When I joined the faculty of the University of Michigan Law School in 2007, the first assignment I gave students in my Environmental Law and Policy class was John McPhee's Encounters with the Archdruid. It must have seemed like a curious choice to them, particularly coming from a professor who just three months earlier had been the Chief of the Environmental Crimes Section at the U.S. Department of Justice. The book was not a dramatic tale of courtroom battles. In fact, the book was not even about the law, and the clash of environmental values it depicted pre-dated the environmental statutes that were the focus of the course. Encounters with the Archdruid chronicles outings McPhee organized during the 1960s with David Brower, the first Executive Director of the Sierra Club and one of the most influential environmental activists of his generation. Brower was an unapologetic advocate for conservation at a time when we still believed that anything was possible in the United States and that America had an endless bounty of natural resources to support economic growth. McPhee paired Brower with three antagonists who had very different ideas about our relationship with the environment: Charles Park, the former Dean of Stanford University's School of Earth Sciences and a proponent of mining in the Cascade mountains; Charles Fraser, the developer of Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, who had similar plans to develop Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast; and Floyd Dominy, the indomitable Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, who wanted to dam the Colorado River near the Grand Canyon. The stories in Encounters with the Archdruid occurred more than forty years ago, but I assigned the book to my students both for historical context and because the disagreements it describes about our environmental values remain potent today. As they hiked in the Cascades, Brower and Park argued about whether copper mining should be allowed in protected wilderness near Glacier Peak. Brower observed that the Cascades are "one of the few remaining great wildernesses in the lower forty-eight" and asked, "Would America have to go without much to leave its finest wilderness unspoiled?" Park countered that "[m]inerals are where you find them. The quantities are finite. It's criminal to waste minerals when the standard of living of your people depends upon them." For anyone who has followed the debate over proposals to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the conflict and the language are familiar (only now the argument is about oil rather than copper, and the wilderness is in Alaska instead of Washington).
Uhlmann, David M. "The Quest for a Sustainable Future and the Dawn of a New Journal at Michigan Law." Mich. J. Envtl & Admin. L. 1, no. 1 (2012): 1-16.
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