What happens when you combine the athleticism of a world-class mountaineer, the charisma and good looks of a movie star, and the passionate leadership of a dedicated head of state? You get David Brower, another one of our Past Environmental Heroes, and a man who single-handedly founded more environmental conservation/activism groups—including Friends of the Earth, The League of Women Voters, and The Earth Island Institute—than any other person in US history. In addition to his prominence in the successful fight against the Echo Park Project and other U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec) dams in the 1950’s, Brower became one of the most prominent figures in creating the US Environmental Movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Born in Berkeley, California on July 1, 1912, David Ross Brower first visited the High Sierras and Yosemite National Park when he was only six years old. Attracted to the US Environmental Movement through his passion for mountaineering, Brower made first ascents of more than 70 peaks in the western US. During World War II, he also served in the legendary 10th Mountain Division in which he led daring assaults involving hazardous rock climbing to overcome enemy positions. Not surprisingly, his amazing array of outdoor skills eventually led him to the Sierra Club where he proudly served as the first Executive Director (ED) from 1952 to 1969.
It was in this position that Brower achieved national fame—leading the opposition to several Bureau of Reclamation Dam proposals in Dinosaur National Monument (now Park) and the Grand Canyon. His advocacy also led to the establishment of nine national parks and seashores—including Kings Canyon National Park, Redwoods National Park, and Point Reyes National Seashore. Under his direction, the Sierra Club began publishing their now famous large-format “coffee table books” that combined mind-blowing outdoor photography with poignant and powerful conservation messages.
Brower was also one of the first environmental activists to feature full-page advertisements in prominent newspapers as a way of shifting public opinion and building grassroots support for his causes. Owing to his tireless drive and passion, the Sierra Club’s membership boomed—from 2,000 members (mostly in California) to 77,000 across the United States—during his 17 years as Executive Director.
Writing in Publishers Weekly, environmentalist and author Paul Hawken commented about Brower, “No single person created more ways and means for people to become active and effective with respect to the environment than David Brower.” Russell Train, Head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford continued with the plaudits, “Thank God for Dave Brower; he makes it so easy for the rest of us to look reasonable.”
Brower’s passion for the Earth and its inhabitants earned him international respect. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times (in 1978 and 1979, and then in 1998—jointly with professor Paul Ehrlich). In 1998, Brower received the Blue Planet Prize for his lifetime achievements. His successful advocacy for many environmental causes led acclaimed author, John McPhee, to publish a series of articles and then a best-selling book entitled Encounters with the Archdruid. Brower liked the term “archdruid” so much that he used it in his e-mail address until his death in 2000.
“I believe that the average guy in the street will give up a great deal, if he really understands the cost of not giving it up. In fact, we may find that, while we’re drastically cutting our energy consumption, we’re actually raising our standard of living.”
- David Brower, The Archdruid
“Polite conservationists leave no mark save the scars upon the Earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground.”
– David Brower, The Archdruid
If he were still alive today, David Brower would certainly be in the forefront of the Climate Change battles. He never gave up on finding innovative ways of getting his environmental messages across to non-believers and naysayers. He was the most forceful —and also most controversial—conservation activist in the history of the US Environmental Movement. His brazen willingness to take and then defend positions that he believed in—even when they meant getting fired as Executive Director of the Sierra Club—represent exactly the type of person we need to assume the leadership role in solving the Climate Change crisis. Brower’s skills for organizing activist groups and then devising methods for rallying public support need to be carefully studied and then applied to our cause.
Text excerpted from book: “PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change” written by Budd Titlow and Mariah Tinger and published by Prometheus Books. Photo credit: Copyright Shutterstock (2)
Author’s bio: For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. “PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change”, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — “COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America” — provides the answers we all seek and need. Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.