John Muir, the Original Environmentalist

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

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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

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Rebecca Greenfield is a former staff writer at The Wire.

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