Conservation is no longer’ a cause; it is a crisis. Its features are drawn in taut lines by forces unprecedented in human history, like a human face contorted by foreboding and strain. Conservation today bears scant resemblance to the historic pattern of the familiar wallflower at the ongoing dance of material progress. Under the impact of a rocketing population, an insatiable spiral of economic expansion, as well as a gargantuan and pitiless technology, the very character of the concern of conservation has shifted. Once preoccupied with the quantity of resources, its attention is now focused on the quality of environment. Once a question of supply, conservation is now an issue of survival-of species, of habitat, of mankind.
Daily, the country is, or should be, shocked by the brinkmanship of the exploitation we live by. Dr. Barry Commoner has reported that some tested baby food has been found to contain enough nitrogen fertilizer to endanger life. Dr. Lamont C. Cole warns the American Association for the Advancement of Science that had a ship the size of the Torrey Canyon, loaded with concentrated herbicides rather than with crude oil, sunk off our coast, it would have erased the photoplankton of the sea which produce 70 percent of the world’s oxygen, and man and beast throughout the Northern Hemisphere would quickIy have found themselves gasping for breath. As for air poisoning, despite mandatory crankcase and exhaust control devices on Los Angeles automobiles, the amount of hydrocarbons spit into the air daily has leaped from 1,870 tons in 1960 (before controls) to 10,860 tons a day, and the mustard blanket wraps that city–and most cities–more tightly than ever in its choking embrace.
Secretary Udall comes up with the mournful list of seventy-eight American species of wildlife which we have pushed to the brink of the never-never land–among them the American bald eagle, the national emblem. In December, 1967, thousands of oil-blackened waterfowl washed ashore on Maine’s sub-zero coast, there to starve and freeze to death, victims of an illegal oil spill.
In the next thirty years, says Russel E. Larsoan, dean of the College of Agriculture at Pennsylvania State, the world – must duplicate all the progress made through agriculture since the beginning of time, if we would avoid world-wide starvation. And in 1967, eighty nations of the world were for the first time moved to meet in Washington, D.C., in "a massive cooperative international effort to find solutions-for man’s water problems,”in the President’s words.
All these calamities and crises which now tread on one another’s heels are symptoms, environmental warnings. We are burdening the land with more people, production, and machines than it can possibly sustain.
"The problem," observed biologist Hugh H. Iltis of the University of Wisconsin, "is one of a single ‘species of animal who is making the earth unfit for habitation by conquering it." It is a problem unique to our age. Not until 1915 did the United States reach its first 100 million population. On November 20, 1967, an unthinking, if not an ignorant, crowd stood in the foyer of the Commerce Department and applauded wildly as the census clock registered the 200 millionth inhabitant. In thirty-five years, perhaps even in twenty-five, if bullish tendencies prevail, another 100 million Americans will appear on the scene. These are the increased hordes who will inundate the parks, blight the landscape, crowd the beaches, destroy the air and make life unbearable for one another.