Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movementby Robert Gottlieb
<p>Forcing the Spring challenges standard histories of the environmental movement by offering a broad and inclusive interpretation of past environmentalist thought and a sweeping redefinition of the nature of the contemporary environmental movement. Robert Gottlieb demonstrates the centrality of environmental concerns to a wide range of social movements of the past century as he explores the connections between pressures on human and natural environments and the role of these pressures in shaping society. His analysis provides fundamental new insights into the past and future of the American environmental movement by placing it within the larger context of American social history.<p>After considering the historical roots of environmentalism from the 1890s through the 1960s, Gottlieb discusses the rise and consolidation of environmental groups in the years between Earth Day 1970 and Earth Day 1990. He examines the increasing professionalization of the major environmental organizations and the parallel rise of community-based groups over the past decade, and ends with an in-depth consideration of the role of ethnicity, gender, and class in the formation and definition of movements.
"Forcing the Spring … is an important work, providing for general readers as well as specialists the background to an emergent way of thinking that goes beyond activism to define values that have quietly begun to affect politics and society at all levels."
"Gottlieb's provocative and original account revises the conventional story of environmentalists trying to preserve the land."
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Forcing the Spring
The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement
By Robert Gottlieb
ISLAND PRESSCopyright © 2005 Robert Gottlieb
All rights reserved.
Resources and Recreation: The Limits of the Traditional Debate
A "GREEN UTOPIA"?
To understand a complex movement with diverse roots, it might be best to begin with a paradoxical figure within environmentalism. Passionate about his hiking and climbing, a champion of the poor and powerless, deeply committed to wilderness, and equally forceful about the need to make nature a direct part of people's lives, Robert Marshall is an enigmatic figure for those who have sought to define environmentalism in narrow and limiting terms. Yet this intense, engaging, always smiling, always curious radical forester proposed a common thread for a movement split between those focused on the management and/or protection of Nature and those who defined environment as the experience of daily life in its urban and industrial setting. The liberation of society, Marshall proclaimed, was a condition for the liberation of Nature, and the liberation of the natural environment from its would-be exploiters was an essential condition for social liberation. The absence of such a common thread serves as the environmental movement's actual point of departure.
The son of a well-known lawyer who was a senior partner in the prestigious Washington, D.C., firm of Guggenheimer, Untermeyer, and Marshall, Robert Marshall grew up steeped in liberal values, including defense of civil liberties, respect for minority rights, and the fight against discrimination. Encouraged by his father, whose strong interest in forest conservation led him to make a large endowment to the Forestry School at Syracuse University, Marshall decided to attend the program at Syracuse to launch a forestry- related career. After graduation, he worked in various capacities for the U.S. Forest Service, where he began to develop strong feelings about forests as a necessary retreat "from the encompassing clutch of a mechanistic civilization," a place where people would be able to "enjoy the most worthwhile and perhaps the only worthwhile part of life." Marshall quickly became a strong critic of development pressures on forest lands and the activities of private logging companies, which had led to a decline in productivity, increase in soil erosion, and "ruination of the forest beauty."
Marshall most loved to hike and explore. He was constantly on the move, a pack on his back, entering and discovering new lands, new environments, new wilderness. In Arctic Village, a 1930 bestseller describing his activities in the Arctic wilderness area, Marshall spoke of a "vast lonely expanse where men are so rare and exceptional that the most ordinary person feels that all the other people are likewise significant." His compassion for people and powerful desire to be in touch with wilderness eventually led Marshall to adopt two distinct, yet, for him, compatible positions about wilderness protection. On the one hand, Marshall feared a loss of the wild, undeveloped forest lands in both their spectacular western settings and in the less monumental forest areas of the East, such as the Adirondacks. In a February 1930 article for the Scientific Monthly, Marshall laid out this concept of wilderness as a "region which contains no permanent inhabitants, possesses no possibility of conveyance by any mechanical means, and is sufficiently spacious that a person crossing it must have the experience of sleeping out." To achieve that goal, Marshall urged a new organization be formed "of spirited people who will fight for the freedom of the wilderness" and be militant and uncompromising in their stance.
At the same time, Marshall argued that wilderness belonged to all the people, not simply to an elite who wanted such areas available for their own use. Already by 1925, Marshall was writing that "people can not live generation after generation in the city without serious retrogression, physical, moral and mental, and the time will come when the most destitute of the city population will be able to get a vacation in the forest." Marshall was particularly critical of the policies of the National Park Service with their expensive facilities and concessions. Though he argued against more roads and increased development in either park or forest lands, Marshall nevertheless wanted wilderness accessible to "the ordinary guy." During the New Deal era of the 1930s, this was a particularly appealing position to the Forest Service, which convinced Marshall to head a new outdoors and recreation office. Through this office, the Forest Service hoped to contrast itself as a kind of blue- collar alternative to the Park Service.
Despite his agency role, Marshall remained a critic of both the Forest Service and the Park Service, blunt in his attack on the prodevelopment posture of the Forest Service as well as the Park Service's recreation-oriented policies, which ended up destroying wilderness. His criticism of the Forest Service, laid out in his best-known work, The People's Forests, was tied to Marshall's overall critique of private forestry and its role both in destroying wilderness and in injuring the work force, the community, and the land itself.
In The People's Forests, Marshall distinguished between private ownership of forest land (where the vast bulk of private lands had already been overcut), private ownership with public regulation, and full public ownership, which Marshall strongly endorsed. With public ownership, Marshall argued, "social welfare is substituted for private gain as the major objective for management." To Marshall, that meant a new labor and rural economic development strategy and careful land use planning, more research and science, and safeguarding recreational values from "commercial exploitation." His concept of linking protectionist objectives within a social policy framework was, according to one reviewer from The Nation, the best assurance for future generations that the forests could provide "a green retreat from whatever happens to be the insoluble problems of their age."
This search for a green retreat, or a "green utopia," became a continuing passion for Marshall, both in his governmental activities and advocacy work. After his return to the Forest Service in 1937 following a stint with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Marshall laid out this combined social and environmentalist vision. It included subsidizing transportation to public forests for low-income people, operating camps where groups of underprivileged people could enjoy the outdoors for a nominal cost, changing Forest Service practices that discriminated against blacks, Jews, and other minorities, and acquiring more recreational forest land near urban centers. At the same time, he sought to designate wilderness as places "in which there shall be no roads or other provision for motorized transportation, no commercial timber cutting, and no occupancy under special use permit for hotels, stores, resorts, summer homes, organization camps, hunting and fishing lodges or similar uses ..."
Marshall also sought to integrate some of these ideas into the approach of The Wilderness Society, an organization he helped found and finance in its first years of operation. In 1937, Marshall enlisted his close friend Catherine Bauer, a leader in the regional planning movement, to explore the issues of wilderness, public access, and social policy. In a long letter to Marshall, Bauer noted that wilderness appreciation was seen as "snobbish," but that a great many people, even the majority, could enjoy the wilderness, given a chance to experience it. Bauer suggested that "factory workers, who experience our machine civilization in its rawest and most extreme form" were the ones who could most benefit from wilderness and that by doing so they could broaden wilderness' political base.
Though Bauer's suggestions reflected Marshall's own approach, they caused some concern and consternation among other key figures in The Wilderness Society, especially its executive director, Robert Sterling Yard. Yard, whose salary was largely paid out of Marshall's funds, worried that the New Deal forester might interest too many "radicals" like Bauer to attempt to influence wilderness policy. Yard and others were also sensitive to the redbaiting that Marshall himself became subject to during the late 1930s, with its possible taint for The Wilderness Society as well. Most of these attacks, led by members of Congress associated with the House Un-American Activities Committee, sought to tar Marshall through his non-wilderness activities and financial contributions. Wilderness Society leaders such as Yard feared that Marshall's activities might reflect on the organization and worried that his advocacy of a "democratic wilderness" policy could undermine their preservationist concept of "protection." In response to the democratic wilderness concept, key Wilderness Society figure Olaus Murie would later write in an essay that "wilderness is for those who appreciate" and that if "the multitudes" were brought into the backcountry without really understanding its "subtle values," "there would be an insistent and effective demand for more and more facilities, and we would find ourselves losing our wilderness and having these areas reduced to the commonplace."
Murie's pivotal essay was written a few months after Robert Marshall unexpectedly and tragically died in his sleep during an overnight train ride from Washington to New York. His death (Marshall was only thirty-nine when he died on November 11, 1939; some attributed his mysterious death from unknown causes to his hard-driving, passionate wilderness hiking) brought an end to the idea of combining a social and protectionist vision. In his will, Marshall divided his $1.5 million estate into three trusts: one for social advocacy, including support for trade unions and for promoting "an economic system in the United States based upon the theory of production for use and not for profit"; a second to promote civil liberties; and a third for "preservation of wilderness conditions in outdoor America, including, but not limited to, the preservation of areas embracing primitive conditions of transportation, vegetation, and fauna." It was this last trust that came to be controlled by key officials of The Wilderness Society, including Yard, whose approach was more narrowly conceived (in terms of membership and constituency) and politically limiting (in terms of resource policy) than Marshall's own inclinations. Ignoring his social vision, Wilderness Society leaders focused instead on Marshall's protectionist ideas, successfully lobbying to have a wilderness area in Montana named after him. Over time, Robert Marshall's life and ideas began to undergo reinterpretation, with the suggestion that his love for wilderness had really been an exclusive and separate concern. With his death, Robert Marshall, the "people's forester" whose life's mission had sought to link social justice and wilderness protection, would become an ambiguous historical figure representing environmentalism's divide between movements, constituencies, and ideas.
FROM RESOURCE EXPLOITATION TO RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
The standard histories of environmentalism in the United States almost invariably begin in the West. In the vast, spectacular landscapes, in the breathtaking vistas, powerful mountain ranges, and sharp-cutting rivers, in the West's abundance and scarcity of resources, in its aridity and fertility, the forces of urbanization and industrialization created some of the most dramatic changes in environment. It was in the West that the best- known mainstream environmental group, the Sierra Club, was formed, and where some of the most bitter urban and industrial conflicts took place involving hard-rock miners or resource and development disputes over access to water sources. It is also in the West that much of the traditional interpretation of environmentalism is grounded.
It was in the West that the idea of a land ethic was first put into practice by the Mormons, followers of a quasi-utopian, theocratic movement who settled throughout the Colorado River Basin. Influenced by the land use approaches of the Utes and other southwestern Indian tribes, the Mormons sought to organize on a cooperative basis to benefit the group and the community as opposed to individuals acting separately from one another. From these principles a concept of "stewardship," applied to land ownership and resource use, was derived. One of the earliest questions the Mormons confronted along these lines was control of water resources in an arid and unpredictable environment. Mormon leaders rejected the prevailing riparian doctrine, which defined water rights as property rights based on ownership of the land adjacent to the water, as inappropriate to the irrigation requirements of the Colorado River Basin. Instead, a community value to the water was established, based on community ownership of dams and ditches designed to direct the flow of water.
The stewardship approach to water was applied to other resources as well. Timber harvesting required access roads to the canyons where the forests were located and were constructed under the direction of the Mormon Church, with provisions for use placed under the jurisdiction of county courts controlled by church officials. The act establishing these courts explicitly identified the stewardship requirement to "best preserve the timber" and to "subserve the interests of the settlements" in timber cutting and in the distribution of water for irrigation and other purposes.
By the 1880s, the Mormon stewardship approach had come to be considered both controversial and exceptional. In his journals and later writings, John Wesley Powell, who first explored the Colorado River, headed the U.S. Geological Survey, and became the West's first great resource analyst, spoke admiringly of the Mormon experiment in cooperation and stewardship. Powell feared that settlement in the West would be inappropriately organized through private control of land and related water rights with a tendency toward monopolies or large-scale government intervention. Mormon stewardship, including cooperative management of land and water and irrigation on a more limited scale to serve the needs of planned communities, appealed to Powell's instinctive environmentalism. Yet it was quickly becoming apparent to the railroad companies, cattle owners, wheat farmers, mining and timber companies, and their financial backers that the West and its resources provided an extraordinary source of new wealth, ripe for exploitation, not cooperation.
Already by the 1870s and 1880s, resource exploitation of the West dominated development patterns. Massive overgrazing, timber cutting, land monopolization, boom- and-bust mining practices as well as the industrialization of mines, speculation in land and water rights, and monocrop plantings overwhelmed limited efforts at cooperation and more orderly resource development. Gifford Pinchot, a young, wealthy forester recently returned from Germany, where he had begun to learn the principles of forest management, and soon to become a pivotal figure in the emergence of a conservationist movement, would write of this period that "the Nation was obsessed, when I got home, by a flurry of development. The American Colossus was fiercely intent on appropriating and exploiting the riches of the richest of all continents—grasping with both hands, reaping where he had not sown, wasting what he thought would last forever. New railroads were opening new territory. The exploiters were pushing farther and farther into the wilderness."
The problems of resource exploitation seemed most pronounced with respect to land, water, and forests: an exploitation of the natural environment that paralleled the exploitation of labor in early industrialization, as historian William Cronon has argued. The 1890 U.S. Census Report called attention to dwindling supplies of timber and arable land, which in turn was seen as a function of increased concentration of ownership and intensified development. The concentration of land ownership had escalated rapidly during the 1870s and 1880s, creating major landholdings in California and other parts of the West. This was typified by the creation of the huge Miller and Lux holdings, two competing interests involved in a major water rights ruling in 1886, who between them controlled more than a million acres in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Government entities such as the General Land Office housed in the Department of Interior and local land offices responsible for the management and allocation of public lands were easily subject to political manipulation and abuse, often fronting for powerful private interests adept at using existing legislation to obtain additional landholdings.
Excerpted from Forcing the Spring by Robert Gottlieb. Copyright © 2005 Robert Gottlieb. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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Meet the Author
Robert Gottlieb is the Henry R. Luce Professor of Urban Environmental Studies and director of the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College. He is author or co-author of ten books including Environmentalism Unbound (MIT Press, 2001).
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