17 January 2006

Ben Franklin, Early American Environmentalist

Today is the 300th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest Americans in history, Ben Franklin. In fact, he is often known as the "first American," because it was his philosophy and writings -- and his hubris -- that influenced the founding of the country.

In addition to Franklin's renown as a scientist, statesman, businessman, philanthropist, publisher of newspapers and pamphlets, founder of the first lending library and improver of the postal system in this country, along with two educational institutions, he was also involved in the crafting of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Ben was also one of the first American environmentalists, to wit:

In 1739, Benjamin Franklin and neighbors petitioned the "Pennsylvania Assembly to stop waste dumping and remove tanneries from Philadelphia's commercial district. Foul smell, lower property values, disease and interference with fire fighting are cited. The industries complain that their rights are being violated, but Franklin argues for 'public rights.' Franklin and the environmentalists win a symbolic battle but the dumping goes on."

And from 1762 to 1769, a "Philadelphia committee led by Franklin attempts to regulate waste disposal and water pollution." Finally, in 1797, Franklin's will stipulated the construction of a fresh water pipeline for Philadelphia, which led to the formation of the Philadelphia Water Commission.

Franklin understood the value of such environmental measures to quality of life, human health and well-being.

Over the past few years, leading up to this anniversary, I and my son have developed a keen interest in Benjamin Franklin. In part, because of our residence in his city and our proximity to many of his landmarks and discoveries. Franklin is a good role model for my son; indeed he is a good role model for us all, as Americans and citizens of the world. And as conservationists, we would do well to remember Franklin's words,

If you know how to spend less than you get, you have the philosopher's stone.

Remember Benjamin Franklin, born on this day in 1706, He died in 1790.

References for this post include the Wikipedia "Timeline of Environmental Events" and other sources. For an excellent biography, try Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. Last year, I listened to a wonderful, abridged recording of this book, available on CD in a reading by Boyd Gaines.

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