American Land Term Paper

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American Land

President Bush's recent initiatives regarding the environment represent a significant change from the government environmental policies of the past century. Bush, who presents himself as a steward of the environment, believes that conservation and protection are best achieved through a partnership with industry. Instead of relying on strict government regulations, Bush believes that forests would be preserved and rivers would be cleaner if market forces are allowed to run their natural course ("Bush reshapes environmental debate").

This essay examines the evolution of Bush's position in light of the American policies regarding the environment over the past 100 years. It looks at how environment policies have changed, from the time President Theodore Roosevelt established the wildlife preserve in Pelican Island Bay, Florida. This essay also examines the changing perceptions Americans hold regarding their environment -- which has been first been viewed as an infinite natural resource, then as a resource that needed protection, a national treasure to be preserved for the succeeding generations and as Bush has shown, a source of revenue.

However, Bush's pronouncements linking environmental protections with human needs do not represent a new trail in environment policy. In fact, Bush is harking back to the original reasons for environmental regulations in the first place.

In the 19th century, for example, laws regulating air and water pollution evolved because of the need to enforce public sanitation and cleanliness. This was necessary to avoid the spread of infectious disease. The environment movement is thus very rooted in human concerns, and did not necessarily begin as a lobby to preserve nature simply for nature's sake.

The first "official" environmental policies were oriented towards conserving species that were nearing extinction. By 1901, conservations sounded the alarm bell by pointing out that years of unchecked hunting and exploitation had all but depleted the populations of animals such as the bison, the passenger pigeon, deer and turkey. Conservation groups convinced the Florida legislature to pass laws protecting non-game birds.

It is important to note that the despite the laws, animals and the environment in general were considered "natural resources." The thrust was not to stop the exploitation of the birds and other species altogether. Rather, early activists wanted to restrict hunting and to giver the animal populations time to recover. Their greatest fears were that animal species would go extinct. The success of these early activists in reversing the trend can be seen in the healthy numbers of deer, a species that was at the brink of extinction in 1901.

Aside from this need to "conserve" the country's animal resources, little attention other attention was paid to other aspects of the environment such as plant life. The emphasis was on constructing the railroad, buildings highways and rapid industrialization. Many of these projects were also funded with federal monies. In addition to destroying habitat and increasing both water and air pollution, the construction of railroads and the building of factories also necessitated considerable logging and mining. Thus, in addition to animals, plant life and underground minerals also fell under the category of "natural resources." This orientation is clearly articulated by President Bush in his policies regarding the involvement of private companies and corporations in the "stewardship" of the environment.

Viewing the environment as a "natural resource" means that elements of the environment -- trees, rivers, animal life -- were defined according to a monetary or economic value. Trees are thus seen as potential lumber, while mountains would be deemed valuable if they have a commercial value. By the 1960s, however, many scientists began to understand the interconnectedness of the ecosystem. Pioneers like Fairfield Osborn sounded an alarm with "Our Plundered Planet" in 1948. A few decades later, Rachel Carlson would further point out the damage human activities and industrialization were wreaking on the environment with the landmark book "Silent Spring."

These revelations then prompted a shift in environmental policy. The rise of grassroots activism regarding environmental…

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