Photo: National Park Service.
North Americans love their heroes, and environmentalists are no exception. The hall of fame includes some of the biggest hitters from our nation’s past: John Muir, David McTaggart, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Paul Watson, David Brower, Rachel Carson, and Edward Abbey, to name just a few. Every Earth Day, speakers invoke these legends, yet there are also the lesser lights of the green pantheon: Alice Hamilton, the scientist who studied industrial lead poisoning and founded the modern discipline of occupational health; Crystal Eastman, the settlement-house worker who brought attention to the dilapidated housing of Pittsburgh’s working classes; and Lois Gibbs, the homemaker-turned-activist who decried the poisoning of a blue-collar suburb in upstate New York called Love Canal.
What united the latter, unsung group and others like them was a commitment to the dispossessed and the poor. In contrast, some of the most venerated conservationists and environmentalists demonstrated a decidedly misanthropic streak. Therein lies a startling and unsett... Read more