As we embrace the 44th Earth Day, we examine our individual and cumulative human impact on the planet with the intent to find sustainable solutions for our’s and future generations. We look to our elders for guidance in our journey.
It is worthwhile to review the wisdom of past environmental movements to review and understand possible strategies for creating a sustainable future. How is the late 20th century environmental movement different from today’s 21st century environmental movement? Today’s world is different, but our old strategies may still offer promise. We learn from our past. Any movement requires dynamic, charismatic leaders with great ideas, strategy, and perseverance. Such are the attributes of our Forces of Nature elders. You ask, who are the Forces of Nature elders?
Our Forces of Nature are, and were legislators: Cecil Andrus, Pete McCloskey, Mary Lou Reed, Jack Ward Thomas and Tom Hayden. These individuals, committed to the democratic process, have worked to create the Alaska Lands Act, the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Federal Endangered Species Act, the 1975 Land Use Planning Act in Idaho, and the protection of the Northern spotted owl in the old growth redwood forests of California.
Our Forces of Nature are, and were, public servants and stewards: Bern Shanks, Grand Teton National Park, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; Ray Murray, the National Park Service; Pete Dangermond, California State Parks; Kirk Marckwald, California Under Secretary of Natural Resources; Tom Stokely, a local planner. These individuals are notable for overseeing our natural resources and parks that so many of us enjoy.
Our Forces of Nature are strong women who have made a difference: Patricia Schifferle; Reverend Canon Sally Bingham; Sylvia McLaughlin; Alice Tepper Marlin; Michaela Walsh; Nona Dennis; Jodie Evans; Vera Marcus; Gloria Flora and more. These are women who did not wait for someone else to step up. Instead, they took the initiative to lead! These women are leaders in water policy, climate change, community activism, peace, human and women rights.
Our Forces of Nature are community activists. Marty Griffin, a Bay Area doctor who loved the landscape of West Marin and Sonoma so much that he quietly purchased a checkerboard of land in a proposed highway right of way in order to thwart the possibility of any highway crossing the Marin Headlands. Sylvia McLaughlin, a housewife, watched San Francisco Bay being filled in for development. Sylvia created a group with two other women to stop it – and they did! Robert Praetzel, an attorney who donated 1,000 hours of his time, blocked a massive development in the Marin Headlands and won the landmark case. This land later became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In the 1960s, Alf Heller, a newspaper publisher, watched unchecked growth occurring everywhere in the state of California. He cried out that the state needed to do comprehensive planning. He created a forum for people to get involved in state planning issues. When the state balked at creating a comprehensive plan, Alf and his team published “The California Tomorrow Plan.” This was the beginning of the first state comprehensive development plan.
Our Forces of Nature are land savers and protectors of fish and wildlife resources. Foremost among this group is Huey Johnson, former California Secretary of Resources, and the founder of the Resource Renewal Institute. His work with the Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land has inspired many. Huey interviews each individual Force of Nature, many of whom he has known throughout his land saving work. Phil Wallin, co-founder of the Western Rivers Conservancy; Henry Little, with The Nature Conservancy; Joan Maloof, founder of the Old Growth Forest Network; and Rod Sando, former Chief Executive of Natural Resources for Minnesota, also, former Director of the Idaho Fish and Game. Joe Edmiston, founder of the Santa Monica Conservancy is also interviewed. These individuals have saved many thousands, if not millions of acres of land, for wildlife and public enjoyment.
Our Forces of Nature are whistleblowers, and folks that expose the truth: Felix Smith and Lloyd Carter exposed the toxic conditions at Kesterson National Wildlife area in the 1980s, when they found deformed and dead birds resulting from toxic selenium levels. Ted Smith exposed the dirty secrets about the electronics industry in Silicon Valley. The computer industry was forced to clean up, and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition was born.
These are but a few of our influential environmentalists. Today we ask, ”Where we are going?” If we don’t understand our past, how can we make the most of our present efforts? The issues of the past and present are different, but are pieces of the environmental movement. The environmental movement is composed of intelligent, caring people who are motivated to do the right thing. Each and every one of our Forces is an inspiration with lessons for us all.
The power to change our world for the better is available to each of us. One of our Forces of Nature, Yvon Chouinard, said:
“In my own philosophy I’ve always felt that evil is stronger than good, because if you don’t stand up to evil, it wins. If you do absolutely nothing, evil wins every time. To do good, you have to do good. You have to do something.”
This philosophy compelled Yvon to create 1% for the Planet – a corporate donation program that gives back to the planet in exchange for the use of it’s resources. What better example of how to live our lives with an eye on the future.