentalist who was a Kennedy household good friend and sitting on the Supreme Courtroom. He used to say, “Jack, the issue with you is you’ve by no means slept on the bottom. You’re not an open air particular person.” And he satisfied Kennedy to get into seashore preservation. And Kennedy took to this fairly naturally [and] championed Cape Cod Nationwide Seashore, Padre Island Nationwide Seashore in Texas, Level Reyes in California. He made it his large preservation situation and, impressively, he will get all three of them executed.
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What Kennedy did is more durable than saving the mountains within the Brooks Vary of Alaska. Kennedy saved Cape Cod in a extremely populated space and Padre Island, in huge swaths of coastal Texas proper within the oil and gasoline zone. And Level Reyes in Marin County, a few of the costliest actual property within the nation. He led these fights boldly and he additionally put Stewart Udall in as his secretary of the Inside, and once we research Inside secretaries, he’s No. 1. There are two epic Inside secretaries in American historical past: Harold Ickes throughout FDR, and Stewart Udall below Kennedy and Johnson.
How do the presidents after Nixon price?
Gerald Ford was horrible, didn’t care. We did get throughout his transient tenure the Jap Wilderness Act, which put extra Jap lands below preservation. However [Jimmy] Carter was an excellent conservation president. Carter had turned anti-dam, and as governor he stopped a dam being constructed on the Flint River in Georgia. Carter bought publicity as a governor with a serious story in Reader’s Digest over wanting rivers to run freely. And as president, he did Superfund, the place we’re declaring toxic-waste districts and warning folks to not dwell there. He needed to grapple with issues just like the Love Canal and Three Mile Island, however the motive he’s ranked excessive is, Carter’s Alaska Lands Act saved as a lot property as all of California. Carter was an amazing outdoorsman, a fly fisherman. He put photo voltaic panels on the White Home, solely to have Reagan take them down.
Reagan was not good as a result of he believed federal lands wanted to be opened up for extraction. However he does signal plenty of wilderness payments, which preserved sure bits of federal land the place no roads or improvement may very well be allowed. George Herbert Walker Bush pushed via [amendments to the Clean Air Act] which was, which is, epic. Invoice Clinton is fairly good. With Bruce Babbitt, he created large monuments that had been controversial in Utah and Arizona, the Grand Escalante staircase notably.
George W. Bush did nothing till the very finish, when he saved coral reefs. Obama did so much with monuments and saved locations just like the San Juan Islands of Washington. He did plenty of historical past monuments [like one honoring] César Chávez in California and opened up [monuments] to LGBTQ folks with Stonewall in New York, [and to Black people] with Harriet Tubman in Maryland and the Buffalo Troopers in Ohio. He’s attempting to open the historical past narrative of utilizing the Nationwide Park Service for range.
Donald Trump was a zero on this situation. He was at warfare with the entire thought of public lands and preservation. He needed to intestine the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and eliminate the biologists from EPA, and many others.
“Silent Spring” is sort of just like the Epic of Gilgamesh and “Middlemarch,” usually referred to however seldom really learn. But it had a big impact. Is Rachel Carson the Harriet Beecher Stowe of the environmental motion?
I believe that’s the proper method to take a look at her. When her e book “Silent Spring” got here out in 1962, John F. Kennedy learn the New Yorker excerpts of it and browse the e book afterwards, and [assigned] his presidential science advisory committee to look into seeing if her analysis, notably [about] DDT, held up. And inside a yr, the report got here that Rachel Carson’s science was certainly appropriate. The affect of Rachel Carson’s e book was seismic. Till that e book, the general public considered conservation as “I see a stupendous place, I wish to reserve it.” Or “How attractive is Devils Tower, Wyoming? Let’s declare it a nationwide monument.” Or “Let’s add some stunning acreage to the Grand Canyon.”
Then, increase, “Silent Spring” hits, and it’s telling the general public that your little one may very well be sick enjoying in your yard, that you simply’re not protected. Nothing wakes up moms and dads greater than a warning like that. And so the hassle to get DDT banned is intense, and the chemical business fights again and it’s a decade- lengthy battle to ban DDT. And so Rachel Carson has a victory ultimately, although she wasn’t alive to see it.
David Shribman served as editor of the Pittsburgh Submit-Gazette for 16 years and received a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on American political tradition as Washington bureau chief of The Boston Globe. He now writes a nationally syndicated column, contributes a separate column to The Globe and Mail in Canada and teaches American politics at each McGill College’s Max Bell College of Public Coverage and Carnegie Mellon College.
Supply: Inside Climate News