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The United States and Its Environmental Laws
by Jimmy Smith
American soceity has given rise to the evolution of environmental laws, by establishing a higher level of society among equals, with neither royalty or slavery and other institutions of social injustice, while raising the levels of human thinking within our society by encouraging higher education as a solution to many problems, such as wealth or poverty, and discouraging war, as being an institution of destruction.
Although history presents us with examples of many Royal Decrees to protect the Royal Herds, for hunting, there was only a minor interest in the environment, among Europeans, until the 1700s, while in India, Arabia, China, and other places of the world, those people and times were subject to the cultural rise and declines of their own societies, and their own sciences. Thus, their environmental laws do not play prominently in our historical image of them. And, during the cultural rise of many great societies, during the last few thousands of years, science has attempted to explain and understand nature and biology, but no one has been able to successfully control nature, and the many forms of life on our planet.
That is to say, not until the secrets of the atom were unleashed, in 1945, to end the Second World War.
Since then, an age of uncontrolled scientific technology has swept away the civilizations of the past, and the men of today seek to explore the boundaries of the Universe with their science.
The Evolution of Environmental Laws in the United States, (1850-1920)
A study of global history and culture is revealing some very interesting information about our environmental history. History presents a pattern of cultural rise, and decline, but nowhere are there laws to protect the environment, such as to protect a forest, or a river, before the days of John Muir.
There are laws to protect the Bays of the Eastern U. S. from pollution, beginning in the 1700s, and science has grown and spread to the point that there are now sciences for forestry, and mining, and almost any industrial process you can imagine, including hydro-electric engineering, metal foundries and manufacturing and oil refining. Thus, the existing laws were probably not made to protect the environment, until this new age of environmentalism, beginning about 1890.
And, this is true, worldwide. As our legal systems have evolved, laws were made to protect people and businesses, and not the environment. Thus, until the 1700s, laws were made to protect the King's interests. Therefore, the few International laws to protect the environment, were made by Royalty, because they were the French King's favorite lakes or the Crown Prince's forests. And, because of exploitative relationships, these laws were often unfair, from a historical perspective, especially when considering modern ethics and the environment.
Thus, I came upon this interesting, fact. There may be a solid, concrete cognitive scientific connection between the evolution of our society, in terms of ethics, and the rise of environmental laws.
And, if this is true, it is interesting because before men could see a need for laws to protect the environment, they would have to be somewhat evolved, and this didn't happen in a world with widespread slavery and social injustice, as was rampant in the world, prior to the American Revolution. The higher range of thinking and intelligence enjoyed by many people today, had not yet evolved on a wide scale, in the 1700s. And thus, the legal systems of the pre-civilized 1700s, and before, did not feature environmental protections, or attempt to manage the environment, on a large scale. This is a peaceful inclination of the modern world that was unimagined and unthought of, in the Old World.
John Muir (1838-1914), a pacificist, convinced many people, during the aftermath of the civil war, to begin establishing protected areas and parks, and was instrumental in the foundation of the California State Park system. He argued that Americans should protect our environment, and engage in more peaceful activities. He had seen that war and exploitative businesses make men rich, but he had not seen that war and brutality make rich men good.
As a result, Yosemite National Park was created, and in 1893, the Sierra Club was formed. Many more parks and preserved areas have been established thanks to John Muir, and the Sierra Club, since their beginning in the late 1890s.
His hard work and dedication helped create the Sierra Club, circa 1893, which has been very influential in establishing environmental protections and setting aside parks and protected areas within our national and state forests.
The first national and state parks, in both the United States and California, may have been established with his help, circa 1849-1911. Please, see the California State Parks. He was involved with the creation of Yosemite National Park, and was an opponent to the Hetch-Hetchey land and water development issue until the time of his death, about 1914.
Other Early American Environmentalists, (1920-1970)
Aldo Leopold, Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt, and others began their efforts in conservationism, within government service during the late 19th and early 20th century. Both Leopold and Pinchot helped organize and develop the U.S. Forest Service, along with the B.L.M., Park Service, Department of Fish and Game, Wildlife Biologies, etc....
Aldo Leopold, (1887 - 1948), also made a huge impression on the history of the United States and its Environmental Laws. He taught and served in our government, he wrote books, including the Sand County Almanac, and was very influential in the development of modern environmental ethics, and in developing protections for wilderness areas. He was one of the founders of the Wilderness Society in 1935, which has been tremendously influential in establishing wilderness areas, and is still influential, today.
Because of his foresight, over 106 million acres of land, or 26% of the U.S., is now protected in the Western United States, as either a protected wilderness area, or a national or state forest.
Since then, many notable conservationsist, environmentalists and environmental activists have been able to accomplish a great deal, in terms of establishing environmental protections, within the United States. Many times, favorable laws are established, in order to establish effective environmental protections.
In California, the Save the Redwoods League was established in the 1920s, to protect California's Redwood Forests, which were beginning to suffer as a result of the continous and on-going logging activities in the region, since their discovery following the California Gold Rush of 1849.
Today, they have established and created over 40 state and federal parks in California, to protect the once sprawling northern temperate forest, which has been shattered and decimated by logging and land transformation. This once magnificent primevil forest features huge Old Growth trees towering over 360 feet into the air, with their strange, prehistoric appearance and associated ferns and undergrowth, which collectively forms a cathedral forest whose date of origin goes back to a time a hundred million years ago.
Were it not for the Save-the-Redwoods League and many other responsible citizens, this fantastically beautiful and wondrous natural resource, a coastal rainforest, consisting of over 4 million acres in Northern California, would have been destroyed, by businessmen who wanted to cut down the trees and sell them for lumber.
Today, most of this once magnificent northern temperate forest has been destroyed, and all that is left is in these protected areas.
About 98% of this forest has been cut for logging, at least twice, by loggers who decimate the forests with clearcutting, which inevitably causes erosion if they do not restore the forest by replanting both groundcover and Old Growth trees.
From the late 1880s through the 1950s, several environmentalists working within our government were able to begin establishing our current system of parks and national and state environmentally protected areas.
New Enivronmental Laws Enacted Since 1960:
In the 1960s, Rachel Carson warned of the dangers of biotoxins like DDT, which could get into our environment and then expose us and our bodies to these deadly poisons. She died of cancer in 1964. But, before her death, her book, Silent Spring, enfluenced the leaders of our nation, who took the necessary steps to begin establishing environmental protections, within the U.S.
In 1964, as a consequential reaction to the death of Rachel Carson and many others, the United States Congresss enacted the National Environmental Protection Act, with NEPA, the National Environmental Protection Agency, which requires that all state and federal departments and agencies file an environmental impact report, (EIR or EIS), should their planned actions endanger or destroy the envrionment.
The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, was established in 1969.
Since then, the Congress of the United States has been the world leader in establishing effective and meaningful environmental protections.
These protections include the following laws:
Therefore, the dream of establishing a comprehensive system of overlapping and effective environmental protections is becoming a reality.
However, there is more work to be done!
In many ways, we have only made a good beginning!
We do not yet have a completed system of environmental protections. And, we do not yet know how well our current system of environmental protections will protect us.
We still do not have adequate protections for our forests, to prevent environmental destruction and pollution within the forest, or for our rivers, to prevent people from removing rocks and gravel and other building materials, thereby damaging the riverbanks or riverbottom, prevent open-pit mining, protect against erosion, or activities that endanger the vital purity of the water, within our environment.
Additionally, the natural species within the rivers should also be protected and managed, as should their habitat areas.
And, all of these protections are only being established, at this time. They are untested, and no one knows their results of effectiveness.
We need your help!
One of the largest of these remaining unprotected areas is our rivers and their wildlife. The natural shape of our rivers forms the shape of our terrain. Thus, if we protect our riverbeds and riverbanks, the essential watercourses of the watershed, from erosion, which along with pollution is ruining the rivers of the United States, we could seal the largest remaining hole. We will also be establishing protections for our natural terrain.
Our rivers are being ruined by erosion, which is causing them to fill in, and spread out. They are becomming shallow and wider. Sand bars often form along curves and bends in the rivers.
The native species of these rivers are becoming extinct.
Our once plentiful fresh water fish are beginning to lose their habitats, and becoming endangered.
Therefore, one of the most important remaining areas of legislation, is to design protections for our watersheds, and their natural species. These protections should include protections for their banks, and riverbeds, to protect the main watercourse of the aquifer, and protections for their native species and habitat areas, to prevent against a loss of biodiversity and species abundance.
For this reason, we ask you to consider enacting additional protections for our environment, before it is too late.
In California, the Environmental Web Network is working to enact a Statewide Initiative that will ban clearcutting, protect Old Growth, and reform and tax the timber industry, making it sustainable. Please, click here, for more information.
In conclusion, one of the greatest opportunities of our era is to enact meaningful and effective protections for our environment.
If we could create a system of comprehensive and effective environmental protections that could be managed at several governmental levels, it would enable us to make a tremendous accomplishment for all humanity. We could protect the environment in the condition it is now, and preserve it sustainably, for our children and our children's children. By establishing these protections for future generations, we will be enacting legislation that will protect the environment for all time. Future generations of Americans will be able to enjoy the same fabulously rich environment, abundant in natural resources and wildlife, as it is today.
We will have a created a sustainable lifestyle and culture, within a protected and therefore sustainable environment. By protecting and sustaining our natural resources for ourselves and our future, we will be guaranteeing our future prosperity and health.
And, that is a tremendous accomplishment.
We invite you to share our goal of establishing this system of effective environmental protections, and keeping it working during the first critical years of its trial phase.
Many newly enacted protections, such as the Clean Water Act of 2002, need volunteers to help with water monitoring.
Industrialists and environmentally exploitative companies do not like environmental legislation. It cuts into their profits, and makes them work harder, repairing the damage they do to they environment. Thus, they are fighting against us, and using lobbying methods to slow down the enactment of these environmental protections, or attempting to keep them from being too effective.
For these reasons, you should realize that the future is up to us. As environmentalists and environmental activists, we must strive to protect the environment, and enact these beneficial changes in both our society and how we effect the environment.
If we continue working to protect the environment, we are probably going to accomplish our goals, but if we become complacent, then the forces of global development will probably prevail instead, and our beautiful planet will be destroyed.
Many notable people are also beginning to say that what we do not have, is enough funding to restore our habitats, and their associated environments. In California, our rivers are suffering from over 16 decades of continous and systematic destruction of the environment, in the name of logging and land transformation. And, we do not have the funding to restore them. We might be able to restore these valuable habitat areas, but we are currently losing because of a lack of money and dedicated professionals. If we had more of both, we could be more sure of success. As it is at this moment, it is a battle that it going to be too close to call.
Personally, I hope we succeed.
That means I hope we survive.
The two things are really one thing that is interconnected, yet somewhat complex, but we are continuing to work on the problems, as they arise.
Of course, the United States is not alone in this struggle. We have billions of partners in the U.K. and around the planet, including Europe, Russia, Asia and Africa. For this reason, one of our greatest allies is the United Nations. Please, click here to find out more about the U.N. and its role in establishing environmental protections.
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