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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bower Tribute

Air Date: Week of

Writer Bill McKibben pays tribute to environmental leader David Brower who died on November 5th.


CURWOOD: On Saturday November fourth in Berkeley, California an 88-year-old man cast an absentee ballot for Ralph Nader. It was a poignant final act in a long life devoted to the environment. David Brower, a national leader, some would call him the national conscience of the environmental movement, died the following day after a bout with cancer. Writer Bill McKibben has this remembrance.

MCKIBBEN: By the time I first met David Brower, he was long since a legend, a legend twice over, in fact. I knew him as the single great environmentalist of the twentieth century, of course. But not until we spent a few days in Yosemite Valley, talking and hiking and staring up at the great granite walls did I really understand that saving the world was his second career. He carefully pointed out to me the landmarks of his first: the routes he'd pioneered up that high Sierra rock in the 1930s, when he was America's greatest climber. Even in Yosemite, though, surrounded by the evidences of his youth, he had very little time for nostalgia. I never met such a charge-ahead man in my life. This was more than a decade ago, when climate change, for instance, was still a hot new topic. But he'd already assimilated the horrors of global warming, worked out the battle plan, and seen ahead to the need for an eventual era of environmental restoration. He'd done it as intuitively and as carefully as a climber facing a steep new pitch-but of course he'd done it before. Brower was at the heart of every important environmental battle since the Second World War (he'd spent the war training ski troops for the Tenth Mountain Division). He saved the Grand Canyon. He made us understand the glory of redwoods and tide pools, the coffee table books that he published with people like Eliot Porter and Ansel Adams made more converts than almost any nature books in history. And - most crucially - he led the entire movement as it made the transition from conservation to environmentalism. He pushed so hard that he ran afoul of every organization he built, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, you name it. But if he was ever bitter at the staidness and conventionality of his supposed allies, he hid it well, diluted it in his unceasing joyous passion for the natural world in all its forms. I remember last spring going to New York for a day of protests at Mayor Giuliani's plans to rip up 200 community gardens and sell the land to developers. These gardens were lovely oases in the Lower East Side and the burned-out Bronx, and the neighbors were out in force to defend them. As we went from one to the next, I said to my wife, "David Brower should be here. He'd know what to say." And so, of course, as we turned into the next half acre plot there he was, gaunt and a little watery-eyed, voice a little strained, but as convinced as ever that we needed something more than "development" to make the world work. We talked on the phone late last week, as he left the hospital to come home for the last time, and though his voice was hoarser still, the spirit was unmistakably his. "What we need, no matter who wins the election, what we need is a shadow government to keep the pressure on," he said. I have no doubt he has already joined that greater shadow government, and if John Muir is Secretary of the Interior, and Rachel Carson runs the EPA, than David Brower has signed on as Inspiration in Chief.


CURWOOD: Writer Bill McKibben remembering environmentalist David Brower. Mr. Brower died on Sunday, November fifth at his home in Berkeley, California. He was 88.



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