Earth Day 2018 is around the corner. What can we take from it this year, what can we repeat from the past, and what can we do differently? The story of the Hudson River presented by David Schuyler in Embattled River is a great place to start. An investigative narrative filled with lessons to be learned, it is a call to action for all of us who want to live in harmony with nature, and an example of how important it is to raise one’s voice when it comes to leading change.
My dirty stream
Named Mahicantuck (or “river that flows two ways”) by native peoples long before Hudson’s arrival, the Hudson River has been a key battleground in modern US environmentalism since 1962, when Consolidated Edison announced plans to construct a pumped storage electrical generating power plant at Storm King Mountain. But the pollution and bleak future of the Hudson River was as clear as water even before that, and by 1950, the impact of humans and our abuse of the river’s natural resources was evident.
Still waters run deep, and a loose coalition of activists were ready to act and defend the river. Led by Scenic Hudson, and later joined by groups such as Riverkeeper, Clearwater, the Hudson River Valley Greenway, and the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, the coalition won the first of many legal and publicity battles that would halt pollution of the river, slowly reverse the damage of years of discharge, and protect hundreds of thousands of acres of undeveloped land in the river valley.
As Schuyler shows, the environmental victories on the Hudson had broad impact. In the state at the heart of the story, the victory resulted in the creation of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (1970) to monitor, investigate, and litigate cases of pollution. At a national level, the environmental ferment in the Hudson Valley contributed directly to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, and the creation of the Superfund in 1980 to fund the cleanup of toxic dump sites.
An ongoing battle
As a result of the Clean Water Act and some enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Hudson River is cleaner than at any time since the dawn of industrialization in the nineteenth century. But the presence of so many chemicals in the water and the flesh of the fish that inhabit it—many of them known carcinogens—makes the efforts of the river’s defenders an ongoing battle, and today the struggle to control its uses and maintain its ecological health persists.
An arm of the sea where salty sea water meets fresh water running off the land, the Hudson River plays a pivotal role in the emergence of modern environmentalism in the United States. Embattled River is proof of what can be achieved when environmental activists stand for nature, and the stories of the pioneering advocates told by Schuyler provide lessons, reminders, and the inspiration to celebrate this Earth Day.
Join the Olana Partnership from Saturday May 26th onwards, and be part of its First Ever Facebook Book Club with author David Schuyler, to discuss his newly published book Embattled River.
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About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is originally from Uruguay and often wonders how she ended up in Upstate New York. Her dream is to own an ice-cream shop. She doesn’t have Wi-Fi at home.