April 29 2015
Visions of Environment
The Pretense of Progress
It is difficult to find writers more passionate about the natural environment than John Muir and Edward Abbey. Both Muir in a section from his book A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf and Abbey in a chapter titled Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks channel anger and frustration at the environmental policies of their time into literature that argues fervently for preservation of national parks and other areas of wilderness. In Hetch Hetchy Valley, Muir reverently describes in vivid detail the beautiful landscape of a river valley in Yosemite called the Hetch Hetchy Valley, condemning anyone who supports a government plan to dam the Hetch Hetchy River and flood the valley. In a famous quote Muir says, “no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man” (Muir 112). Abbey employs a highly sarcastic and satirical tone to outline the consequences of further expansion of roads and highways into national parks. He aims to incite anger with sharp language and insults to draw the reader in emotionally. “This is a courageous view, admirable in its simplicity and power… It is also quite insane” (Abbey 422). Both pieces easily stand alone, but when looked at together they suggest even more strongly that it is deceptive and dishonest to advertise industrialization of wilderness as any kind of favorable progress for society. This “progress” does not actually benefit anyone. Those who proclaim this as their reason for supporting industrial development are more likely motivated by the short-term economic benefits they will receive.
Muir’s opposition to damming Hetch Hetchy stems from his admiration of the beauty and magnificence of the valley. He dedicates pages to its splendor, personifying the canyon walls as having “thoughtful attitudes, giving welcome to storms and calms alike… while birds, bees, and butterflies help the river and waterfalls to stir all the air...
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