Rediscovering the new Deal’s Environmental Legacy
Deal that can be characterized as environmental once one substitutes the word “environmental” for “conservation.” It helps correct a widely held view that the New Deal is virtually a blank space in the history of modern environmentalism. The New Deal carried forward and greatly extended the work of the Progressive Conservation era. But the work represented here and at the stimulating conference from which it was drawn raises a more difficult question: what is the New Deal’s legacy for modern environmentalism? This problem becomes all the more acute when one considers that the gap between the social and political conditions and the culture of the New Deal, and the beginning of the twenty-first century seems almost unbridgeable. To be sure, the New Deal was a glorious era, and one can only dream of a president with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (FDR) commitment to the cause of resource conservation and such a deep knowledge of the subject.1 But we must recognize that the political, scientific, and cultural conditions of America today are very different from what they were during the 1930s and 1940s. Some of the New Deal conservation/environmental experience, such as the fights to dedicate public lands to park and related purposes, continue to resonate today. But many issues in contemporary environmental policy are the consequences of problems that were not as serious then as they are now. Hence, it will be necessary to reinterpret the conservation/environmental policies of the New Deal if we wish to apply them to the complex pollution and biodiversity conservation problems that we face today. This chapter attempts to both recover and reinterpret a legacy that both informs as well as inspires us.
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