History of Us Environmental Degradtion

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Conor Noonan
Hist 85 TTH 9:55
December 2011
Environmental History Final Thematic Essay
Throughout History it is apparent that many people's view towards environmental degradation is that it is a problem to be dealt with in the distant future. At the turn of the 21st century it seems as if these problems are now right around the corner. Scientists and Environmentalists are learning more and more each year about the natural processes that are being thrown off their equilibrium by humans. Awareness of the issues has been steadily increasing due to the help from well-respected people such as Al Gore. Although people are becoming aware of the problems, the persistent consumer oriented culture of America simply does not allow for sustainable living conditions that many environmentalists advocate. Instead of living sustainably were are netting entire schools of tuna to feed ourselves, depleting the earth's resources of freshwater, releasing an immeasurable amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, digging enormous holes in the earth's surface for metals, and filling up enormous holes with our waste. In order for Americans to understand what must be done to become a sustainable society, it is important to understand how our history has shaped us into the neediest most wasteful country on the planet.

Pioneers arrived on the coasts of America with no sense of what it meant to exist as part of nature. These pioneers witnessed the tribes of Native Americans who had a deeply rooted respect for nature. Instead of learning from the Natives and their relationship with nature, the profit and power driven mindset of the first Americans led them exploit the environment in the most efficient ways possible. This meant creating many new technologies that were not only damaging to the environment, but indirectly damaging to human beings as well. In the 19th century many people became of aware of environmental degradation and wrote about the effect humans were having on the American landscape. Others who benefitted from its' exploitation created irrational arguments against the claims of environmentalists which slowed down the movement towards a more sustainable culture.

When the first American pioneers landed on the east coast they had been at sea for months and could not simply return home. They were faced with a completely new environment as well as natives whose culture Europeans were not accustomed to. The pioneers interpreted this new world as a "hideous and desolate wilderness" filled with "savage barbarians" (Bradford 67). This immediate negative attitude towards a beautiful environment seemed to be inherent in the minds of the pioneers. They were exhausted from the treacherous sea voyage to the Americas and were intimidated by the fact that there was a "main bar and gulf to separate them from all the civil parts of the world" and they were apparently "ready to perish" (Bradford 67). After often losing half of their company in the first few months being in the new world, their natural instincts led them to begin transforming the wilderness into a profitable civil society like the towns they had voyaged from. What early pioneers failed to realize is natives were a society that could teach them valuable practices of conservation.

In an essay called Micmacs and French in the Northeast Calvin Martin discusses one of the first native tribes that inhabited the Northeastern coast of what is today the United States. The Micmacs were a society in which the "hunting was governed by spiritual rules and considerations" (Martin 53). These rules led the Micmacs to respect the environment in a way completely foreign to early pioneers. When referring to the Micmacs Martin writes,"the exploitation of game for subsistence appears to have been regulated by the hunter's respect for the continued welfare of his prey both living and dead" (Martin 53). This meant that their method of living,...
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