John Wesley Powell and State Expansion

Powell Survey, Colorado River, 1871

The concept of the welfare state edged into the American consciousness and into American institutions more through the scientific bureaus of government than by any other way, and more through the problems raised by the public domain than through any other problems, and more through the labors of John Wesley Powell than through any other man. In its origins it probably owes nothing to Marx, and it was certainly not the abominable invention of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Brain Trust. It began as public information and extended gradually into a degree of control and paternalism increased by every national crisis and every stemp of the increasing concentration of power in Washington. The welfare state was present in embryo in Joseph Henry's Weather Bureau in the eighteen-fifties. It moved a long step in the passage of what Henry Adams called America's "first modern act of legislation," when the King and Hayden Surveys were established in 1867. . . . it would assume almost its contemporary look in the trust-busting and conservation activities of Theodore Roosevelt at the dawn of the next century. But what Powell and the earlier Adams and Theodore Roosevelt thought of as the logical development of American society, especially in the West, was by no means universally palatable by 1890 -- or by 1953. It looked dangerous; it repealed the long habit of a wide-open continent; it recanted a faith.

-- Wallace Stegner, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West (Lincoln, Neb.: Bison Books, 1982 [orig. pub. 1953]), 334.

Ellenton, South Carolina

Ellenton, SC, 1950



The Tiresome Subject of One’s Own Affairs

I just find that sitting down by a tree or a rock and contemplating the natural scene, any natural scene, in an appreciative, quietly passive way can distract one for a while from the tiresome subject of one's own affairs. Not that this is something I do all that often. My interest in the natural world has always tended to be too involved, too protective and meddlesome, to allow much time for just sitting around looking at things. But whenever I have managed it, I've come back to myself afterwards feeling more calm and clear-headed, more capable of dealing with the way of the world than when I left.

-- Don Schueler, A Handmade Wilderness (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996), 171-72.

Ecological Debt Day

New calculations released today show that from now until the end of the year we will be living beyond our global environmental means. Research by the US-based Global Footprint Network in partnership with nef and Best Foot Forward reveals that as of today, humanity has used up what nature can renew this year and is now eating into its ‘ecological capital’.

Each year, the day that the global economy starts to operate with an ecological deficit is designated as ‘ecological debt day’ (known internationally as ‘overshoot day’). This marks the date that the planet’s environmental resource flow goes into the red and we begin operating on a non-existent environmental overdraft.

The fact that this year, ecological debt day falls on 9 October, only three quarters of the way through the year, means that we are living well beyond our environmental means. This leads, in effect, to a net depletion of the resources. From October 9 until the end of the year, humanity will be in ecological overshoot, building up ever greater ecological debt by consuming resources beyond the level that the planet’s ecosystems can replace.

-- New Economics Foundation

Bush and the Environment: Four More Years

"Environmentalists See Trouble Ahead"
-- John Heilprin (AP) in The Washington Post, 11/30/04:

WASHINGTON - Environmentalists see some of their worst fears playing out as President Bush moves to cement a second-term agenda that includes getting more timber, oil and gas from public lands and relying on the market rather than regulation to curb pollution.

Bush's top energy priority - opening an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling - is shaping up as an early test of GOP gains in Congress.

"This is going to be a definitional battle, and we're ready," said Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

Though the election didn't emphasize such issues, administration officials believe the results validated their belief that many environmental decisions are better made by the marketplace, landowners and state and local governments.

James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the administration will continue a "partnership with the oil and gas sector" but also will work with conservation organizations - as long as they are "willing to engage constructively on defining priorities and practices in domestic production."

Bush's environmental priority is to rewrite the Clean Air Act to set annual nationwide limits on three major air pollutants from power plants and to allow marketplace trading of pollution rights rather than regulation to meet those goals.

He does not plan to change his mind on his rejection of the Kyoto international climate treaty that would impose mandatory caps on carbon dioxide emissions. "Kyoto's unworkable," Connaughton said. . . .

Republicans in Congress plan to re-examine other landmark 1970s laws: the Endangered Species Act protecting rare plant and animal species and their habitats, and the National Environmental Policy Act that requires the government to judge beforehand if actions might damage natural resources.

One area where environmentalists and the White House could find agreement is ocean issues. The administration is looking at setting catch quotas for individual fish species, new protections for fragile coral reefs and ecosystem-based management of rivers and streams, Connaughton said.

Some huge regional issues also will get attention. They include restoring the Florida Everglades, aiding the recovery of Pacific Northwest salmon, improving water quality in the Great Lakes and dealing with drought in the West and coastal erosion in Louisiana.

The administration put off until after the election a final decision on a plan to allow road building and logging on 58 million acres of remote forests where both are now banned.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton's agency is rewriting 162 plans for managing about one of every 10 acres in the United States. The decisions will affect whether wildlife protections or new oil and gas drilling projects are favored. Norton wants to give local governments more say.

A Conservation Consensus

"It's Easy Being Green"
-- Will Rogers in The New York Times, 11/20/04:

Though nobody seemed to notice, Republican and Democratic voters seemed to be of similar minds on one issue this election: the environment. Across the country, in red states and blue states, Americans voted decisively to spend more money for natural areas, neighborhood parks and conservation in their communities. Of 161 conservation ballot measures, 120 - or 75 percent - were approved by voters. Three-and-a-quarter billion dollars were dedicated to land conservation.

In Florida, for example, President George W. Bush won at least 60 percent of the vote in Lake, Indian River and Collier Counties. On the same ballot, more than two-thirds of the voters in each of those counties approved local park bonds worth $126 million, by margins as high as 73 percent. In Gallatin County, Mont., where the president beat John Kerry by 56 percent to 41 percent, 63 percent of voters approved $10 million in bonds to buy conservation easements to preserve ranchlands. In Chesterfield County, Va., which Mr. Bush carried 63 percent to 37 percent, voters passed a $20 million park bond by 76 percent to 24 percent.

It was the same in the states where Mr. Kerry prevailed. In Massachusetts, 10 townships approved extra taxes to support conservation and historic preservation. In Los Angeles, which Mr. Kerry won by 73 percent to 26 percent, 76 percent of voters approved a $500 million water-quality bond that included $100 million for conservation. And in both Burlington, Vt., where Mr. Kerry won 75 percent of the vote, and in Kendall County, Tex., where the president won 81 percent of the vote, voters approved $5 million to protect open spaces.

So what's the story? Simply put, these measures unify Americans. It's hard to be against new parks and trails, or to disagree with wanting to protect farms and forests from development. What's more, voters have learned that these measures often provide local solutions to water-quality problems: preserving natural lands in watersheds can help protect drinking water sources or reduce storm-water runoff.

It helps that success is contagious. For example, more than a decade ago, New Jersey created a program to provide extra money to local communities that had approved measures to raise money for local conservation programs. The program has enjoyed sustained support from Republican and Democratic legislators and governors. Now, every county in New Jersey has a program to finance land conservation, along with more than 200 of the state's cities, townships and boroughs.

True, this year's election didn't turn on environmental issues. But the voters sent a message anyway: whether we're red or blue, we all have a little bit of green in us.

Congress Weighs Environmental Exemptions for Military

Congress considers exempting military from more environmental rules (New York Times, 3/22/03):

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has begun a campaign it calls, portentously, "Operation End Extremism." The purpose is to expose "the increasing burden U.S. soldiers face on military training bases because of irrational enforcement of environmental laws." The whole thing might be dismissed as another ideological stunt from the committee's reactionary chairman, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, were it not for the fact that the Pentagon is trying to do the same thing. With White House backing, the Defense Department has asked Congress to approve a program it calls the "Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative," which would broadly exempt military bases and some operations from environmental regulation.