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| Donald Worster on: Powells Legacy
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Donald Worster on: Powells Legacy
Donald Worster Q: His legacy is something that has been much debated. What do we get from Powell today? What does he mean to the 20th century?

DW: Well, I would start with the idea that the West and the natural world, in general, is a world of limits, that we can overrun, with severe social consequences. That insight he had in the 19th century is something that we're coming back to, today. I think we're more aware today than we were, let's say, right after World War II, of how we can easily spoil this planet we live on, this West we live on, by over-consumption, over-population, over-economic development -- that there are limits that the world places on us; and that we ought to use our best knowledge to understand what those limits are and then act on them, in terms of the kind of culture in society we build in places. We've got to be responsive to places, we've got to know them and know them well. That, I think is the most important of Powell's legacies. But, also I think he had a sense that, again very relevant today, that the way in which we build on the land and settle the place has consequences for our institutions. There are threats, to our Democratic institutions in some of the great technological wonders that we have built in the West, in progress, in material growth and economic expansion. These things can come into conflict with one another. Democracy is not something that is just assured by economic growth and progress. It is something that you have to think carefully about and the kind of progress and economic growth that you pursue will have an impact on whether you keep true to your Democratic institutions. I call Powell a populist in environmental terms. He was an environmental populist. He was a person who believed in the prosperity and security of ordinary people, and realized that security and prosperity is very dependent on how we live and use land and natural resources. That's a point of view that's at least as important, as say John Muir's vision of the Sierra's and of beauty and of national parks and wilderness.

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