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1908: The Conservation of Natural Resources

March 9, 2011

Today I decided to do a change my research focus – instead of trying to find the latest information on business and sustainability issues, I decided to look at some of the articles on the subject from 100 years ago. (Tip: if you’re going to research this as well, “conservation” is a better keyword than “sustainability” or “environment” for that time period.)

I found a gem written in 1908 for the US Department of Agriculture’s Farmer’s Bulletin 327. In this article, Gifford Pinchot, a Forester for the USDA  who later went on to become the first Chief of the Forest Service, submits the substance of a presentation he did for the National Geographic Society.

In one section, he uses an analogy of a family’s use of land and resources and comments that

Not only must we meet our own needs from this property, but we must see to it that our children come in for their fair share of it; so that after a while, the happiness we have had here may be carried on by them.

The quote above seems to be a precursor to another quote, written almost 80 years later. In 1987, the Brundtland Commission’s report “Our Common Future” presented what is the most today’s most widely used definition of sustainable development:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The article is a fascinating read, covering a wide range of issues including forest resources, minerals, oil and natural gas and soil waste. Pinchot’s forecasts and his recommendations for improved mining methods, calls for conservation of mineral resources and a coordinated approach to conservation planning are insightful and amazing to examine 100 years later.

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