Environment: for Preservation or Exploitation - an Analysis of the Opinions of John Muir, Gifford Pinchot and Aldo Leopold

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Our natural environment is an integral part of our world today and is valued for varying

reasons in society. The general public, academics, and environmentalists etc., all share different

opinions on the function or use of our natural environment and provide interesting perspectives

on the role of the environment. It is evident that society today deeply values the environment as

numerous sectors encourage conservation of natural resources and preservation of natural sites;

however, in order to fully understand the formulation of this environment-oriented ideology

today, it is beneficial to examine its origins in American environmental history. John Muir,

Gifford Pinchot, and Aldo Leopold are generally regarded to be the founders of the American

environmental movement that gave way several of the current debates and ideologies

encompassing environmental issues. Instead of simply deploying an extremist stance on

environmental issues and the use of natural resources, it is important to strike a balance between

an exploitationist and preservationist perspective and negotiate the two accordingly. The

following analysis attempts to summarize and interrogate the attitudes of John Muir, Gifford

Pinchot, and Aldo Leopold towards the environment in American history, by taking a closer look

at three articles authored by the aforementioned figures

Much of the environmental debate in John Muir's (1838-1914) article is premised on the

Hetch Hetchy Valley. The article identifies John Muir as a dedicated preservationist who

originated from Scotland and shifted to the United States in 1849. He spent several

years traveling all across America, observing and gathering data that would later contribute to

the publication of various scientific theories and poetic descriptions (Goldfarb 3). The Hetch

Hetchy Valley identified in Muir's article "...is in the Yosemite National Park, about twenty

miles from Yosemite, and is easily accessible to all sorts of travelers by a road and

trail..."(Muir 97). Muir's writing relays an immediate fascination and attraction towards the

Hetch Hetchy Valley as he describes it as "..a grand landscape garden, one of Nature's rarest and

most precious mountain temples"(Muir 97). From reading Muir's descriptions of the Valley, it

becomes more and more evident that its aesthetic appeal is overwhelming. The issue

surrounding the Hetch Hetchy Valley rises when Muir reveals that it is in danger of being turned

into a reservoir that would supply water and light to San Francisco; the usage of the Valley as a

reservoir would involve the flooding the entire space and drowning its natural beauty beneath

water (Goldfarb 4). The article further goes on to convey that the Valley has been chosen for the

construction of the dam "...because of the comparative cheapness.."(Muir 98). The economic

reasons underlying the scheme to convert the Valley into a dam are beyond repulsive in Muir's

perspective and he argues that it is a most deplorable act on behalf of humankind to diminish a

natural wonder for monetary convenience and gain.

It is interesting to note that Muir takes a deeply emotional and psychological stance on

the issue by asserting that natural wonders "...may heal and cheer and give strength to the body

and soul alike"(Muir 56). Muir assigns immense importance to the emotional benefits of our

environment and its ability to replenish and rejuvenate the human mind and soul. I would assert

that Muir's argument is worthwhile and substantial as he relays that the reasons for seeking the

Valley for constructing a dam are purely for economic gain and undermine the power and beauty

of the environment, and the role it plays in sustaining an emotionally satisfied society.

Furthermore, Muir informs the reader that the water in the Hetch Hetchy Valley is not...
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