A few months back we posted an appreciation of Richard Nixon's environmental record, which included signing the 1970 Clean Air Act. The National Archives just digitized a huge collection of images from the Documerica project (1971-72), which documented the state of our natural and built environments at the outset of this and other pioneering legislation (Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and so on). It is amazing to see how badly polluted the country was forty years ago, and, conversely, how far we've come.
It is rare for tin box to delve into partisan politics (unlike my cousin Jeff, whose excellent blog is well worth your time) but we have to wonder what happened to the environmentalists in the Republican Party, which can rightfully take credit for our National Parks (thanks, Teddy Roosevelt!), CAFE standards (bravo, Gerald Ford), saving the ozone layer (grâce à Ronald "Montreal Protocol" Reagan) and Nixon's legacy (spurred in part by Kennedy's actions after reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring). Each of the presidential candidates stumping in New Hampshire this week has pledged to undo our environmental protections in the name of promoting economic "competitiveness." It's hard to see how our economy would benefit with the kind of illness- and death-inducing pollution levels that spurred federal action in the 1960s and '70s. Like Newt Gingrich's call to revive child labor, these policies are easy to lampoon. Yet when half our elected representatives advocate revoking the protections that have gone so far toward restoring our collective health and ecological balance, we can't content ourselves with satire. The stakes are too high.