George Perkins Marsh
Many of our nation's early naturalists — Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin among them — considered man's impact on the environment to be beneficial.
A Vermont farmer and congressman, George Perkins Marsh was among the first Americans to perceive people's harmful effect on nature. Marsh spent most of his life in public service, serving on the Vermont Governor's Council, in Congress for three terms beginning in 1842, and in several overseas diplomatic posts, including an appointment as the American Minister to Italy in 1861. While in Italy, Marsh argued for forward-thinking conservation strategies in a landmark book, Man and Nature. Explaining what we now refer to as the "web of life," the book points to extensive areas of once-productive land in China, Europe, and North Africa that had become desert to illustrate the far-reaching negative impacts of mankind's destruction of grass and forest cover. Many historians view Man and Nature as the first popular introduction to the science of ecology.
By recognizing mankind's capacity for destroying the environment, George P. Marsh sounded a wake-up call to the nation about the need for strategic management of the country's natural resources for the benefit of future generations.
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