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ACT 1: Conservation

Act 1


ACT 2: Pollution

Act 2


ACT 3: Radical Ecology

Act 3


ACT 4: Going Global

Act 4


ACT 5: Climate Change

Act 5


Act 1: Conservation

Act 1 is about the ‘60s conservation movement that focused on saving wildness and the Sierra Club’s fight to halt dams in the Grand Canyon.


The founding battle of the conservation movement is fought over the Hetch Hetchy dam in Yosemite. It pits John Muir’s ideas about preserving nature for its own sake against Gifford Pinchot’s theories of wise use of resources for the greatest good. Muir loses -- and dies of a broken heart. However, his vision grows, fed by others like Aldo Leopold. Amid postwar development the tide turns toward preservation for the first time. Once again, the battle is over a dam in a national park: Dinosaur Monument, where two of twelve dams in the Colorado River Storage Project are to be built.  David Brower is hired to lead the Sierra Club and, to everyone’s surprise, they win. This is also a devil’s bargain: they agree to another dam downriver in Glen Canyon. Brower regrets that mistake for the rest of his life; he vows never again to compromise. So when dams are proposed in the Grand Canyon, Brower goes after them with a vengeance. He also makes it clear that a powerful new movement has arrived.

In 1966 full-page newspaper ads appear opposing plans to dam the Grand Canyon. “Should we also flood the Sistine Chapel so tourists can get nearer the ceiling?” asks one. The ads provoke an outpouring of protest, and when the IRS punishes the Sierra Club by taking away its tax-exempt status, the furor becomes front-page news. Soon plans for the dams are postponed, and eventually cancelled. In 1968 Congress passes a law prohibiting any dams in the Grand Canyon. It is a resounding success for the Sierra Club, and the biggest victory yet for the forces of conservation.

Through the ‘60s conservation concerns are rising in the collective consciousness. It takes a seven-year battle to pass the Wilderness Act in 1964. That’s followed by a tide of protecting parks, national seashores and wilderness areas. The climax comes in 1968 when laws protecting two national parks, Redwood and Glacier – as well as the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the National Trails Bill -- are signed into law on the same day. Brower is on a roll -- putting out books, taking on new causes, pushing the envelope. Whether it’s growing pains or a power struggle, six months later Brower is forced out of the Sierra Club. Brower re-emerges as the “archdruid” – the most famous environmentalist of his time.  At that moment a new movement with new concerns and broader issues emerges starting with the first Earth Day.


Interviewees ACT 1

Martin Litton

Ally of Brower in halting dams in the Grand Canyon and battling for Redwood National Park

Doug Scott

Lobbyist for the Sierra Club and longtime wilderness advocate.

Tom Turner

Protégé and colleague of David Brower, journalist and activist for forty years.

Mike McCloskey

Sierra Club executive director through the ‘70s and ‘80s.


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