Walter J. Hickel, U.S. Secretary of Interior
April 6, 1970
Be part of the solution, not part of the problem
I never would have dreamed, as the son of a western Kansas tenant farmer, that these wonderful clear skies and sparkling waters and streams of Kansas would be in danger in my whole lifetime.
Even on the hottest summer day you could look up at those skies, breathe deeply and just be refreshed in the beauty and the cleanliness of the country.
. . . Or you could go down by a little creek by our place called Cow Creek and you could just scoop up a safe, clean, pure drink of water.
But you know in a few years you may not be able to enjoy these same carefree resources.
An Environmental Emergency
Talk of permanent destruction of the environment — that really isn't an idle threat of some alarmist.
It is a fact. And somehow it is frightening.
Smog is no longer a phenomenon peculiar to California.
Polluted water is no longer just a hazard of the Potomac or Lake Erie or the Hudson or any other place.
In my opinion, all of mankind is just plunging headlong into an environmental emergency.
And yet many people still refuse to face it.
It is not always an easy sign to find out and recognize the warning signals.
They are pretty subtle. They are something like the symptoms of cancer — you don't find them right away but believe me they are just as deadly.
It's a terrible paradox — air and water and land — the very elements which attracted those early settlers out to our country — are being threatened by our efforts to build a good and vigorous society.
We are beginning to realize that the best things in life are not free. If we don't pay the cost to protect them, believe me we shall lose them.
You know, there is toxic air floating around the world and those dangerous elements in that air are really invisible and yet they've been found by scientists, around the South Pole and in the snow layers of Antarctica.
Our rivers, the life system of our land, are becoming the death system for the oceans.
Millions of tons of pollutants and pesticides are being poured into the sea, threatening to destroy man's greatest source for future food and oxygen.
Well, now, you can say that Manhattan, Kansas, is a long way from the ocean.
. . . But even here, we must become aware and become more concerned about the quality of this essential element of our total life system.
You know, when I was a kid my mother would say "Walter, Kansans are realists. They are like our neighbors in Missouri, the 'show me' state."
Pollution Is A Reality
I hope that if you remember nothing else from my remarks today, you will remember my warning that pollution is just not something politically popular to talk about.
It is a worldwide threat of the greatest magnitude.
The question before us is this: "Can we remold our mental attitudes and retool our industry fast enough to do something about it?"
I believe we can.
My belief — and it is mainly a statement of faith, not of fact — is based on faith in the heart of the future — the great university campuses such as this.
The young people of this country have risen to the moment.
They have challenged the very foundations of our value system.
They ask, "Can we afford to consume everything that we can afford to buy?"
I have met with hundreds of students in recent months, and these young people want to know:
"What right have we — in the time-span of a few generations — to use up a majority of the irreplaceable natural resources which it took millions of years to produce?"
They ask, "What will be left for our children? And their children in turn?"
They talk about the "environmental ethics" — the rights of plants and animals to continue to exist in an ecological balance.
These are serious questions. And I am serious about trying to answer them.
What concerns me as an official responsible to you and all Americans, is how the input from the concerned young people can have a meaningful impact on the centers of governmental activity.
Life is changing so fast nowadays and especially in the seventies that we can no longer tolerate the old pace of a good idea fighting its way through established bureaucracy.
A good idea today can be out of date in a year, or even in a matter of months.
To fight this "bureaucratic breakdown" in the Department of the Interior, we have taken several steps.
Last month I set up in my office a "Task Force on Environmental Education and Youth Activities." This coordinating body will serve as a clearinghouse and a creative center for a number of functions.
It will give us immediate access to a new program called "SCOPE" — Student Councils on Pollution and Environment.
SCOPE is a unique experiment in government — student relationships.
Students are being invited to participate directly with the government on emerging national issues of immense proportions.
The Federal Water Pollution Control Administration in the Department of Interior has established SCOPE committees in each of the nine regions across the nation.
These committees will serve as a channel through which students can contact federal authorities, and secure technical information developed by various federal agencies.
Through SCOPE we are showing government that it really pays to listen — as well as talk!
We are developing methods to insure that student suggestions, and their views on environmental problems — and program priorities — can reach us directly — and by us I mean the Secretary of the Interior.
Since meeting with representatives from each of the nine regions, I have decided to expand this program from FWPCA, into a wider framework.
We are exploring the possibilities of expanding it to an interdepartmental organization. In this way it could have an impact on all the federal agencies working on pollution problems.
"Early Warning System"
Already the SCOPE representatives are serving as part of a highly motivated, public "early warning system".
When pollution is spotted — or major projects are launched without regard for the environment, SCOPE is notifying the authorities.
And now, as I travel around the country, I will be meeting with the regional SCOPE groups to discuss regional concerns.
Today will see the first of those meetings, with the SCOPE group here at Kansas State.
Pollution will only be eradicated when the government and the public work together on it as a team.
I am encouraged that the student community is responding.
We look forward to combining the enthusiasm and the fresh ideas of youth with the technical competence and the enforcement capacity of the federal government.
We also have many young people who want to take a full time role in the environment battle.
Because the crisis we face is much deeper than just pollution. It has to do with the entire way men and women live.
For this reason, I have called for creation of a National Environmental Service Force, patterned somewhat after the Peace Corps.
"Environmental Peace Corps"
... In fact, a few editors around the nation have already called this proposed organization the "Environmental Peace Corps."
We have received hundreds of letters from young doctors, undergraduates, engineers, high school students, biologists, and architects.
These are young people who are eager and have a desire to participate.
We are going to suggest that this group take the formal name of environmental control organization, or "ECO" (E-CO).
The idea is to place young talent in those areas of the nation needing study and help the most.
Spontaneous groups on the grass roots level have already sprung up across the country.
And I believe that ECO members can provide leadership for those willing to really bring forth the effort and give it the direction that is needed.
An example — at the secondary education level, ECO could help fill the gap in schools which do not have the trained personnel to meet the mushrooming demands of the environmental education.
The scientists, the lawyers, and the social scientists — those who participate could lend their skills to the community leaders in any given region to evaluate, plan and coordinate, and above all, execute new approaches to ecological problems.
Educated, and educating others in environmental problems, these Americans are determined to find solutions — and believe me, with or without governmental help.
An Opportunity And An Obligation
This makes the situation both an opportunity — and an obligation — for this Administration.
The opportunity: At a time when we are beginning to realize the deteriorating condition of our environment, the Administration can acquire invaluable aid — in terms of a commitment, knowledge, and sheer manpower — to bring about a reversal in ecological trends. Some are highly skilled and others are only beginning. But the task at hand has a broad range of needs.
The obligation: Most of these individuals are generally "apolitical," or even "anti-political."
The environmental crisis may well present our last chance to bring significant numbers of potential future leaders back into the political process.
Government Must Respond
Government can and must prove that it can respond, and encourage youth involvement.
We are finding that a highly developed society such as ours demands a whole new breed of professionals — people who can study both ecology and economics — and biology and philosophy.
We need people who are broad enough in their exposure to have a good balanced judgment.
These must be people who are ready to do exhaustive research and wide field work — men and women who are fascinated by nature and the needs of man and how we live totally.
There has been a lot of talk — you hear it today and throughout the nation — about students and the environmental movement. ... In fact, you can get into an argument from some who call it the "Environment Bag" ... as some of my young staff people sometimes refer to it — you know, is a "sellout."
... A sellout of the issues of the day.
For example, you may have heard that a group of students demonstrated against me when I spoke at a great university a few weeks ago at Princeton — Although more than a thousand students signed a petition that following week to apologize for their action.
During my speech, I would like to mention that I was interrupted with shouts like,
"What about racism and black liberation?"
My attitude about these protests, and others, is this:
A Clean Environment For All Americans
As Secretary of the Interior, a clean environment for all Americans — that is my responsibility — and that is my commitment.
For example, I want to make sure that when we get our black Americans out of the ghettos . . . that they have somewhere worth getting into.
By no measure does the environmental crusade conflict with man's struggle for equal treatment and justice.
I think it is complementary to any attempt to improve the quality of an individual's life. It is forcing us to realize that there really is just one race and you know that is the human race.
America for many, many years since its birth has been a crusading nation.
Recently I addressed the American Petroleum Institute and this is what I told them:
"The oil industry — like much of today's industry — stands in danger of becoming the monster of American society."
"This is a crusading nation . . . and the crusaders are up in arms."
The enemy is becoming very clear to the people ... it is those who foul the nation's air and water . . . and those who stand in a position of authority to do something about the destruction four resources — but who do nothing.
I challenge you — as you are challenging government — to respond to national and world needs.
Industry does not produce just for its own good. They don't make cars just because they enjoy making cars . . . nor does any manufacturer produce a product without knowing that he has a market for it. They produce because you, we, we all want — and often need — the things they produce.
You are challenging government to regulate broadly and prosecute those who pollute — and I am moving to meet that challenge, as you can see in our recent request for a Grand Jury investigation into oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico.
My challenge to you is to crusade not only against the sins of the past, which you can blame on the older generation, but to also crusade to safeguard the future by changing our priorities and even our life-styles.
I say this — Please do not fall for the temptation to write-off government or industry. There are elements in both groups who are determined to find new ways of doing things and to solve these problems.
Many of us — I know many of our Cabinetmen — are searching for how to streamline clumsy bureaucracy. We are fighting daily to create a country in which man's surroundings are not sacrificed by his technological advance.
Air — Water — Land
At stake are the most precious ingredients for sustaining life.
— Air that you can not only breathe without seeing or choking but which really refreshes you and invigorates you.
— Clean water to drink and swim in. Well you know that many of these things we still have — but it is time to beware.
— We want to look at land that is not only the producer of our food and energy, but which restores the soul of man through its beauty and through its very basic contact with nature.
Make No Mistake
But make no mistake about this — if the people leave the job just to government — and if they do nothing but protest — it will not be done.
It will take positive achievement and a commitment on the part of every American.
My deepest wish is that my native State of Kansas — you people right here — lead the way in producing a new generation with a new set of values —
A generation that really wants to be part of the solution and not of the problem.
A generation dedicated to caring for the Earth and all the people that live on it.
And I know just by looking in your faces the kind of people you are, that you will respond to this challenge and you will win!