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Environmental history lesson

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By John Bartlit

The 2012 New Mexico Statehood History Conference took place recently at the Santa Fe Convention Center. And I gave my presentation on, “Preserving New Mexico’s Environmental History.”
As with all history, environmental history has value to the extent it retains the context of its time. Context is where the logic lurks in history’s events.
A bare word gets its scope and scale from context: compare “tire patch,” “shoulder patch” and “cabbage patch.” Missing the context has one result, misperceptions.
My talk and this column highlight the great shift in “environment” that came to pass when New Mexico was but 50 years old.
In 1962, Rachel Carson’s pivotal book, Silent Spring, was published. It dealt with studies of birdlife in new terms – chemicals, not habitat.
Before then, “environment” was pictured as wilderness and wildlife. The Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, the Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited all began between 1892 and 1959.
After Silent Spring, public opinion joined in against air and water pollution on many levels. Change was afoot.      


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