Only One Earth--In Memoriam: David R. Brower

Dave Brower died on Sunday November 5, 2000.

Dave looms large in my small pantheon of heroes. Outside of my family,
no-one has affected my life and political work more than Dave. Dave was
not just an inspiring character. He was larger than life. He had
amazing charisma. He climbed mountains. He began and left major
organizations before most of us were even born. He took on the toughest
issues. Sometimes--as in the case of nuclear power--he for the most part
won these battles.

For all his boundless energy in challenging powers-that-be, his strengths
were not simply his own. His most important gift was how he motivated
other people to enter into the endless fray of politics.

This is how I remember him moving people to action.

First, he always maintained his clarity of vision. Sometimes, his vision
simplified reality in ways that maddened his friends and allies as well as
his adversaries. But he always kept the prize held high and in front of
us: the conservation, preservation, and restoration of our Only One Earth.
If a strategy failed that test, then it was flawed. No-one could ever
accuse Dave of having sold out!

Second, he was a gifted writer and speaker. He had a way of finding the
essence of an issue, and reducing it to an absolute minimum of words. His
poetic writing matched the beauty of wilderness that he aimed to save
forever in reality. No wonder that millions were moved by his message.

Third, he believed in the freshness of youth. He did this with total and
unconditional love for the people he worked with, especially the young
people. Given such trust, they rarely failed to hold true to the vision
even if they diverged from Dave over the specifics of strategy. As a
result, he built global networks of activists and advocates before the word
global had been invented in political terms. He did this before the
Internet, before faxes, before international travel became almost ordinary,
before international phone calls were easy to make. People literally went
to the ends of the planet with and for Dave.

Fourth, following an ecological logic, he backed endless diversity. If the
best way to get a job done was to let someone else do it, Dave's ego was
never in the way. He knew that some of his students needed to sprout wings
and build their own institutions in order to be effective. He was
supportive if asked; never obstructive; and always available. He was
willing to lend his giant stature to tiny causes. He did so even when he
knew it might hurt his standing with established orders.

One famous American writer once called Dave an Arch Druid--implying that he
was willing to sacrifice people on the altar of nature. This was another
way of saying that Dave was an ideologue, unbending, uncompromising, and
could hurt people. There's an element of truth in this characterization.

But where Dave exceeded this caricature was in the intensity of his
commitment to the ecological basis of human existence. He was certain
that when humans shred the fabric of natural systems, they pay the price, a
terrible price, and one that will fall mostly on future generations. He
knew that once humans wreck an ecosystem, they can never recreate it. He
held that the whole is more than the sum of the parts and is beyond the
reach of human comprehension and management. In this sense, he worshipped
nature as a truth and wisdom that dwelled beyond the reach of human
comprehension, and fathomable only in a religious sense.

Thus, he was intensely conservative, a natural-born reactionary, a defender
of locale, ethos, and ecosystem at every level. But he recognized that the
Earth is home to all people and that all people deserve to be housed and
fed, to be secure and peaceful. This simple conclusion led him to support
movements within the United States for environmental justice; and
internationally, for global social and economic justice. He promoted
radical activism in all human institutions to ensure that the needs of all
people on the planet are fulfilled. He knew that only this outcome could
withstand the test of time, and the test of his vision: the conservation,
preservation, and restoration of our Only One Earth.

I am glad that Dave made it to the twenty first century. We arrived in
the new millenium with much more of the Earth intact than would have
happened without Dave.

I still remember standing with him in 1975 out on the plains outside
Nairobi as dusk fell. We had spent the day inside the offices of the United
Nations Environment Programme HQ which was setting up shop in Kenya--the
only UN agency south of the equator. Together, we watched the sun fade
over the Ngong Hills and the Rift Valley. Vast rivers of brilliant stars
began to stud the black inkiness of the tropical night sky.

As we stood there, he told me that the fate of the planet was in my hands.
Like so many others, I believed him. I still do. It's hard to believe
that he's gone and that now, each of us has to carry the planet into the
future rather than relying on Dave to be there when we need him.

Peter Hayes

Dr. Peter Hayes, Co-Executive Director
The Nautilus Institute *
1831 Second St., Berkeley, CA 94710-1902 USA
(510) 644-9296 (direct) *