Re-thinking environmentalism in the 1960s
This document reprints remarks made by Governor Gaylord Nelson in 1962 to the 27th annual North American Wildlife Conference, a meeting of professional conservationists. His plan for political action in this speech foreshadows the rhetorical and legislative approach he took again and again during his career in the Senate.
The foundational speech shows both his emergence as a national figure in conservational politics as well as his early thinking about environmental problems which would transform rapidly through the 1960s.
Nelson did not yet see ecological degradation threatening the existence of entire species, including humans. But he made his appeal no less urgent. What he believed to be at stake were irreplaceable natural resources, perhaps none more prized than "scenic beauty." He here argues in both economic and moral terms, contending that "recreation is not a luxury - it is a necessity."
- First, he stresses the "now or never" nature of the crisis, insisting "you can postpone the solution to any other problem except conservation."
- Second, he maintains political efficacy relies squarely on grass roots activism and an unprecedented and permanently recurring expenditure of public funds.
- Third, he insists that the effort must be bolstered by education initiatives, which he here proposes be effected through summer conservation jobs offered by the State to young men.
Although Nelson's environmental agenda expanded in the years ahead, these three features remained central to his political opinions and activities.
See also documents for Nelson and President Kennedy's national conservation tour, an event that was also foundational to Nelson's sense of the public's role in environmental issues.