Who Was David Brower?


Calling David Brower an important environmental activist is like calling Hamlet an important member of the Danish royal court. Brower invented modern American environmental activism.
—John Nielsen, National Public Radio

David Brower protestingWhen David R. Brower died at his home in Berkeley, California, in late 2000, the world lost an irreplaceable leader. Eighty-eight years of courageous, contentious and joyful activism made Brower one of the most successful environmental advocates the Earth has ever known.

Considered by many to be the father of the modern environmental movement, the Berkeley native followed in the footsteps of John Muir, the man who founded the Sierra Club, an organization David Brower led to new levels of achievement and success in the 1950s and 60s. With a vision and influence equaled in the last century only by Rachel Carson and Jacques Cousteau, David Brower created a legacy of activism that made the environmental movement not only a part of our day-to-day lives, but a way for us to engage the world around us as an interconnected, integrated whole.

Like the redwoods he fought to protect, Brower towered over his peers. Beginning his career as a world-class mountaineer with more than 70 first ascents to his credit, Brower served as the first executive director of the Sierra Club [LINK: http://www.sierraclub.org] from 1952 to 1969. Under his leadership, the club’s membership expanded tenfold, from 7,000 to 70,000 members, becoming the nation’s leading environmental membership organization.

Brower later founded Friends of the Earth, a worldwide environmental network now active in 52 countries, and co-founded the League of Conservation Voters, the nation’s most influential environmental political action group. In 1982, Brower founded Earth Island Institute, an incubator organization that fosters and supports activist projects around the world.

ShiprockDavid Brower successfully fought to stop dams in Dinosaur National Monument and in Grand Canyon National Park. He led campaigns to establish 10 new national parks and seashores, including Point Reyes, the North Cascades and the Redwoods. He was instrumental in gaining passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, which protects millions of acres of public lands in pristine condition. While with the Sierra Club, he pioneered the use of media advocacy, including full-page newspaper ads to dramatically communicate conservation issues. He also initiated an aggressive publishing program that would produce over 70 major books-including oversize formats with stunning high-quality nature photographs-over his lifetime. Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Brower was also instrumental in leading environmentalists to rethink their early support of nuclear power.

Yet most important of all, perhaps, was Brower’s special genius as a teacher, as an advocate and as a communicator. He had an unmatched talent for articulating what we were doing to our planet, and the urgent need for remedial action. Brower’s message and vision led thousands of activists across three generations to put the Earth first.

Timeline for David Brower

  • 1912 Born Berkeley CA
  • 1913 Raker Act passes, approving construction of a dam in Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley
  • 1914 John Muir dies
  • 1918 DRB’s first visit to Yosemite National Park with family
  • 1933 DRB joins Sierra Club
  • 1935 DRB participates in an historic mountaineering attempt on Canada’s Mt. Waddington
  • 1938 DRB’s first conservation campaign, Kings Canyon National Park
  • 1939 DRB leads historic first ascent of Shiprock on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico
  • 1942-45 DRB in 10th Mtn Division, WWII
  • 1952-69 DRB employed as Executive Director of Sierra Club
  • 1956 Proposal to put dams in Dinosaur National Monument is defeated
  • 1960 DRB successfully urges formation of the Sierra Club Foundation
  • 1960 Sierra Club publishes first Exhibit Format book, Ansel Adams’s “This Is the American Earth”
  • 1963 JFK signs Pt. Reyes National Seashore into law
  • 1963 Construction of Glen Canyon Dam is completed on the Colorado River above the Grand Canyon
  • 1964 DRB’s years of lobbying succeed with signing of Wilderness Act
  • 1967 Grand Canyon dams stopped, Sierra Club loses tax-deductible status for lobbying too hard
  • 1968 Redwood National Park, North Cascades National Park established
  • 1969 DRB fired from Sierra Club, immediately forms Friends of the Earth and creates League of Conservation Voters.
  • 1970 First Friends of the Earth branches established overseas (UK, France, etc.)
  • 1972 United Nations approves system of World Heritage Sites proposed by DRB, Russell Train, and others
  • 1978 DRB nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1979 DRB nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1982 DRB forms Earth Island Institute (EII) in San Francisco
  • 1982 DRB founds the Conferences on the Fate and Hope of the Earth (‘82, ’84, ’86, ’89) uniting environmental, peace, and social justice activists from around the world
  • 1986 Friends of the Earth closes West Coast office
  • 1986 Great Basin National Park established
  • 1990 EII-led tuna boycott ends in creation of Dolphin-Safe label
  • 1990 DRB leads first EII delegation to Russia’s Lake Baikal
  • 1996 Lake Baikal becomes a United Nations World Heritage Site
  • 1996 Glen Canyon Institute founded to drain Lake Powell
  • 1998 DRB nominated a third time for Nobel Peace Prize (jointly with Prof. Paul Ehrlich)
  • 1998 DRB wins Blue Planet Prize from Asahi Glass Foundation of Japan for pioneering the NGO role in solving global environmental problems
  • 1999 DRB co-founds Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment
  • 1999 Labor and environmental groups unite to shut down the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization
  • 2000 DRB dies in Berkeley at age 88