Letter to the editor: In Case You Missed It

Posted:  Friday, July 14, 2017 - 8:45pm

This past week an important bicentennial birthday seems to have been almost completely overlooked—that of essayist, poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. Born on July 12 1817, he lived most of his short life in modest obscurity in Concord Massachusetts, leaving on quiet sojourns to places like the upper Midwest, New England’s rivers and Maine’s north woods. These treks and paddles inspired some of his most powerful writing—writing that has been studied and discussed throughout our public schools for over a century. Conservationist and fellow wanderer John Muir never met Thoreau, but his friendship with President Teddy Roosevelt helped to create Yosemite and other national parks as well as an act that helps establish the many national monuments which are now under threat from the Trump White House. Wilderness was up for grabs in the 1860’s, the dawn of America’s Industrial Revolution, when Thoreau wrote “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” What remains of the world Thoreau knew and loved has never faced greater danger. 

Thoreau was a hero of people who struggled to meet their basic needs and were often the first to suffer from unjust and unnecessary wars. Decrying our obsession with riches, he said “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” He advised us to “live in each season as it passes. Breathe in the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”

These words would be mocked and condemned by most of the GOP members of Congress and the Cabinet, who are determined to enact what former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy has called a scorched earth budget. Once Trump’s health care bill is out of the way, his general budget will be debated—and the Environmental Protection Agency will take the greatest of all hits—a 31 percent cut. This president has said he wants to “get rid of the EPA in almost every form,” leaving “only little tidbits intact.” The head of the Environmental Working Group says it isn’t a budget. “With each cut in EPA funding, each regulatory rollback, each special favor for polluters, it becomes more clear that for President Trump, public health protection is not a priority but a target.” Those people Thoreau championed, those most economically disadvantaged, would suffer first and most if these cuts go through. 

I agonize over the harm we face if Mr. Trump gets his way. But I also agonize over the land, the water, the living things that are currently facing the most dramatic extinction rate ever known since the age of the dinosaurs. Henry David Thoreau said “We need the tonic of wilderness. We can never have enough of nature.” This president probably neither cares or even knows about Thoreau. But never in modern history have we so needed to remember these words, their lessons, and the man himself. Happy belated birthday, Mr. Thoreau, and thank you.

Beverly Roxby lives in Belfast