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National Park Service at 100

Thoughts on Earth. Sarah Liebig.
Thoughts on Earth. Sarah Liebig.

As students, I feel a pressing question we are constantly posed is, “What will your generation’s legacy be?” It is a heady question. It seems we are precariously balancing on the point of a knife with presidential elections looming — tip one way, and our generation may be known for exacerbating already existing environmental issues. If we tip the other way, our generation may be known for reinstating the United States as a global leader in environmental sustainability.

This August, the National Park Service will turn 100 years old. Though the NPS was not a formal bureau until 1916, public lands had been set aside under the Department of Interior for preservation and general public enjoyment starting in 1872, when President Grant created Yellowstone National Park. Perhaps the strongest advocate for the creation of a national park service was President Theodore Roosevelt (term 1901-1909). Roosevelt was an avid hunter and staunch conservationist. Because he was in close proximity to nature, he and others like him recognized the effects of mining and rail transport of fossil fuels on nature.

The creation of national parks was in part to awe and inspire visitors, to convey the importance of environmental conservation through uncontested natural beauty. Roosevelt knew not to shirk development, though, and believed “it is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it.” Looking back at the NPS, an act that was largely inspired by Roosevelt’s push for environmental conservation, I believe it is worth reflecting on how far we have come since conservation in the early 20th century, and how far we have yet to go.

How we use — and the amount we use — of various energy sources will determine the future of conservation — what it means, and if it will continue to prosper. Granted, almost everything has changed in the 100 years separating what would now be considered radical acts of conservation and the current time. However, Roosevelt projected the finite nature of fossil fuels, a looming threat to developed countries that we see today, and he noted in an address in 1907, “the conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others.” In my opinion, Roosevelt was absolutely correct in this statement, and this concept still applies to environmental conservation and the fight for more sustainable energy sources.

How, though, can we mimic Roosevelt’s legacy nowadays? Is it possible? First and foremost, it will be imperative for voters to inspect each political candidate’s environmental platform — if he or she has one — and determine for themselves what the best option for the environment will be, granted the candidate in question would remain consistent with the goals they set during their campaign. Additionally, in 1910 Theodore Roosevelt said, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired in value.” Whether it is possible to mimic Roosevelt’s legacy is up to citizens, and also largely determined by the election results this November.

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