Op-Ed: How the U.S. came to protect the natural world — and exploit it at the same time
It was a time of great change in America. A time before jobs, health care, and retirement security, as well as a time before the government became the world’s largest buyer and seller of raw natural resources (in fact, until at least the 1950s, our government was one of only two governments to buy natural resources).
There also was a time, before environmental and climate change, before the natural world was seen as threatened or as in need of protection.
The “Great Leap of Faith” lasted from 1942 to 1945. The United States, the world’s preeminent industrial superpower, lost millions of the very young to a war whose leaders had taken as its symbol the image of a young man with a gun, “firing” at a target — just as America’s first president, George Washington, had once fired a musket, an image that had been used as the government’s official mascot.
But the war had ended, and the United States was ready to join the rest of society in a new era of prosperity.
The new era would be one of industrial growth, social justice, and environmental protection.
But to achieve this new era, it would mean leaving the natural world behind.
The “Great Leap of Faith” involved the largest shift of human society from a rural, agricultural era to a modern industrial one, including not only a transition from a self-reliant agricultural society to one oriented toward industrial growth, but also from a family-centered society that depended on close family ties, to one based on marriage, economic growth, and individual freedom.
It meant an enormous increase in consumption of resources — not just in the United States and Western European countries, but globally — including a massive increase in the amount of energy needed to meet those needs.
The change went hand in hand with an almost-total shift in emphasis from the production of goods produced out of nature — including timber, dairy cattle, and meat — to energy-intensive industries — mining, oil and gas, and coal — and away from production of