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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 International Festival.

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 entire world.

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 sustainability issue.

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.

Graham White
John Muir Trust
Scotland


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