David Brower Essay

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David Brower (1912 -2000) was an environmentalist who lived the phrase “In the beginning was the act!” He battled fiercely for the protection of the earth and he had a profound influence on America’s wilderness areas. Brower’s credits in environmental protection and advocacy are legendary in their volume and significance. He worked on the creation of national parks in the Pacific North-west, Alaska, and New England. Along with other staunch environmentalists, he was instrumental in blocking the building of dams in Dinosaur National Park, the Grand Canyon, and Canada’s Yukon Territory. Brower’s own words portray the man and his passion: “Polite conservationists leave no mark save the scars upon the Earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground.”

David Brower served as executive director of the Sierra Club from 1952 to 1969, where he continued to serve in various capacities until 1998, two years before his death at the age of 88. In 1982, David Brower founded the Earth Island Institute (EII), an organization dedicated to the conversation, preservation, and restoration of the environment. The EII provides support for enterprising environmentalists to develop projects and to support them in the implementation of their work. EII environmentalists have been active in projects worldwide to protect the fast-disappearing rainforests, promote organic and sustainable agriculture, the reduction of pollution in the world’s oceans, and the development of environmental programs to protect urban areas. The latter effort resulted in the formation of the Urban Habitat project, addressing environmental issue in metropolitan areas.

Battles and Compromises

Brower’s battle over Glen Canyon Dam in 1956 was perhaps one of the defining moments (and setbacks) of the preservation movement in the United States. Following a rafting trip down the Colorado river with Floyd Dominy, the chief dam builder of the Bureau of Reclamation, Brower struck a deal to allow the flooding of Glen Canyon in exchange for preservation of the Green River in northern Utah. These events are recorded in detail in John McPhee’s classic book, Encounters with the Archdruid. Brower lived to regret the decision, but the struggle helped to place the Sierra Club in the public consciousness and fueled Brower’s no-compromise work in his later years.

Up to his death in 2000, Brower remained active in nature preservation. In Lake Baikal in Siberia, for example, he led teams of scientists in search of ways to protect Lake Baikal and ensure its full restoration during the 1980s and 1990s. On three occasions (1978, 1979, 1998), Brower was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his profound accomplishments in stewardship of the global environment. He received the coveted Blue Planet Prize in 1998, a highly prestigious award given each year by the Asahi Glass Foundation. David Brower had a profound influence on the environmental and conservation movements in the United States and globally.


  1. David Brower, For Earth’s Sake: The Life and Times of David Brower (Peregrine Smith Books, 1990);
  2. David Brower, Let the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run: A Call to Those Who Would Save the Earth (HarperCollins West, 1996);
  3. David Brower, Not Man Apart: Lines from Robinson Jeffers (Sierra Club, 1969);
  4. McPhee, Encounters with the Archdruid (New York, Ferrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1971).

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