Before Gore, Greta, and the Green New Deal: Part Two
Associate Justice William O. Douglas.

Before Gore, Greta, and the Green New Deal: Part Two

Last week we featured some unlikely, unsung Green heroes from pop culture's past. This week, we salute their political counterparts.

Let's start with an inveterate American treehugger named William O. Douglas.


That's Associate Justice William O. Douglas of the Supreme Court to you. In the case Sierra Club v. Morton, the venerable Club opposed the building of a ski resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains by the Walt Disney Corporation.

In 1972, the Court ruled that the Sierra Club had no legal standing in the case, but in his dissent, Justice Douglas argued that the trees and critters ought to have their own voice before the court.

"These environmental issues should be tendered by the inanimate object itself," he wrote. "Then there will be assurances that all of the forms of life which it represents will stand before the court — the pileated woodpecker as well as the coyote and bear, the lemmings as well as the trout in the streams."

Read: Before Gore, Greta, and the Green New Deal: Part One

Before his retirement, Douglas led a hike along New Jersey's section of the Appalachian Trail, near a scenic section of the Delaware River slated to be dammed. The dam was never built, and the river pass known as the Delaware Water Gap is now federally protected.

Newt 1.0 

And speaking of dams, a dynamic young Georgia Congressman spearheaded another dam defeat. The former professor and faculty advisor to the West Georgia College campus Sierra Club chapter, Newt Gingrich, was a fierce environmental foe of the Sprewell Bluff Dam.

This was before Newt reached a national power base as a fierce foe of all things environmental.

Newt 1.0 helped get the dam stopped along with Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, and Sprewell became a county park.

Khrushchev's better half

Nikita Khrushchev (right), General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union visits Sweden in June 1964. (Credit: SAS Museet/flickr)

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev is largely remembered for continuing the brutal repression, humorless prosecution of the Cold War and rampant environmental abuse of his mentor, Joseph Stalin, but in a totally uncharacteristic move, he outlawed the hunting of most polar bears in 1956. Canada and the U.S. didn't follow suit till the 1970's.

The undocumented folklore was that his motivation was his common law wife, Nina.

She is said to have loved these adorable critters that could bisect you with one swat of the paw and swallow your remains as an appetizer.

Shuster & Sonny

Add a couple of minor icons from the turbulent Sixties. Nancy Kulp played the strait-laced bankers' assistant Miss Jane Hathaway on hit Beverly Hillbillies TV show. Her character had a passion for birdwatching, but the real Miss Jane ran for Congress in 1984 as an ardent environmentalist, challenging veteran Bud Shuster.

Shuster crushed the TV star by two-to-one, in part due to radio ads from Hillbillies co-star Buddy Ebsen, who played the backwoods oil tycoon Jed Clampett. Ebsen accused Kulp of being "too liberal" for the central Pennsylvania district, where the pork-barreling Shuster completed 15 terms, followed by his son Bill for eight more. I'm not making this up.

Nor is this contrived: Sonny Bono, the less attractive, less intelligent and less talented half of the rock duo Sonny and Cher, was elected to Congress in 1994 after serving as Mayor of Palm Springs. Sonny became a Republican leader on protecting California's Salton Sea, and in several endangered species battles. But when protection of the Stephens kangaroo rat impacted some in his district, Sonny threw down.

"We all love the environment, but we have placed creatures above people. A rat is a rat." He racked up a lifetime score of 7% on the League of Conservation Voters scorecard.

Bono was midway through his second term in January 1998 when he died from head injuries after striking a tree while skiing, giving rise to squirmy jokes about trees' love of vengeance. His wife Mary took the House seat, and until her 2013 retirement, continued both his green and brown legacies, championing Salton Sea efforts and garnering a lifetime 16% LCV score.

But seriously, folks, back to Justice Douglas. He is a mostly forgotten environmental hero whose career should be remembered and taught. He'd be on the environmental Mount Rushmore, if blowing up a mountain for a sculpture were a smarter idea.

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist. His views do not represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences. He can be reached at pdykstra@ehn.org.

How animals are adapting to climate change

Books by Thor Hanson and Emma Marris offer new insights into how species are surviving and what we must do to help.
Sunrise in the woods

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

coal mining cleanup
Photo by Albert Hyseni on Unsplash

PA to receive more than $3 billion to clean up abandoned coal mines

Pennsylvania will receive billions of dollars to clean up abandoned mines like the site Secretary Haaland visited in Swoyersville.

EPA takes action to combat industrial air pollution

The EPA announced a raft of targeted actions and specific reforms including stepped-up air monitoring and scrutiny of industrial polluters in the wake of ProPublica’s investigation into toxic hot spots.

Life in the Arctic: how climate change is killing a culture – video

As the arctic warms four times faster than the global average, Europe’s only indigenous population is under threat

Oil firms accused of scare tactics after claiming climate lawsuits ‘a threat to US’

Attorneys for BP, Exxon and Shell claim city of Baltimore’s case over ‘deception and failure to warn’ could kill offshore drilling.

GM to invest $7B in 4 facilities across Michigan, creating 4,000 jobs
www.freep.com

GM to invest $7B in 4 facilities across Michigan, creating 4,000 jobs

GM is betting big on Michigan as part of its EV future from new factory, plant conversions and new supply chain. Here's why and who wins.
From our Newsroom
Africa cooking pollution

What do new cookstoves in Ghana and air conditioners in NYC have in common? Energy justice.

Combating energy poverty and energy insecurity are critical elements to achieving environmental health equity for billions worldwide.

dr. fauci

Peter Dykstra: Life imitates climate politics—again.

Personal, misinformed attacks on Dr. Fauci are reminiscent of climate spats over the decades.

Don't look up climate change

Hollywood’s third strike on climate change?

"Don't Look Up" is ambitious—but trips over its subject matter.

environmental news

5 popular reads from our newsroom in 2021

Check out what sparked readers' interest over the past year.

journalism

Our top 5 long reads of 2021

Check out must-read, in-depth reporting from the past year.

butterfly

Our top 5 good news stories of 2021

It's not all doom and gloom.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.