The Birth of Conservation by Shane Mahoney


You know of all the the great things that
America has stood for and all of the great ideas that America
has brought to the world and continues to bring to the world, I think we sometimes forget that
conservation itself, this whole notion that we could live within the bounds of nature and
still have economic progress, that this was also an idea born here in America. It is also my view that ultimately the world will come to
understand that of all the great ideas that this country has been
responsible, all the great innovation, that this notion of conservation will stand as the greatest of all, because ultimately the future all this country, the
future of all nations, and the future of all peoples depends on
whether we are successful in conserving the natural
world. We spent 99.99% of our existence as human
beings as hunters and gatherers, this is a historic fact. And you know about 10,000 years ago
we invented something that we call agriculture. And from that time on, from 10,000 years
ago essentially, in the Fertile Crescent where we first
began this experiment with growing food so we didn’t have to pursue
it. Since that time are right up until the latter part of the 19th century, the
whole idea was that progress in civilization was based
on how far we could distance ourselves from the natural world. How we could
distance our dependence on the natural world and
make us essentially the masters of our own destiny by no
longer having to deal with the elements, by no longer having to go out and bring food back, but to actually
grow it, produce it and create these great city-states and cultures and so on and
so forth. And then suddenly it dawned on some people in a nation and then
began to spread out around the world the idea that if we kept on in the
way we were constantly taking the resources of the
earth on to ourselves with no thought about their sustainability, with
no thought about future generations, that ultimately we would destroy the very
foundations of the natural world upon which we
ultimately depended. So at a time when here in the United States of America,
massive economic forces were driving this young nation to to attempt to be calm more, more
financially secure, more independent, more wealthy, et cetera, there arose this counter-culture this
counter-movement led by giants of American history such as
Theodore Roosevelt to say, “no” There has to be a different way. The elimination, the destruction
virtually of the bison, the vast herds have this
incredible animal, in such a short period of time helped
solidify this notion that a different attitude toward the natural
world was necessary and that real progress was not about
separating ourselves from the natural world, of making ourselves
completely independent of the natural world, but finding a way to live within it and
still to prosper. This notion of conservation which Roosevelt and others termed the “wise use
of natural resources”, ultimately, you know, almost a hundred
years later is now termed things like “sustainable use” or “sustainable development” but the ultimate
idea was the same; to wisely use the resources
of the natural world. Now in modern times, any nation that wishes to be viewed as
progressive has this kind of ethos, this kind of
idea as part of its constitution, or as part
of its working policies, or part of its laws. But that idea, that idea was born here. The first national parks, the first refuges, the whole notion that sustainable use a
wildlife through hunting and angling and other kinds of exercise is a tradition
could in fact be the very vehicle by which we would maintain natural
resources. To harvest timber in a sustainable way,
to make sure that we could harvest fish in a sustainable way, all
these notions there now so much taken for granted in
modern time these were all born here and born at a
time, interestingly enough, when massive economic forces, much like today, in energy for example and so on are pushing
up against the very limits of the natural
world in a way that must concern us all. I think this birth, this notion of conservation was really what I would
term the last act of American genius. America has given much to the world many
many small ideas, but some of the great huge ideas in the
world: individual liberty, democracy, freedom of
speech, the unleashing of the individual’s
potential to prosper and grow and do things, to create for themselves,
these are all American ideals, but this notion that we would turn a ten thousand year approach to the
natural world completely over and define essentially a new means of progress, a new means of
civilization, this relationship between humanity and
the natural world, I think this was truly, truly an act of genius.

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