Environmentalists agree that the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 essentially ushered in the contemporary environmental movement. The book presented natural preservation causes previously undervalued by the public, and led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. John Muir, cofounder of the Sierra Club, has also been recognized for his devotion to Mother Nature, along with other historical figures. But kings, presidents, and artists, in addition to their renowned accomplishments, too have taken part in the green movement, beginning centuries before Carson penned her opus.
As early as 1272, King Edward I of England decreed the burning of sea coal banned in London. The massive air pollution problem resulted from an overabundance of smoke and smog, and would remain an issue during the Industrial Revolution, which marked the commencement of the modern pollution problem known today.
500 years later, and an ocean away, Benjamin Franklin, along with other Philadelphians declared their “public right” and petitioned the Pennsylvania Assembly to stop waste dumping and remove tanneries from commercial districts. When the Transcendentalist movement in New England gained popularity in the late 1800s, author and leader Henry David Thoreau published The Maine Woods, which brought to light the need for federal protection of forests. This echoed well with the Transcendentalists, who revered and respected nature.
At the start of the 20th century, US President Theodore Roosevelt visited Yosemite, a trip that influenced his later conservation work. In a 1910 speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, Teddy orated his favor of using America’s natural resources without overconsumption. But perhaps his greatest contribution to the green movement was creating 150 National Forests, 5 National Parks, and 18 National Monuments to conservation. Two presidents later, Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service.
When the 1950s came about, artists and other laymen joined the green movement. Ansel Adams and other prolific nature photographers enhanced public awareness of conservation and the need to protect the land by creating the Sierra Club Exhibit Format. These photo collections informed and encouraged people to join environmental movement organizations.
Mohandas Gandhi, the peaceful and political leader himself, also respected nature and influenced the 1970s’ Chipko movement in India, which protested deforestation by literally hugging trees, giving birth to the term “tree hugger.” The Chipko movement was admired for their peaceful protests and their slogan, “Ecology is permanent economy,” proved influential on later green movements and workers.
James Lovelock, a former NASA scientist, proposed the Gaia Hypothesis in 1979 with the publication of his book Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Lovelock proposed that life on earth should be understood as a single organism, which became the basis of the Deep Green ideology.
With common men and great leaders who were green revolutionaries as inspiration, the movement continues with unprecedented strength. Certainly history will look back on modern “tree huggers” such as Al Gore and Julia “Butterfly” Hill as equals with these historical luminaries who did their part to think and live green.