Born in Berkeley, California on July 1, 1912, David Brower is regarded by many as the father of the modern environmental movement. His own father, Gideon Samuel Brower, once ran for governor of California on the Socialist Party ticket.
David Brower attended UC Berkeley from 1929-31 and joined the Sierra Club in 1933. From 1935-41 he served as publicity manager for Yosemite National Park; in 1937 he became editor of the Sierra Club Bulletin; and in 1941 he was named to the Sierra Club’s board of directors. Also in the early ’40s, Brower was an editor for the University of California Press. After a tour-of-duty in the U.S. Army in 1942-43, he returned to his job with UC Press.
Brower served as executive director of the Sierra Club from 1952-69, during which time he was responsible for impeding and derailing numerous large development projects in the Southwestern United States, such as the proposed construction of dams in Dinosaur National Monument and Grand Canyon National Park. He was also instrumental in promoting the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, and led campaigns to establish 10 new national parks and seashores. During his time with the Sierra Club as well, Brower pioneered the use of media advocacy, including full-page newspaper ads, to draw public attention to conservation issues. In addition, he initiated an aggressive publishing program that produced more than 70 major books on nature and conservation during his lifetime.
Brower was passionately devoted to the values and objectives of Sierra Club founder John Muir, who viewed nature as a divine creation that was in danger of being destroyed by capitalist “fools” who were willing to despoil the environment in pursuit of profits. “The goal now is a socialist, redistributionist society,” said Brower, “which is nature’s proper steward and society’s only hope.” Brower wanted American society to return to where it had been before the “the start of the Industrial Revolution,” which was when “man began applying energy in vast amounts to tools with which he began tearing the environment apart.” Brower also gave voice to his anti-development mindset with quotes like the following:
Under Brower’s leadership, Sierra Club membership grew from 2,000 to 77,000. But amid disagreements over how much activism was appropriate, he left the organization in 1969 and promptly founded three new entities: Friends of the Earth (FOE), the League of Conservation Voters, and the John Muir Institute for Environmental Studies.
Brower retired as executive director of FOE in 1979, but continued to serve as chairman of its board of directors.
In the early 1980s Brower played a key role in persuading environmentalists to rethink their early support of nuclear power. In 1982 he founded the annual “Fate of the Earth” conferences, whose name derived from progressive author Jonathan Schell’s newly published book The Fate of the Earth, about the nuclear freeze movement. Also in ’82, Brower: (a) created the Earth Communications Office, which was funded in part by Teresa Heinz Kerry, who served on its advisory board; and (b) created the Earth Island Institute. Candidly revealing his preference for an extremely militant brand of environmentalism, Brower once said: “The [radicalism of the] Sierra Club made the Nature Conservancy look reasonable. I founded Friends of the Earth to make the Sierra Club look reasonable. Then I founded the Earth Island Institute in 1982 to make Friends of the Earth look reasonable.”
In 1983 Brower rejoined the Sierra Club’s board of directors while maintaining his post at FOE, but was dismissed from FOE in 1984 due to disagreements with its board. Though he was reinstated by the board soon thereafter as a result of his threatening to file a lawsuit, Brower resigned from FOE in 1986 and returned full-time to the Sierra Club. He remained on the Sierra Club’s board until 1988, and later served a third stint from 1995-2000.
At the Fourth International Congress On The Hope And Fate Of The Earth, held in Managua in 1989, Brower — in a show of “solidarity environmentalism” with the Marxist Nicaraguan Sandinista strongman Daniel Ortega — denounced the “imperialist” United States. “‘[S]olidarity environmentalism’ is the only kind that makes sense,” wrote Brower. “… Would George Bush and Margaret Thatcher be able to call themselves environmentalists if the effort to protect the ozone layer and stop global warming was linked to the Third World movement’s demands for a new, more equitable international economic system, an end to the Third World debt, and curbs on the free action of multinational corporations?”
At the invitation of the USSR, Brower in 1988, 1990, and 1992 visited Lake Baikal in Siberia, where the Soviets—eager to promote the notion of Communism’s environmental awareness—exploited his visit for propaganda purposes.
In early 1993, Brower published a full-page open-letter advertisement in the New York Times exhorting newly elected President Bill Clinton to end the Reagan-Bush practice of considering economists’ cost-benefit analyses with regard to the passage of environmental regulations.
An advocate of highly expansive government regulation over the lives of citizens, Brower extended this ideal even to the act of procreation. “Childbearing [should be] a punishable crime against society,” he said, “unless the parents hold a government license … All potential parents [should be] required to use contraceptive chemicals, the government issuing antidotes to citizens chosen for childbearing.”
In 1996, Brower gave $2,500 to the People’s Campaign Committee to Draft Ralph Nader for President. In June 2000, Brower flew to Denver to attend the Green Party National Convention, and on November 4th he cast an absentee ballot for Nader, who was again the party’s presidential candidate. Brower died the following day at his home in Berkeley, California.
For additional information on David Brower, click here.
Further Reading: “David Brower” (Britannica.com, Wilderness.net, SierraClub.org, TheGuardian.com, LiquiSearch.com, RobinsonLibrary.com); “Who Was David Brower?” (BrowerCenter.org); The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower (by Robert Wyss, p. 23); “Earth Day Co-Founder David Brower …” (ImmigrationWatchCanada.org, 4-14-2008); “David Brower, 1912-2000” (Toledo Blade, 11-7-2000).