chapter
16 Pages

Introduction

ByMICHAEL EGAN & JEFF CRANE

In the a ermath of the rst Earth Day (22 April 1970), when more than 20 million people took to the streets in the largest demonstration in American history, the biologist and environmental leader Barry Commoner wrote The Closing Circle, a treatise on the nature and severity of the post-World War II environmental crisis. Commoner’s book oered an accessible and compelling evaluation of the crisis brought on by new and polluting technologies and provided a template to help the public understand how natural and industrial systems interacted. Commoner’s “Four Laws of Ecology” warned Americans that their actions and technologies needed to adhere to certain basic ecological rules. Among Commoner’s laws of ecology was the assertion that “everything is connected to everything else.” is truism suggested that destruction or exploitation of the physical environment could result in a series of unanticipated ripples throughout the ecosystem, but it also tied Commoner’s environmental activism to a deep and longstanding tradition. Indeed, a century earlier, while tramping through the Sierras, John Muir had observed “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we nd it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”1 Both evoked an appreciation for nature upon which human welfare depended, but they are also suggestive of dierent generations of American ecological awakening. Commoner and Muir came from very dierent worlds and brought starkly dierent priorities to their environmental concerns. And yet Commoner was retreading and reconguring paths that had been similarly retrodden and recongured by Muir many years before. Both recognized an interconnection, not, perhaps, with specic earlier actions or points of concern, but with the larger idea that if everything

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is hitched to everything else in the universe, then our societies, politics, and economies needed to be much more cognizant of the environment.