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A Tribute to David Brower, Champion of the Environment

Ralph Nader

 by Boulder Daily Camera

David R. Brower was the greatest environmentalist and conservationist of the 20th century. He was also an indefatigable champion of every worthwhile effort to protect the environment over the last seven decades. David Brower, who was 88 years old, died of complications related to cancer on Nov. 5 at his home in Berkeley, Calif.

David Brower once said, "We're not blindly opposed to progress, we're opposed to blind progress." He was masterful at bringing the appropriate framework to any environmental controversy and showing that the short-term economic gains are insignificant when measured against the long-term economic and broader societal benefits of proper environmental stewardship.

The monuments to his work dot the landscape of the nation's environmental movement. He founded the Earth Island Institute, the League of Conservation Voters, the John Muir Institute for Environmental Studies, the Global Conservation, Preservation, and Restoration (CPR) Service and the U.S.-based Friends of the Earth. He also initiated the founding of Friends of the Earth organizations worldwide. Many of the leaders of the environmental movement outside the United States were personally recruited by David Brower and they were often financially supported by him.

David Brower also helped establish the worker/environmental organization The Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment. And as executive director of the Sierra Club (1952-69), he increased the organization's membership from 2,000 to 77,000 and transformed the organization from a mild-mannered conservation organization into a powerful environmental advocacy organization.

His ability to clear away the underbrush of polite discourse and focus on core problems was well illustrated by his views on the corrosive impact of special-interest money on our political process. He said, "We don't have democracy in this country. What we have is legal bribery, where politicians must raise so much money to get elected that by the time they do, they're bought and paid for by the companies and wealthy individuals who financed their campaigns."

His courage and dedication must be given credit in keeping dams out of Dinosaur National Monument, the Yukon and the Grand Canyon and in establishing the National Wilderness Preservation System. The list of his accomplishments fill chapters in the history of the world's environmental movements. Future generations will be the major beneficiaries of his willingness to take up the tough battles for the preservation of the earth.

He was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and received numerous awards throughout his life, including 1998 Blue Planet Award. He was, however, more proud of his mountain climbing accomplishments than his many awards and honorary degrees. In 1939, David Brower successfully scaled Shiprock, a 1,500-foot spire in northern New Mexico. In addition he had over 70 "first-ascents" of mountains and peaks worldwide.

David Brower brought as much passion to his climbing of the Sierra's peaks as he did to fighting reckless development. One of his greatest accomplishments directing the fight to pass the Wilderness Act of 1964. This law was designed to protect millions of acres of public lands and to help keep these lands in pristine condition. David Brower was devoted to protecting our planet's natural habitats and Brower was in the forefront in helping to develop national parks and seashores in King Canyon, the North Cascades, the Redwoods, Great Basin, Alaska, Cape Cod, Fire Island and Point Reyes.

He led the way in protecting primeval forest in Olympic National Park and wilderness on San Gorgonio. David Brower was also one of the first environmental leaders to oppose nuclear power — something he believes led to him being fired by the Sierra Club in 1969 after working as the group's executive director for 17 years.

He successfully developed the "exhibit format" books, which showcased nature photography and brought a sense of appreciation of wilderness areas to those who may never have visited the wild. These books helped raise environmental awareness among millions of readers and helped inspire many people to join in fights to preserve wild areas.

David Brower had little interest in quick compromise. He advised, "We are to hold fast to what we believe is right, fight for it, and find allies and adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or them to win, then let someone else produce the compromise. We thereupon work hard to coax it our way. We become a nucleus around which the strongest force can build and function."

This philosophy should be the foundation upon which today and tomorrow's environmental leaders build. The environmental movement has lost a world champion and society has lost a man who placed enduring principle ahead of expedient deal-making.


© 2021 Boulder Daily Camera
Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate and the author of "The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future" (2012). His new book is, "Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lies and Lawbreaking Betray All(2020, co-authored with Mark Green).

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