But I never really could imagine that Jesus was going to come back to earth-I mean how would he do that? I caught part of a tv show recently, where this interviewer on the streets of New York City asked people if they believed in Jesus. If they said, "Yes," as most did, he asked, "How would you know if Jesus actually came back to earth?" No one had a clue. In the last interview, he asked, "What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night, and there was Jesus, standing at the foot of your bed?"
The eyes of this fellow grew wide, he thought for a second, then replied, "See a psychiatrist!" as he turned and walked away.
Yet we live in a supposedly Christian culture, where untold millions say they believe in the second coming of Jesus, and would gladly bang their bible over our heads to convince us. 2 Peter 3:3-4 "First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." Matthew 24:36 "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
And so on and on. Thus I've imagined that if Jesus did swing by again to save the world, the scoffers would say, "Where is this coming he promised?" Hardly noticed, I imagine that Jesus would do his best to point out that this planet is a sacred place, created by some vastly higher intelligence, and he would implore us to protect it. He might well suggest that whatever power led to our existence is a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed. I imagine he would lay out a practical method for us to continue to bring souls into the world, or in more current jargon, to continue our species for an indefinite period of time. I suspect he'd reiterate in some way that the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven are within us, perhaps pointing out that solutions are in our own hands. And I imagine he'd strongly encourage us to use the brains we were given at birth, and in so doing pass on the torch of reason. He might even propose, in a way even scientists could agree upon, that heaven is right in front of us, if we would but open our eyes.
Of course most people would not listen any more now than they did 2,000 years ago. Indeed, if he came in a humble form as before, this time, say, as a hitchhiker or an "illegal alien," we'd be more likely to lock him up than give him the time of day.
Thus when I look back through history and contemplate whether maybe there really was a person who spent his life trying to save the world, who believed this planet is sacred, who implored us to protect it, who held profound respect for the forces that put us here, but whose message fell on deaf ears, and who was even scoffed by many and ignored by most, one person actually comes to mind. I don't doubt that there are other candidates out there, and who am I to tell you or anyone else that this person was really the Jesus of the New Testament?
Still, this is the one person I'm aware of who best fits the bill, at least as I perceive it. And it's clear enough to me that if we heeded his advice, we most likely would save the world--and ourselves in bargain.
It was my extreme good fortune to have interviewed this person, for the 1978 August/ September issue of the now defunct Mariah Magazine. As I reread his words today, they have more relevance now than they did back then. The title of the article was, "Mariah Interviews David Brower, Best Friend of the Earth." I present that article herewith, as written 28 years ago. Dave died in the year 2000-the millennium to many-one of his sons has since passed away, he went on to found the Earth Island Institute, and many other particulars have obviously changed. But the essence of Dave's message lives on in his words. Those who have ears, let them hear...
David Brower's strong stand on conservation issues and his work in the environmental movement have won him many descriptions, as varied as the perception of their authors. Brower has been called a flaming firebrand, God-damned stubborn, the most effective person on the cutting edge of conservation in this country-a poet, a wild man, a genius.
For all the words, his active part in many conservation campaigns speaks louder. Brower has worked to establish Kings Canyon National Park, to save timberlands in Olympic National Park, to establish Redwood National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, and North Cascades National Park. Disgruntled Bureau of Reclamation officials blame him for preventing, single-handed, their dam plans for Dinosaur National Monument and the Grand Canyon. And Brower was a leading activist in establishing the National Wilderness Preservation System.
Now, at age 66 [again, this article is presented as written in 1978], David Brower is a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. The nomination is largely due to his latest and, as he believes, his most important work-the effort to halt the spread of nuclear technology. Spearheading a worldwide effort to terminate what Brower believes could well bring about the end of civilization, if not all of life on this planet, is the organization called Friends of the Earth, which Brower founded in 1969, and for which he has since acted as president. In this capacity, he labors to fulfill the desire New Yorker writer John McPhee attributed to him several years ago: he wants-literally-to save the world [in McPhee's book Encounters with the Archdruid].
David Ross Brower grew up in Berkeley Hills, California. With his mother, who lost her vision when he was eight, he went on long walks; his power of observation-he has the ability, it's said, to identify butterflies in flight-was developed largely by descriptions and explanations made to her.
Brower dropped out of the University of California at 19, and spent the next ten years working at various jobs and climbed in the Sierra Nevadas. He has climbed every peak in the Sierras higher than 14,000 feet, and received credit for 33 first ascents-small wonder, then that he calls these mountains his home away from home. He spent 11 years as editor for the University of California Press, with three years out for military service, during which he prepared manuals and led mountaineering classes in Colorado and West Virginia. He saw combat in Italy with the U.S. 10th Mountain Division, and was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge and the Bronze Star. Brower Married Ann Hus in 1943; they have four children.
Brower began his conservation career in 1933, as a volunteer in the Sierra Club. In 1952 he became the Sierra Club's first executive director, a position he held until 1969, when disagreements with influential members led to his resignation. There was concern about how international the scope of the organization should be, how deeply it should get involved in publishing; and Brower's spending habits hastened his departure. Without consulting board members, he had used Sierra Club funds to place ads in major newspapers, focusing public attention on Grand Canyon dam proposals-one headline read, Should we also flood the Sistine Chapel so tourists can get nearer the ceiling?
Under Brower's leadership, the Sierra Club grew from a membership of 7,000 to one of 77,000; its budget jumped from $75,000 to nearly $3 million. It has been estimated that in the first two or three years before Browers's departure, the Sierra Club blocked $7 billion worth of construction it judged environmentally destructive. In addition, the club's publishing program has rolled out 50 books, including a widely acclaimed exhibit-format series which grossed $3,850,000 and brought the conservation message to over 2000,000 people.
Within a few months of his departure, Brower's new organization, Friends of the Earth, was off and running. The scope of this organization is hinted at by a glance at its newsletter, Not Man Apart. The name is taken from the lines by Robinson Jeffers: "...the greatest beauty is / Organic wholeness, the wholeness of earth and things, the divine beauty of the universe. Love that, not man / Apart from that..." Articles cover such topics as the Canyonlands, bowhead whales, desertification, black people and energy, and the Panama Canal. A dedicated FOE staff of about 30 people receive an average salary of $7,700 a year-a lean remuneration perhaps supplemented by the shared hope that healthy changes can be achieved through the democratic system. Brower claims that one of his major contributions to this staff is "to add about five years to the average age of the group." He also travels extensively to present speeches, around the world and throughout the United States; over the last six years, he says, he has spent two-thirds of his time away from his home in Berkeley Hills.
David Brower is a humanist, a man deeply concerned with the survival of the human species on this planet-a soft-spoken, mild-mannered, and extremely gentle person. He has a sharpness of mind and spirit that seems untouched by physical age. Indeed, his recent decision to retire at 128 instead of at 66, seems well within his potential.
Brower described to me a recent eye examination: the doctor had aimed a beam of light into his eye, and he could see every single vein on its surface-on the surface of his own eye. How amazing it was, he said, that humans are able to see through this maze of veins and arteries without ever knowing that they exist! Now, Brower said, he was gong to spend a good deal of time, standing in front of a mirror with a flashlight, studying this phenomenon. This depth of fascination with the natural world is itself a phenomenon, as acknowledged in the citation, written by Garret Hardin, which Brower received from the Starr King School for the Ministry:
David R. Brower: Charismatic leader of crusades for the liberation of the temple of nature from its oppressors, archbishop of the church of the wilderness; archdeacon of the cathedral of the environment; archenemy of all who would sell our heritage in nature for a mess of pottage; and, by universal and unchallenged acclaim, the first, the greatest, and indeed the only archdruid.
Mariah: How can you maintain your optimism when you seem to be so acutely aware of everything our society, and the world, are doing to harm the environment?
Brower: My optimism is a guarded optimism, and it comes, primarily, from my being fortunate enough to lecture a bit around the country. Most of my audiences are student audiences, and even though they aren't as big as they were back around the original Earth Day, they are still high-quality audiences. When you watch the young faces catch on and like what they hear, and when these people come around afterward to talk and wonder how they can get involved, you get optimistic. You realize that the torch, if that is what it is, is being passed on.
If enough people understand that you can't get away with our present exponential rate of growth, sustained, that you're going to have to stop it some time, then we can stop it while we're still sane-or at least while we still think we're sane. I think we're going to get smart just in time. But we have such a habit of liking photo finishes; that's what worries me. We shape up only at the last dying moment.
Mariah: What is your greatest source of dismay at what we are doing to this planet?
Brower: Proliferating nuclear technology in the attempt to harness the atom for peace. As Indira Gandhi proved, atoms for peace are very easily changed to atoms for war. I refer here to the fact that Canada and the United States provided the nuclear technology that enabled India to fashion and detonate its first atomic bomb. What India did, any country with any reasonably intelligent people can do, without any help other than what is in the public domain, in the libraries.
The burden of my argument is that the atom in the fist and the atom in the glove are the same atom; the only thing that makes them different is whatever human determination there is to maintain a barrier between the two. To keep that barrier intact requires an infallibility that does not exist. It requires a stability of government that has never existed. The way to avoid proliferation is to stop it where it starts, and that is with the peaceful atom. Once we do this [the United States], other countries will see that we are serious, that we are not just trying to stop their export of reactors so that we can get the business. We want to stop the whole thing, so that nobody gets the terminal business the atom promises.
Mariah: You were pro-nuclear for about two decades. What changed your thinking?
Brower: I became pro-nuclear at the end of World War II, when the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki made it unnecessary for me to move from the battlefields of Italy to the shores of Japan. I was grateful for that, not quite realizing the consequences-which I've come to realize since then. In the mid '50s, I was still very pro-nuclear. In the mid '60s, I was beginning to be a little bit dubious, but still thought the question was where you put reactors, not whether. In mid-1969 I was attending a conference in Chicago. I found out that what had been promised for 14 years for disposing of nuclear waste still wasn't being done. Now, nine years later, it still isn't being done.
Mariah: What did you mean when you said that if we don't fight nuclear proliferation and win, all the rest is academic?
Brower: If the United States doesn't lead the world back from the nuclear brink to which it led it in the first place, then nuclear war will be inevitable. A nuclear war would reduce civilization to a few fragments of whatever capable cultures there were that were not dependent on high technology. All our interest in wildlife, parks, forests, and wilderness will have to be transferred to radioactive forms of wildlife, parks, forest, and wilderness.
Now I don't want us to give up working for wilderness, parks, forests, wildlife, and wild rivers-assuming, which we must, that we will end nuclear proliferation, we have to have other things ready to go. But if we don't defuse the nuclear threat to humanity, everything else is academic.
Mariah: Mother Jones magazine quoted you as saying, "I am extremely apprehensive about Carter's policy on nuclear development." You've met with Carter in person. Why are you apprehensive?
Brower: When I met with him, I handed Carter a letter saying why I thought he should veto the Clinch River Breeder Reactor appropriation. He explained that he had made every effort to get that out of the legislation, and couldn't. But, strengthened, I think, by what he heard from our group, he did veto the appropriation the very next day. Nevertheless, that seems to be a less than clear veto, because Mr. Schlesinger is working hard to get further appropriations for continued breeder reactor demonstration building-for huge investments in what we think is just a down payment on disaster.
Mr. Carter has not been able, apparently, to overcome the persuasiveness of Mr. Schlesinger. And Mr. Schlesinger, with his old training as head of the Atomic Energy Commission, the CIA, and the Department of Defense, is not really the sort of person who can build faith around the world about what U.S. intentions are in respect to nuclear. Mr. Carter is saying he doesn't want more proliferation, but he is offering to sell reactors to a lot of shaky governments, and this is a two-step route to proliferation not only of nuclear reactors but of nuclear weapons.
For that reason, I think Carter's campaign promise that nuclear was to be the last resort has been violated. The people who trusted him on this, along with me, are being disillusioned.
Mr. Carter's been receiving a lot of evidence as to what the alternatives can be. Amory Lovins* has met with him and explained these. But Carter still seems to be under an enormous amount of influence from Mr. Schlesinger, and I think that Mr. Schlesinger was a most unfortunate choice, and continues to be more unfortunate day by day. He should try other work. [Brower might be pleased to learn that, just recently, Mr. Schlesinger criticized the Bush administration for failing to take effective steps to reduce American consumption of gasoline and other oil products].
Mariah: If we don't change our course, do you foresee nuclear was as inevitable?
Brower: Yes-if we don't change our course, nuclear war is inevitable. I think that will be so clear in the next few years that we will change our course; that's why I'm guardedly optimistic.
Mariah: But there seems to be little the average person can do to help change that course.
Brower: People who are deeply concerned about the environmental ramifications of nuclear experiments have not yet expressed their concern well enough. They've been sitting watching and waiting. They haven't thanked the President for what he did do, for his veto of the Clinch River Breeder, which was the bravest anti-nuclear move had has made so far. When constituencies don't speak, they share the guilt for what happens politically. If the environmental constituency sits on its hands, the environmental opportunities of the leader vanish into thin air.
Mariah: How do you feel about your nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize?
Brower: There are quite a few nominations. The committee, I understand, does a very thorough job of seeing what the qualifications are. If Sadat doesn't screw up, of course, he'll get it. It as honor enough being nominated-too much. I'll have no problem keeping my expectations low-about six feet under, maybe.
Mariah: You once described Friends of the Earth as "small, poor, flexible." Wouldn't you rather see it large, powerful, and influential?
Brower: I would like to see us be more influential, but power is a word to be used very carefully. I'm not looking for power. Influence through persuasion, yes. I'm afraid that what happens as you get bigger is that you get more and more wrapped up in the structure of bureaucracy. The flexibility goes; it takes longer to reach decisions, and sometimes there isn't much time. Flexibility has been extremely important tour global effort in 18 countries. This is one of the things that's enabled us to do as much as we've done, with as small a budget as we have.
Mariah: How do you define an environmentalist?
Brower: I worry a little bit about labels. Environmentalist is just a polysyllabic way of saying conservationist, and even that has too many syllables in it. We are trying to get it down to conservers-conservers of society, as opposed to the consumers of society. There is an incipient environmentalist in everyone. Everyone who wants to stay alive and wants a planet to stand on has got to worry about the environment.
Mariah: What country do you think has the highest degree of environmental awareness?
Brower: The United States. I suppose the simple answer is that we raised so much havoc with our environment, so fast, that we saw the dust behind us and knew we'd done it. Other countries went slower, and they aren't quite sure what happened.
The other reason is that for all the hate mail and all the apprehensions various people have about our form of government, it's still one where there's an opportunity to sound off.
One of the sad things I've observed as I've aged is the twinkling out of the lights of democracy around the world. There seem to be fewer and fewer of them. But democracy is still working here. We still have the Freedom of Information Act, and we have the National Environmental Policy Act; we have the opportunity at every level of the government to make a statement of dissent and make a lot of noise about it. There is still a chance for us to relight the American dream, to get people to believe that this is a good system....
[On the other hand] The United States has an enormous appetite-our 5 percent of the population of the world uses a third or more of all the Earth's resources, and we're looking for a bigger cut all the time. That's quite a drain on the Earth. Our kind of growth is not sustainable; it is already past sustainable. We cannot mop up that much of what's left in the bottom of the barrel without creating a rapid development of the leveling forces that are now epitomized by the rising incidence of terrorism.
Mariah: Whom do you see as your greatest environmental enemies?
Brower: The people who think economic growth, as presently practiced, must continue. These people are not enemies, but their habits are the enemies. I'm sure they are all, individually, good people, but they have been misled into thinking that the present exponential attack on finite resources will continue to work. We've been drawing our resource savings out of the bank and scattering them all over the Earth, building up a fine-looking Gross National Product in the process. It's worked for a while-you can draw your savings out of the bank and spend them. But it doesn't do you much good for the next year.
Mariah: Where do you think the major wilderness battles will be fought during the next decade?
Brower: Let's start with Alaska. Alaska is our last chance to do things right the first time, rather than to do again what we've been doing for the last two centuries to make America less and less habitable.
Alaska really belongs not just to the United States but to the rest of the world as well. Some of the finest unspoiled country in the world still exists there, even after the Alaska pipeline has severed important ecological lines. We will never have this opportunity again.
The next most important concern, I think, is to make sure that the U.S. Forest Service realizes that it is supposed to be serving all the interests of the forest, not just the timber interests. The record the Forest Service has established is an unenviable one-it's abolished a million acres of wilderness a year for the last 40 years. This should be brought to an immediate halt.
Our emphasis in the environmental movement should be to spend all the effort we can in repairing the damage bad forest practice has done. We have millions of acres of unreforested land, growing brush that doesn't do very many people much good-acres that have not been put back into action simply because, in part, there is more macho satisfaction in knocking down a big tree than in planting a seedling. I'm not against using forest products; that's utilizing solar energy in one of its finest forms. But we shouldn't get our solar energy from steep-sloped forests where we destroy the forest soil, the renewability of the timber resource.
Mariah: Wouldn't the cost of replanting on the scale you're talking about cost a lot of money?
Brower: It would cost a great deal, but wouldn't be nearly so expensive as not getting those lands back into production and then running out of forest products. It's the old Amory Lovins' line: "It's going to be tough to do things right, but it's going to be a lot harder not to." It's going to be a lot harder not to treat our forest lands better than the Forest Service is.
Mariah: Again, there's the question of what any one person can do to change Forest Service policies to help save Alaskan lands.
Brower: I suppose it's a cliché to say "Be active," but I don't know how else we can do it, in this small part of the world that's still trying to carry out the democratic principles it's founded on. These principles require that decisions be delegated to the people, and that the power accept this responsibility. That means keeping touch with the leaders who are making the decisions, writing letters to the editors, having meetings at home. It's tiring. It's monotonous.
You keep hearing, write about this, write about that. There's a feeling of futility: "Well, what difference does my letter make?" It makes a great deal of difference. The one person who acts, multiplied by a few other thousands who act, will make all the difference. There is no other way to get in touch with the people who are making the decisions. The citizens who believe and feel strongly about these matters, but stay silent, are just giving away the game to the people who don't have long-range view in mind, but are willing to be vocal.
Mariah: What are your feelings about holding up a multi-million-dollar project that could be used to serve economic and social interests to protect a fairly unknown species-say, the snail darter or the Furbish lousewort?
Brower: It's unfortunate that we don't always have something furry and cuddly to support; you can get a lot of support for furry and cuddly things. I believe that the diversity of life of which the snail darter is a part is important to us. The diminution of that diversity is not good for us. To make a world that becomes more and more a world of starlings, rats, pigeons, and man is to make a world that is not going to be very satisfactory to humanity. I think that we had better realize that we've preempted enough territory four ourselves; we should leave the snail darters, the whales, the coyotes, and the wolves alone in their territory, and try to get by where we are by doing better in our territory. Instead of waiting until we've wiped out all these things that make the Earth beautiful, we should turn around and go back where we've been, and do better.
We ourselves came from the forces that are in the wilderness, yet we haven't the beginning of an idea how many answers there are to the questions we haven't even learned how to ask in and of the wilderness. That's part of what Thoreau had in mind when he said, "In wildness is the preservation of the world." I've been trying to get that message through to the people who think wilderness is just where the hardy, wealthy few make footprints for their own pleasure. Anybody who thinks that would evaluate the Mona Lisa by weighing the paint. Wilderness is terribly important as our window to how the life force works and always has worked-quite successfully, at a very low hourly cost.
Mariah: What forms of commercial or economic development do you condone for the future?
Brower: I condone, particularly as I watch the resource bank being overdrawn rather heavily, going back where we were with building, and going into recycling, refurbishing, renovation, and retrofitting. We've already put some good bones into our past construction, and those bones offer us the very challenging opportunity to keep a lot of people busy making old structures usable, and delightful. I'd like to see more of this.
I would certainly like to see the development of the railroads. I would love to see the [Army] Corps of Engineers stop pouring concrete into rivers, and be given the assignment of getting the railroads back into operation. The Corps has the engineering skill; it knows how to get the contracts; it has the political muscle to get the job done.
I would like to see the Bureau of Reclamation reclaim land, for the first time in its history, rather than just overcome deserts, and inundate fertile valleys. I'm not against all the Bureau has done, but there a few things I'd like to have undone, like Glen Canyon Dam and Hetch Hetchy Dam. I'd like to see the Bureau's emphasis shifted to getting lands that have been exhausted by poor agricultural practices back into operation. I'd like to see the Bureau of Reclamation build a nationwide constituency, and reclaim abused land in Tennessee, West Virginia, California, and Utah.
Mariah: Does it bother you that environmentalists always seem to be telling people what they're doing wrong instead of what they should be doing right?
Brower: No, it doesn't. When we say it's wrong to build dams, we're saying it's right to have free-flowing rivers; there are two sides to every coin. I think it's the opponents of conservation who like to say it's negative to want to save something-I think it's positive. There have been times in our past when thrift was looked upon as a virtue.
FOE's new book, Progress as if Survival Mattered, goes into some 18 sectors of society and tries to outline how each of those sectors would be operated if we had more conservation conscience in them, as if we thought it is fiscally responsible to leave the environment with as great a net worth when we pass it on as when we acquired it-to see if we can operate the environment, the Earth, while we are here as brief tenants, as we do a public trust. A trustee at the bank has got to make sure the beneficiary gets all that's coming to him or he can be hauled into court. I think the corporate and government managers of land, and the private managers of resources, should operate by the same ethic.
Mariah: Do you believe it's more important for people to adapt their personal lifestyles toward more ecologically conscious living, or to fight social or legal environmental battles?
Brower: It's a good idea to do both. I think personal lifestyles can be changed to great advantage. And everybody should fight an environmental battle now and then-don't take them all on, because it's very exhausting; take on one or two that move you.
As for changes in lifestyle, I've seen for myself the advantages, when I wanted to go to Nepal. As I approached 64, I decided I'd better go fairly soon or it might not be possible. When I was 63 ½, I started training: I wanted to go to Nepal the following October. I pushed food and drink farther away than usual, and that was helpful. But the main thing I did to get rid of some weight was to start walking down my hill in Berkeley to the bus a mile and a half away, 800 vertical feet lower, rather than drive my care to work. As a result, I put 600 miles on my boots and 6,000 fewer miles on my car.
Counting parking fees, depreciation, gas, and bridge tolls, I saved about $3,000 in those ten months-which more than paid for the trip. I also saved myself from carrying 25 extra pounds, and I lost 22 more pounds on the trip itself. Now I'm as light as I was when I was married, 34 years ago. My wife thinks that's pretty good, and so do I.
I had intended to retire at about the age of 66, or maybe sooner, but I came back feeling that I wouldn't retire until I was 128. I felt that good. It is just amazing what your body will do if you change your lifestyle that much. It doesn't hurt to walk; it's good to walk.
Mariah: What outdoor activities do you enjoy now?
Brower: I try to get to the Sierras, because they're still my home away from home. I started going there when I was about six, and I don't want to quit. We have a few places we can get to, my wife and I, or one or two of the kids will come. We can experience the wilderness in a rather short weekend simply by going off-trail. When you get up high in the Sierras, it's easy to do that. The off-trail country is very beautiful.
Mariah: What are your long-range goals for Friends of the Earth?
Brower: I would hope to see it grow to at least 50,000 or 75,000. I would like to see another 15 countries or so involved in it, and to keep decentralizing it so it doesn't get too cumbersome. I would like to see us spend a little time getting back to basics, which we've been keeping away from because of the great demands of the anti-nuclear effort.
One of the things we're becoming concerned with is just holding onto agricultural lands; the developers would like to get at the land and split it up and make their millions. And we are badly fooled by what you can get out of an acre by force-feeding the land with chemicals. The energy-intensive procedures of agribusiness won't work in the long run.
An acceleration of the use of pesticides in agriculture is sure to lead to starvation, because we're building resistant pests. I think if there were a little more application of ecological principles in agriculture, and a bit less chemical company, we wouldn't be faced with the continuing loss of fertility of the land. That loss is what can bring about starvation.
Mariah: What's your view of humanity in evolutionary terms?
Brower: In evolutionary terms, man is a very recent addition to the planet's ecosystem. We should bear that in mind. If we compress the Earth's age into the six days of creation, the Earth begins Sunday at midnight, life begins Tuesday at noon, and man, in some very primitive, hardly recognizable form, appears somewhere about ten minutes before midnight on Friday. Neanderthal man appears eleven seconds before midnight, agriculture one and a half seconds. Christianity a quarter of a second, the Industrial Revolution a fortieth of a second, and the idea of exponential growth a five-hundredth of a second [the years since WWII, in Brower's calculation].
The most important thing I've learned recently about man's place is that it's good. It's a good place, and we've trained well for where we are, even though we took the human shape rather recently. From every one of us now alive back to the beginning of life on Earth, there's an unbroken chain for three and a half billion years; part of each one of us is three and a half billion years old. Most of that time, everything that made us durable, that gave us our immunities, our abilities to eat, to handle the chemistry of life, to learn the physics of motion, to think, to feel, to love, was shaped and perfected in wilderness. Up until at least half a second before midnight, that's all we had to work with. And that works for us.
We haven't had time to evolve really new capabilities-the veneer of civilization is very thin; we are essentially creatures of the wilderness. Although we've learned how to read and write, to put things on television and put people on the moon, we haven't learned any of the other essentials for keeping ourselves intact in this interrelated web of life on Earth, beyond what the wilderness and evolution have built into us. That, to me, is the most important part of it all: the fact that I own a rather latter-day understanding of wilderness.
I saw Dave Brower one more time, decades later, when in his eighties he gave a talk at the University of Utah, accompanied by his wife, Ann. I went up to him afterward and introduced myself as the one who had done this interview-it was several moments before this registered, but then again, I had changed in appearance from wholly mammoth to bald eagle-and when the lights went on, he smiled warmly and said three words, with all the firmness and surety of the rocky mountains he used to climb, "We WILL prevail!"
*Amory Lovins was at the time energy adviser to Friends of the Earth. His book,
Soft Energy Paths, became the master manual for environmentalists who advocate a swing toward small-scale applications of solar, wind, and biomass conversion as a means of decentralizing energy production. Dave said of one of Lovins' later books, Natural Capitalism, that it was "the most important book of the century"-I'm not sure which century he meant, but after reading the book several times, I'd say it could be the last century or this. Lovins went on to found Rocky Mountain Institute, which in its own words, and as proven through a mind-blowing track record, "finds better ways of meeting human needs that turn snowballing costs and problems into cascading savings and solutions" (See the RMI Website).