David Brower – The Life of an Environmental Gladiator

Tracy Mehan has an excellent review of Tom Turner’s new book, David Brower: The Making of the Environmental Movement, in ELI’s upcoming Environmental Forum.   David Brower, considered by many to be the most influential protagonist of modern environmentalism, was also the founder of many environmental groups, including the John Muir Institute for Environmental Studies, Friends of the Earth, League of Conservation Voters, and Earth Island Institute.  Brower also served as the first Executive Director of the Sierra Club from 1952-1969.  According to Mehan,

The contemporary environmental movement reflects both the strengths and weaknesses of its founding father.  The young David Brower grew up in a strict Presbyterian, teetotaling household. A Berkeley native, to young David the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite were his home, where he became a world-class climber, and followed the path of another lapsed Presbyterian, John Muir, into the Sierra Club.

He was a college dropout, worked in publishing, and was awarded a Bronze Star in World War II with the Tenth Mountain Division. He married, for life, Anne Hus, whom Turner describes as her husband’s “sternest critic and his staunchest defender.” She raised their four children, almost alone, given Brower’s constant travels delivering the “sermon” on environmental protection.

David Brower’s love of the high country and nature was genuine, spontaneous, and preceded his more philosophical justifications, which came later in his life. He loved nature in all its aspects and could even identify various species of butterflies by their fight patterns

Brower’s fervent love of nature was rivaled by his disdain for modern humanity, which some argue can be traced to his Christian upbringing and Calvinist beliefs.  As Mehan notes,

There is, however, a darker side of Calvinism, given its original view on the depravity of human nature.  Brower came to regard the human race as a “cancer,” writes McPhee. Te father of four children, he once pleaded, “We all make mistakes.” Turner quotes him labeling economic growth as “a sophisticated device for stealing from our children.” He was a promoter of that reliable pessimist and herald of the apocalypse (all of them), Paul Ehrlich. His views on immigration were closer to those of Donald Trump than Marco Rubio.

No doubt Brower remains a momentous figure within the modern environmental movement.  While his positive contributions to environmental protection continue to be enjoyed by tens of millions of Americans and outdoor enthusiasts, unfortunately his confrontational and polarizing style continues to leave its own lasting mark on the environmental movement he helped to establish.

I look forward to a good read.