The Importance of the John Muir Education Center
By Graham White
Presented on September 24, 1999,
at the John Muir Memorial Association Dinner Dance Fundraiser
for the John Muir Education and Visitor Center
Thank you for inviting me to say a few words, it's wonderful to be with
you all tonight, with the Hanna Family and with friends like Jill Harcke,
Millie Stanley and Maymie Kimes whom I've known mostly via email, and
also with friends like Elizabeth Hanna, and Harold Wood from the Sierra Club,
who made the 12,000 mile round-trip to Scotland to help us launch our
Muir Exhibition, "An Infinite Storm of Beauty," at the Edinburgh
As a member of the John Muir Trust in Scotland, I think that what you
are doing in Martinez is very, very important; not just for Martinez or
California, but for all of the United States and I dare say for the
It is worth considering that even if John Muir had achieved all that he
did, as 'Father of the American National Parks', he might just be an
interesting historical figure, who did some great things and who passed
away a long time ago; we could put his marble bust on the mantelpiece in
the library, read his books and that would be the end of it.. Just an
interesting Victorian who has been dead for eighty years.
But that is not the case, as is evidenced by the fact that we are all
here tonight, and we should ask ourselves WHY millions of people still are
inspired by the words and writings of John Muir. Surely, it is because
we are deeply moved by the intellectual force, the emotional power, and the
evident truth of his words.
The legacy which John Muir bequeathed to us is the vision of a
sustainable world. And his message is not just of academic or literary interest. It
has to do with the very survival of our forests, our water resources, the
fish in our oceans, the wild places of our country; it is concerned with the
quality of life that your children and grandchildren will enjoy or
suffer, over the next 100 or 200 years in America.
I come from a very old country. England was inhabited at least
150,000 years ago; one of our greatest monuments - Stonehenge was built
more than 8,000 years - about the same time that Scotland was settled.
In a sense, Scotland could represent America's environmental future. Less
than 1% of our native forests are left, the salmon is virtually gone, most of
our large mammals are extinct: the bear, wolf, elk, lynx, and beaver
have all gone the way of the dodo.
America is a young nation - inhabited by Europeans for barely 300 years
- but even in that short time development has been explosive. It is worth
considering what the USA may be like when it has been inhabited and
exploited as long as Scotland has?
I have only been here in California for a few days and I can hardly
breathe because the air pollution in the Bay Area has been so bad; on the day I
arrived a dump of 8 million tyres caught fire, and will apparently burn
for two years. Even without such accidents, the air quality here is often
poor because of the number of cars on the freeway. And that is just one
The Governor of California was quoted yesterday as saying that the State
needs to build five cities the size of Los Angeles within the next
thirty years, to cope with the predicted 20 million increase in population.
Can you imagine the environmental consequences of building five new cities
of that size in this State? Is there enough water to do that? Would
southern California not become one giant freeway and parking lot?
So this John Muir Education Center that you are building must never be
thought of as just an interesting little folk museum exhibit, about a
Scots Victorian, who happened to write some interesting books. The message
that has to go out to Californians, and to the rest of America, is if we
don't listen to John Muir's message, THERE MAY WELL BE NO FORESTS in a hundred
years time. You may not be able to buy a can of real tuna, let alone
fish for salmon and albacore out here in the Bay, as John Hanna still does.
In California's future, as in Europe's, if we do not find sustainable ways
of living within our natural resources we may end up living in a vast,
smog-polluted, car-filled, desert - a treeless concrete waste. And that
will not be 'living' - in any sense that we enjoy the word today.
It is imperative that this center should be built, as a shining beacon
for environmental education and sustainability, sending John Muir's message into the next
Millennium. Because the one thing that everybody agrees upon, from the United
Nations to the British and American governments, is that the sustainable use of our natural
resources is the BIG ISSUE which will determine our quality of life in the coming Millennium.
I am proud to be here tonight in with people who are doing so much to
make John Muir's vision a reality. I hope and believe that you will succeed in building
this Education Centre, to bring Muir's Vision of a sustainable world to millions of children
and adults throughout America.
Thank you very much.
John Muir Trust
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