Calling David Brower an important environmental activist is like calling Hamlet an important member of the Danish royal court. Brower invented modern American environmental activism.
Considered by many to be the father of the modern environmental movement, Berkeley native David R. Brower followed in the footsteps of John Muir, the man who founded the Sierra Club, an organization David Brower led to new levels of achievement and success in the 1950s and 60s. Eighty-eight years of courageous, contentious and joyful activism made Brower one of the most successful environmental advocates the Earth has ever known.
Like the redwoods he fought to protect, Brower towered over his peers. Beginning his career as a world-class mountaineer with more than 70 first ascents to his credit, Brower served as the first executive director of the Sierra Club from 1952 to 1969. Under his leadership, the club’s membership expanded tenfold, from 7,000 to 70,000 members, becoming the nation’s leading environmental membership organization.
Brower later founded Friends of the Earth, a worldwide environmental network now active in 52 countries, and co-founded the League of Conservation Voters, the nation’s most influential environmental political action group. In 1982, Brower founded Earth Island Institute, an incubator organization that fosters and supports activist projects around the world.
David Brower successfully fought to stop dams in Dinosaur National Monument and in Grand Canyon National Park. He led campaigns to establish 10 new national parks and seashores, including Point Reyes, the North Cascades and the Redwoods. He was instrumental in gaining passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, which protects millions of acres of public lands in pristine condition.
While with the Sierra Club, he pioneered the use of media advocacy, including full-page newspaper ads to dramatically communicate conservation issues. He also initiated an aggressive publishing program that would produce over 70 major books-including oversize formats with stunning high-quality nature photographs-over his lifetime. Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Brower was also instrumental in leading environmentalists to rethink their early support of nuclear power.
David Brower joined the environmental movement before there really was a movement. There was no specialization as yet in the ranks—in fact, there were no ranks to speak of—which forced him to do a little of everything: grassroots organizing, political lobbying, speaking, teaching, advertising, photography, writing, publishing, film-making. Energized by necessity, and by an all-consuming passion for the cause, Brower became very good at all of these things. If, in his own view, he was best at any one of them, it was in his skill at deploying the arts — photography, painting, poetry, prose, cartooning, book-making, film — in the service of the fight to save the Earth. In his hands, art helped kill ill-considered dams, helped create national parks and wilderness areas, and helped plant the ethos of environmentalism in the mind of the average citizen.
Most important of all, perhaps, was Brower’s special genius as a teacher, an advocate and a communicator. His message and vision inspired thousands of activists across three generations to put the Earth first. With a vision and influence equaled in the last century only by Rachel Carson and Jacques Cousteau, David Brower created a legacy of activism that made the environmental movement not just a part of our day-to-day lives, but a way for us to engage the world as an interconnected, integrated whole.