Ansel Adams Defined the Modern Environmental Movement

Read Ansel’s 1968 speech to the DNC

As we celebrate Earth Day this year we are reminded of the diligence required to affect change. Today the environment continues to be attacked and the clock is being turned back on progress on many fronts. Ansel Adams spent decades in the battle to protect our environment. At his core, his activism was driven by his love of the environment and his humanity.

The tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention included a visit from Ansel. Ever the outspoken environmentalist, Ansel gave a presentation to the DNC Platform Committee. His remarks, reprinted here , were prescient and are unfortunately more apt today than 50 years ago.

The message he presented was a foretelling of the climate crisis we face today.

“The fearful problem before us now is HOW TO SAVE THIS PLANET AS A WORLD TO LIVE IN. Conservation is implicitly more important than war and peace, politics, racism, national and international problems and jealousies. If the basic portents of ecology, natural and human, are not heeded, man is surely doomed.“

1968 was also a year of cultural upheavals in the US. The VietNam war was raging as well as a dramatic anti-war movement which spilled onto the streets of Chicago that summer. It was also a time that the modern day environmental movement was growing. By the spring of 1970 the first Earth Day was celebrated and 20 million Americans took to the streets in coast to coast rallies.

Looking at Adams’ early commitment to environmental activism (starting in the 30s) we are reminded of the ongoing work required to preserve and protect our wilderness. Adams was an unremitting activist for the cause of wilderness and the environment. Over the years he attended innumerable meetings and wrote thousands of letters in support of his conservation philosophy to newspaper editors, Sierra Club and Wilderness Society colleagues, government bureaucrats, and politicians.

In revisiting his speech at the 1968 convention Adams concludes that the prime question should not be “What will conservation cost?” but “What will the ultimate cost be if the conservation of all resources is not fully considered?”