Environmentalists mourn death of a pioneer

The founder of Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club’s first Executive Director, David Brower, has died aged 88.


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David Brower died on 5 November, aged 88, at his house in Berkeley, California. He has been described as shaping the face of the modern environmental movement, founding Friends of the Earth (FOE) , League of Conservation Voters and the Earth Island Institute, and helped guide the Sierra Club to national prominence.

Brower, a Sierra Club member since 1933, served as its first executive director from 1952 to 1969. Under his leadership the organisation’s membership rose from 2,000 to 77,000 members. The organisation is the US’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental group and now has over 600,000 members nationwide.

Perhaps Brower’s best-known accomplishment was his success during the 1960s in leading a Sierra Club campaign to block two hydroelectric dams proposed for the Grand Canyon. Brower took out full-page ads in the New York Times equating the proposal to flooding the Sistine Chapel. He also led Sierra Club efforts to pass the Wilderness Act, halt dam construction in the Dinosaur National Monument, and to create Kings Canyon, North Cascades and Redwoods National Parks and Point Reyes and Cape Cod National Seashores. He was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times, and launched a genre of large-format conservation photo books to heighten public awareness of wildlands.

Brower founded Friends of the Earth in the United States in 1969 after becoming frustrated at the conservative orthodoxy of mainstream nature conservation. Friends of the Earth combined nature conservation with a new and radical approach to protecting the planet. David Brower coined the phrase “think globally, act locally”, as the founding motto for Friends of the Earth. Today FOE describes itself as “the largest environmental organisation in the world” with groups in 68 countries.

In 1982 Brower founded Earth Island Institute, an umbrella organisation “supporting and incubating innovative environmental projects around the world.”. The organisation is based in San Francisco, is the home of the Brower Fund and the Brower Youth Awards. Brower also established The League of Conservation Voters, a non-partisan political group with over nine million members. It is the only US environmental organisation which aims to educate citizens about the environmental voting records of Members of Congress.

“The world has lost a pioneer of modern environmentalism,” said Sierra Club’s president, Dr. Robert Cox. “If not for David’s leadership, the Grand Canyon could well have been dammed, but he led the fight tooth and nail to preserve that awesome treasure. “Today’s environmental movement and landscape have been, in large part, shaped by David’s energy, ideas and leadership”, said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. “Because of his unrelenting efforts, our families can explore and enjoy wildlands from the California coast to Alaska to Cape Cod in their most spectacular, pristine beauty. David’s vision also helped environmentalists embrace the concept of living sustainably, within the earth’s capacity to provide for us. From family planning to ending commercial logging on public lands, David’s efforts to promote sustainability have made people think deeply about the long-term consequences of their behaviours.”

“He was a truly visionary man whose radical agenda has now become the mainstream”, commented Charles Secrett, Director of Friends of the Earth UK. “David’s death is a huge loss to the environment movement worldwide. But the legacy he leaves is a network of campaigning groups across the world that continues to fight for both people and the planet.”

“We have sadly lost the most inspirational leader of efforts to protect and restore the Earth,” stated Dave Phillips, Executive Director of Earth Island Institute, reminding environmentalists that it was Brewer who first convinced them to become anti-nuclear campaigners.

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