John Muir, the Original Environmentalist

On Earth Day 2011, a look back at 6 Atlantic essays by the father of American environmentalism

3b04619redit.jpg
Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries since Christ's time—and long before that—God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools,—only Uncle Sam can do that.
—John Muir

In 1970, the first Earth Day capitalized on America's growing political consciousness. As America protested the Vietnam War, environmentalism channeled those sentiments, creating a movement with similar passion directed toward changing behaviors and attitudes to reduce harm to the earth.

70 years prior to that, John Muir penned six essays in The Atlantic, expressing both his love and concern for the environment. An early advocate of preservation, Muir petitioned Congress for the national park bill, which passed in 1899 and established both Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.

Below we've excerpted passages from the early environmentalist's essays. On the pages of The Atlantic, Muir eloquently captured America's natural beauty and the need to preserve it.

Image: Library of Congress

Presented by

Rebecca Greenfield is a former staff writer at The Wire.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Cryotherapy's Dubious Appeal

James Hamblin tries a questionable medical treatment.

Video

Confessions of Moms Around the World

In Europe, mothers get maternity leave, discounted daycare, and flexible working hours.

Video

How Do Trees Know When It's Spring?

The science behind beautiful seasonal blooming

More in National

Just In