The 1870s was, by no means, the greatest decade for the state of Georgia. Not only did the state just lose a war and see its working population decrease dramatically due to the casualties of the conflict, but the state was also thrown into economic chaos. In order to prevent irreparable damage that could potentially set the state back decades in development, the citizens needed a solution to their economic woes and fast. Unlike the North, the southern states did not have a well-developed infrastructure capable of supporting factories, shipping, and other industries typically found in urban areas; however, there was one commodity in abundance that could potentially alleviate Georgia’s economic trouble: the forests. In under a decade, timber barons and copper industry ravaged the area, cutting down large swaths of greenery in order to fuel the wood-hungry smelters of the copper mines and selling the remaining to other industries – culminating in the destruction of forty-seven square miles of forest.
Present Day Conservation
Unfortunately, the depletion of the northern forests of Georgia is not an isolated case. A century later, and the environmental degradation of America has reached a state of near irreversibility. Between the turn of the new millennium and 2017, the United States has witnessed the loss of an astounding 24 million acres of its natural land. Obviously, economic development inevitably is going to entail the use of natural resources, yet in the United States, little attention has ever been placed on the magnitude of environmental loss by its citizens, especially from self-proclaimed patriots. Even disregarding political leanings, American patriots have always viewed environmentalism as lower on the hierarchy of issues. It was never a central issue of American patriotism. When discussing the environment, of course, there are other more important justifications to prevent the destruction of habitats and ecosystems, but a smaller justification, that can potentially produce a great impact on environmental activism, is to protect our natural ecosystems out of love for our country. Given that the majority of Americans consider themselves patriotic, perhaps the best way to remedy America’s unfortunate lack of environmental conservation to make it synonymous with being a patriot.
The idea of conserving out of pride for America is not a radically new concept. In the early 19th century, Thoreau and other transcendentalists believed in preserving the great wilderness of a country out of respect for its heritage, symbols, and most importantly, its uniqueness. Thoreau had no idea just how correct he was: from the deserts of Arizona to Alaska’s tundras, from the plains of Kansas to tropical forests of Florida, America is home to not only a diverse set of ecosystems but a unique set of 20000 species found nowhere else on the planet. If preserving the wilderness of America is not admirable for preventing the pollution of the environment – or even slowing the rate of climate change – should it not be admirable merely for the sake of aiding in the conservation of America’s history and the natural features of our country that make us great? After all, countless presidents ranging from Roosevelt to Nixon have championed environmental protection as a way to protect American heritage.
This conservation-patriotism combination is without a doubt possible. In the past couple of years, countries around the world have been ramping up their environmental laws, driven by national pride, to protect the most iconic features of their space on the globe. Pakistan’s billion tree tsunami initiative, the legal personhood of the Ganges River in India, and France’s National Biodiversity Strategy are all recent examples of this phenomena. In Georgia, the miles of deforested lands sparked worry about the ecological health of the state and, ultimately, contributed to the development of the national forest movement, a nationalistic endeavor that accomplished the same goals seen in the previously listed examples. The main catalyst for the movement not only included the protection of the remaining forest but also a cultural change that led Georgia’s citizens to realize the native ecosystems of the state ought to be protected for the pride of the state and its rich history. Today, the once barren lands have been radically transformed. Federal and local law has preserved the land, allowing the area to replenish and return to its natural state. Now, the Chattahoochee National Forest sees over thousands of visitors a year to enjoy the state’s natural gem, an area that spans over 700,000 acres. None of which would have been possible without the patriotic policies that allowed for its protection. Perhaps it is about time for the rest of the United States to continue this endeavor on a national level.