To the Congress of the United States: Albert Schweitzer said:
"Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth."
The most affluent nation on earth may feel that it is immune from this indictment. A nation that offered its people--a century ago--uncharted forests, broad sparkling rivers, and prairies ripe for planting, may have expected that bounty to endure forever.
But we do not live alone with wishful expectations.
We live with history. It tells us of a hundred proud civilizations that have decayed through careless neglect of the nature that fed them.
We live with the certain future of multiplying populations, whose demands on the resources of nature will equal their numbers.
We are not immune. We are not endowed--any more than were those perished nations of the past--with a limitless natural bounty.
Yet we are endowed with their experience. We are able to see the magnitude of the choice before us, and its consequences for every child born on our continent from this day forward.
Economists estimate that this generation has already suffered losses from pollution that run into billions of dollars each year. But the ultimate cost of pollution is incalculable.
We see that we can corrupt and destroy our lands, our rivers, our forests and the atmosphere itself--all in the name of progress and necessity. Such a course leads to a barren America, bereft of its beauty, and shorn of its sustenance.
We see that there is another course--more expensive today, more demanding. Down this course lies a natural America restored to her people. The promise is clear rivers, tall forests and clean air--a sane environment for man.
I shall propose in this message one means to achieve that promise. It requires, first, an understanding of what has already happened to our waters.
THE POLLUTION OF OUR WATERS
"Pollution touches us all. We are at the same time polluters and sufferers from pollution. Today, we are certain that pollution adversely affects the quality of our lives. In the future, it may affect their duration."
These are the words of the Environmental Pollution Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee. They were written in November, 1965.
At that time, every river system in America suffered some degree of pollution.
At that time, discharges into our rivers and streams--both treated and untreated-equalled the raw sewage from almost 50 million people. Animal wastes and waste from our cities and towns were making water unfit for any use.
At that time, rivers, lakes and estuaries were receiving great quantities of industrial chemicals--acids from mine runoff--detergents and minerals that would not "break down" in the ordinary life of the water. These pollutants were re-entering domestic and industrial water supplies. They were killing fish. They posed hazards to both human and animal life.
By that time, on Lake Erie six of thirty-two public recreation and swimming areas had been dosed down because the water was unsafe for human beings. The blue pike catch in the lake had fallen from 20 million pounds in 1937 to 7,000 pounds in 1960. The oxygen that fish need for life was being rapidly devoured by blooms of algae fed by pollutants.
At that time, in the lower Arkansas Red River Basin, oil field development and irrigation were dumping salt into rivers. The result was an additional annual expense of $13 million to bring in fresh water.
I have pl ...
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