Quotations about the Environment
Note - this list isn't comprehensive; however we believe it reflects how humans have long and deeply considered the environment: its relation to human health and well-being, and its protection. Other topics of historical interest.
But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.
*Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity? Who would want to live in a world which is just not quite fatal?
—Rachel Carson (1907-1964), *Silent Spring, 1962.
The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.
—Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005), former governor of Wisconsin, founder of Earth Day
It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), Christmas Eve sermon, 1967
The Congress, the Administration and the public all share a profound commitment to the rescue of our natural environment, and the preservation of the Earth as a place both habitable by and hospitable to man.
—President Richard Nixon (1913-1994), "Reorganization Plan No. 3," message to Congress about establishing EPA, July 1970. More about the origins of EPA.
Think globally, act locally.
—Disputed attribution (1925-2015), including:
- Jacques Ellul (1912-1994), French philosopher and sociologist
- René Dubos (1901-1982), environmentalist and author
- David Brower (1912-2000), first Executive Director of the Sierra Club
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
—Margaret Mead (1901-1978) quoted in John M. Richardson, ed. Making it Happen, 1982
It is time for us now as a nation to exercise the same reasonable foresight in dealing with our great natural resources that would be shown by any prudent man in conserving and widely using the property which contains the assurance of well-being for himself and his children.
—President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), remarks at the Conference on Conservation of Natural Resources, 1908.
Scientists may depict the problems that will affect the environment based on available evidence, but their solution is not the responsibility of scientists but of society as a whole.
Los científicos pueden describir los problemas que afectarán el medio ambiente basándose en la evidencia disponible, sin embargo, su solución no es la responsabilidad de los científicos sino de la sociedad en su totalidad.
—Mario Molina (1943- ).
The air, the water and the ground are free gifts to man and no one has the power to portion them out in parcels. Man must drink and breathe and walk and therefore each man has a right to his share of each.
—James Fennimore Cooper (1789-1851), The Prairie , 1827
There must be a reason why some people can afford to live well. They must have worked for it. I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things we could use.
—Mother Teresa (1910-1997), A Gift for God, 1975.
A healthy ecology is the basis for a healthy economy.
—Claudine Schneider, U.S. Representative, The Green Lifestyle Handbook, 1990.
If we use resources productively and take to heart the lessons learned from coping with the energy crisis, we face a future confronted only, as Pogo once said, by insurmountable opportunities. The many crises facing us should be seen, then, not as threats but as chances to remake the future so it serves all beings.
—L. Hunter Lovins (1950- ) and Amory B. Lovins (1948- ), Utne Reader, November-December, 1989.
You cannot affirm the power plant and condemn the smokestack, or affirm the smoke and condemn the cough.
—Wendell Berry, The Gift of the Good Land, 1981.
Environmentally friendly cars will soon cease to be an option ...
they will become a necessity.
—Fujio Cho (1937- ), honorary Chairman of Toyota Motors; North American International Auto Show, 2004.
Sustainable development - development that does not destroy or undermine the ecological, economic, or social basis on which continued development depends - is the only viable pathway to a more secure and hopeful future for rich and poor alike.
—Maurice Strong (1925-2015), Opening Statement to the Rio Summit, 1992
To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.
—Terry Tempest Williams (1955- ), before the Senate Subcommittee on Forest & Public Lands Management regarding the Utah Public Lands Management Act of 1995. Washington, D.C. July 13, 1995.
The Truly Healthy environment is not merely safe but stimulating.
—William H. Stewart (1913-1993), Environmental Science and Technology, February 1968.
Away, away, from men and towns,
To the wild wood and the downs, --
To the silent wilderness,
Where the soul need not repress
—Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), "To Jane, The Invitation," c.1820
The Silence of a shut park does not sound like the country silence: it is tense and confirmed.
—Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973), The Death of the Heart, 1938.
He who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Essays, Second Series, 1844
Integrity is wholeness...
The wholeness of life and things,
The divine beauty of the universe.
Love that, not man apart from that.
—Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), "The Answer," 1936
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.
—William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Troilus and Cressida.
It is in man's heart that the life of nature's spectacle exists; to see it, one must feel it.
—Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), Emile, 1762
Let the clean air blow the cobwebs from your body. Air is medicine.
—Lillian Russell (1862-1922), quoted in Reader's Digest, March 1922
I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
—Langston Hughes (1902-1967), "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," 1926
The belief that we can manage the Earth and improve Nature is probably the biggest expression of human pride, but it has deep roots in the past and is almost universal.
—René Dubos (1901-1982), The Wooing of the Earth, 1980
All nature wears one universal grin.
—Henry Fielding (1707-1754), Tom Thumb the Great, 1730.
The famous balance of nature is the most extraordinary of all cybernetic systems. Left to itself, it is always self-regulated.
—Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970), Saturday Review, June 8, 1963.
We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do.
—Barbara Ward (1914-1981), Only One Earth, 1972.
I know that our bodies were made to thrive only in pure air, and the scenes in which pure air is found.
—John Muir (1838-1914), journal.
Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them.
—Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), Sand Country Alamanac, 1949.
Nature provides exceptions to every rule.
—Margaret Fuller (1810-1850), The Dial, July 1843.
Until man duplicates a blade of grass, nature can laugh at his so-called scientific knowledge.
—Thomas Edison (1847-1931)
Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty.
—John Ruskin (1819-1900).
Nothing is more beautiful than the loveliness of the woods before sunrise.
—George Washington Carver (1860-1934).
¡Verde de Puerto Rico, hablador y salvaje!
Que parece que piensas tal si fueras humano;
que hablas, como si fueras la lengua del paisaje,
de los estados de alma del escarpe y del llano.
Green Puerto Rico, talkative and wild!
That you seem to think as if you were human;
You talk as if you were the expression of the landscape,
Of the moods of the rolling hills and of the plains.
—José Antonio Dávila (1898-1941), Apóstrofe al Verde, 1940.
All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child.
—Marie Curie (1867-1934), Pierre Curie, 1923.
Our task must be to free ourselves ... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.
—Albert Einstein (1879-1955).
It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.
—Rachel Carson (1907-1964), The Sea Around Us, 1951
The use of sea and air is common to all; neither can a title to the ocean belong to any people or private persons, forasmuch as neither nature nor public use and custom permit any possession therof.
—Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603).
For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond this point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports.
—Sandra Postel, Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity, 2003.
When the well's dry, we know the worth of water.
—Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), Poor Richard's Almanac.
Water is the best of all things.
—Pindar (c. 522 BC - c. 438 BC), Olympian Odes
Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one, but there is also a third thing, that makes it water and nobody knows what that is.
—D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930), Pansies, 1929.
If there is magic on the planet, it is contained in Water.
—Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey, 1957.
High quality water is more than the dream of the conservationists, more than a political slogan; high quality water, in the right quantity at the right place at the right time, is essential to health, recreation, and economic growth.
—Edmund S. Muskie (1914-1996), former US Secretary of State; Senator from Maine; and introduced the Clean Water Act bill in Congress in 1971.
Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed.
—Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), quoted in EF Schumacher, Small is Beautiful.
To halt the decline of an ecosystem, it is necessary to think like an ecosystem.
—Douglas P. Wheeler, EPA Journal, September-October 1990
The weight of our civilization has become so great, it now ranks as a global force and a significant wild card in the human future along with the Ice Ages and other vicissitudes of a volatile and changeable planetary system
—Dianne Dumanoski (1932- ), Rethinking Environmentalism, December 13, 1998.
We owe our lives to the sun... How is it, then, that we feel no gratitude?
—Lewis Thomas Earth Ethics, Summer 1990.
We will look upon the earth and her sister planets as being with us, not for us.
—Mary Daly, "Beyond God the Father," 1973
Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.
—Carl Sagan (1934-1996).
I am a passenger on the spaceship Earth.
—R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983).
There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.
—Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980).