Cultural Marxism and the Alt-Right

The Meaning of Corporatism

356 Enviro-critical Websites and additional info about the organized enviro-critical movement

Pierre Trudeau: Eco-fascist

A Primer for the Paris Climate Talks

Jorge Bergoglio's Green Encyclical

Environmentalism and Aboriginal Supremacism (Part 2): The Mobilization of Aboriginal Opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline

Environmentalism and Aboriginal Supremacism in Canada - Part 1 - Idle No More

Of Buffalo and Biofuel - More Tales of Environmentalism in Alberta

War on Coal

In Praise of the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act (Bill C-38)

Environmentalism and Edmonton Land Use Politics

The "Tar Sands" Campaign and the Suppression of North America's Energy Potential

Desertec and Environmentalism's North African Campaign

The Environmental Movement in Alberta

Environmentalism 400 BC

Spirit of NAWAPA

Waldheim's Monster:
United Nations' Ecofascist Programme

Early 19th Century British "Environmentalism"

Environmentalism's Appropriation of Christianity

Environmentalism's Environment

The Continental Counter-Enlightenment

The American Eco-Oligarchy update

If Only This Were About Oil


Who is Affraid of The Big Green Wolf

The Gore Presidential Bid

The Groundbreaking Career of Doctor Science

The English Environmental Elite, Global Warming, and The Anglican Church

The Great Global Warming Hoax

The American Oligarchy's Economic Warfare Campaign on British Columbians

American ‘Environmentalism’ in the 1930s

By William Walter Kay


Conservationism New Conservationism
New Conservationism New Deal
Tennessee Valley Authority's Conversion of Conservationism
LBJ, LCRA, Conservationism: Texas-Style
World War II, the Cold War and further Rollbacks of New Conservation


The Democratic Party has the White House and both houses of Congress. While Democrats won support from across the country their base is in the Northeast. The US is in the midst of economic, and alleged environmental, crises. During the Hundred Days the President brought environmentalists into senior realms of government and Congress pushed a raft of environmentalist legislation. The stage is set for major federal government expansion that will change how electricity is generated and will restrict the amount of land available for development. The year is 1934.

Professor Sarah Phillips’ This Land, This Nation: Conservation, Rural America and the New Deal (Cambridge University Press, 2007) is the latest word on 1930s-era US “environmentalism”. The book jacket cites nine history profs singing praises like: “masterful study”;best environmental history of the New Deal”; “significant contribution to our understanding of environmental history”; “outstanding contribution to the study of US conservationism”; “impressive debut of a major new voice”; “superb...astute sophisticated analysis of New Deal conservation policy”. The book is a repetitive tumble-down shack built with non-chronological narratives and nailed with meaningless adjectives. This Land is biased, flawed but edifying. Itwarrants salvaging, which is what follows.

Conservationism New Conservationism

US conservationism comes into view against a backdrop of raging post-Civil War industrialization. Scientists, journalists, and politicians warned America’s resources neared exhaustion. They predicted resource famine. (1) A generation later movement leaders Gifford Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt captured state power. Gifford, twisting utilitarian rhetoric, defined conservationism’s aim as: “the greatest good to the greatest number for the longest time”. President Teddy Roosevelt advocated public ownership, mainly in the West, as the remedy for resource abuse. (2)

New Conservationism emerged in the 1920s led by “eastern policy planners” who believed: “the modern business and financial system exploited the human and natural resources of rural areas, exhausted the nation’s soils and forests, and pulled impoverished people into over-crowded cities.” (3) They accused capitalism of over-investing in agriculture but under-investing in agriculturalists. New Conservationists appealed to multiple interests by advocating an array of conflicting programs. They promoted: multi-purpose water projects, reclamation programs, rural electrification, industrial decentralization, subsistence homesteads, land retirement, soil conservation, reforestation, park expansion, and the back-to-the-land movement. (4) New Conservationism was a counterpoint to the “associationalism” exemplified by President Hoover. The Hoover administration supported, albeit tepidly, oil and timber conservation, outdoor recreation and federal outlays for flood control. However Hoover opposed government ownership of electrical power and he opposed forcing utilities to provide rural coverage. He otherwise alienated rural conservationists and underestimated New Conservationism’s strength. (5)

New Conservationist “land economists” like L. C. Gray dwelled on an alleged over investment in large cash crop farms. (6) Gray, a product of Wisconsin U’s Land Economics faculty, was an “institutionalist” who rejected “individualistic neo-classical” economics. Newly cleared Lake State areas were the land economists’ first focus. Between 1900 and 1920, after lumber companies cleared the forests of northern Wisconsin and Michigan, colonizing companies welcomed settlers. To monitor this, a Land Survey was instigated by Michigan State U. Wisconsin enacted a Forest Crop Law (1927) to subsidize reforestation and a 1929 act designating farming, forestry and recreation zones. (7)

The early 20th century farming boom was financed by insurance companies and rural banks confident of ever-rising land values. The Great Plains witnessed waves of farmers enticed by large homesteads. Consequently, in the 1920s, increased harvests lowered prices. Many farmers responded to the “crisis” by increasing output. Plains farmers in particular, accustomed to farming large spreads with gasoline tractors and combine harvesters, made up for declining prices by breaking more sod. (8) The American Farm Bureau’s solution was raising domestic prices by dumping surpluses abroad. (9)

Gray and M. L. Wilson of the Bureau of Agricultural Economists (BAE) contended the “farm crisis” resulted from improper land use. (10) A crucial distinction was made between “marginal” and suitable farmland. Marginality was an: “economic definition often blended with a sociocultural construction.” (11) On the plains aridity – not tree stumps or stony soil as in the Lake states – determined “marginality.” Land economists used the “crisis” to advance land-use planning, thus obscuring what many, like Hugh Bennett, thought was the real problem facing agriculture: “overproduction.” (12)

Bennett campaigned against the “national menace” of soil erosion. He demanded “every loyal citizen of the Nation lessen this tremendous evil.” His favourite hobgoblin was sheet erosion: the invisible disappearance of thin layers of soil. Bennett co-authored Soil Erosion: a National Menace (1928) for the Agriculture Department and penned scary articles for magazines. His message: prevent soil erosion through “proper land use”; i.e. reverting farmland to wilderness and reducing livestock per acre. In 1929, using figures on lost farm income, he pried congressional funds for erosion surveys and experiments. By 1931, eight soil research stations were operating and ten more were in the works. (13)

After Gray became BAE’s Land Economics Division director he transformed it into a New Conservationist command post. The frontier settlement era was pronounced dead. America could no longer trust private enterprise. Policies should stabilize agricultural prices, preserve natural resources and repair rural society. In 1932 the Division’s line was: “the long reign of individualism had created widespread social and economic maladjustments in the use of land.” (14) Gray, Wilson et al. contended governments must replace unrestricted homesteading with managed back-to-the-land movements.

To Wilson the aim of the rural conservationist was to: “make the cities and industries dependence upon agriculture permanent.” (15) This view was shared by the Country Life movement – an alliance of academics and officials calling attention to disparities between city and country and working to change farming practises. Liberty Bailey, chair of Roosevelt’s Country Life Commission, defined movement goals as: “permanent agriculture that will maintain itself century by century...without despoliation or loss, or without a damaging monopoly.” Permanent agriculture needed a settled system of “natural” communities. Farming should be “self-sustaining” and done with future generations in mind. Country Lifers were convinced “extensive” and “pioneering” farming destroyed soil. They also contended rural stakeholders deserved primary claim to local forests and streams. (16)

Country Life’s anti-urbanism was shared by Lewis Mumford and Benton MacKaye of the Regional Planning Association of America (est. 1923). RPAA was influenced by British “garden city” and “back to the land” movements. RPAA “human engineers” wanted stable village-based countrysides. “Regional planning sees that the depopulated countryside and the congested city are intimately related,” declared Mumford. Mackaye, a forester, claimed soil and forest ruination resulted from “regarding the countryside as so much grist for the metropolitan mill.” Mumford summarized: “Regional planning is the New Conservation – the conservation of human values hand in hand with natural resources...permanent agriculture instead of land-skinning, permanent forestry instead of timber mining, permanent human communities.” (17)

Also in the New Conservationist camp were “regionalist” academics like Institute for Social Science Research founder Henry Odum and “regionalist” politicians like New York Governor Alfred Smith and Nebraska Senator George Norris. Smith influenced his successor Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). Norris, an advocate of state-run resource projects, courted controversy by opposing privatization of nitrate-explosive plants and a hydro-electric dam built on the Tennessee River (Muscle Shoals, Alabama) by the federal government during WWI.

Electricity regulation was another New Conservationist policy tributary. The case for government control of electricity was partially made on the grounds the industry was being monopolized. In 1924 seven companies generated half Pennsylvania’s electricity; by 1929 this number was reduced to 3. (18) In 1917 Wisconsin had 312 power companies; in 1930 it had 3. (19) However, the main case for state-owned electricity was: Private utilities’ neglect of rural areas accelerated urbanization. As of 1930, 90% of US farmers could not get lines strung to their homes. The other 10% paid twice the urban rate. Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot’s 1923 “Giant Power” initiative laid the framework for state-run electrical systems. Chief Giant Power bureaucrat, Morris Cooke, believed the state had to provide electricity to rural areas to decentralize industry, restore country life, and putfarmers on an equal footing with townsmen. Pennsylvania needed “a revivified agriculture and a re-inspiration of small town life.” (20) He was impressed by Ontario Hydro-Electric Commission’s provision of service to villages and farms. Ontario Hydro “checked the human tide toward the great cities.” (21) While little came of Pinchot’s Giant Power or Norris’s Muscle Shoals plans, their apparent failure concealed the rise of a persuasive policy consideration: resource development should benefit adjacent rural areas. (22)

In the 1920s, 30,000 New York farms failed. (23) Governor FDR’s policies were designed to conserve the agricultural population. Claiming improper land use caused the rural diaspora, his solutions involved classifying farmland, then purchasing and reforesting the “marginal”. A state constitutional amendment permitted a bond issue to fund reforestation. Purchased lands were deemed “timber reserves” except those in the Adirondack and Catskill nature preserves. FDR also sought to help those on “good” land to farm under better conditions. He reduced rural taxes by shifting school and road costs from local to state government. He promised urban amenities for farmers and lavished attention on rural electrification. He coupled Teddy Roosevelt’s emphasis on public ownership of waterpower sites with an insistence on subsidized rural service. FDR “protected” waterpower sites from capitalists and secured legislation founding the New York Power Authority to develop hydro-electricity. (24)

To New Conservationists the Great Depression was the great blessing. The Depression fit their theory that economic discord was rooted in the countryside and would persist as long as rural living standards lagged urban ones. (25) In the debate between those who believed farmers should “get big or get out” and agrarian-conservationists who championed small farms, the Depression favoured of the latter. (26) Record numbers of desperate urbanites sought refuge in the country, creating record numbers of farms. This back-to-the-land movement was concentrated in the Northeast, home to 82% of US manufacturing jobs. (27) FDR thought this movement was a creative response to industrial decline and that governments should facilitate de-urbanization by encouraging subsistence farming. (28) He lectured the 1931 annual governor’s conference about “permanent agriculture”. He envisioned small factories nestled in Upstate hills: “Hitherto we have spoken of two types of living and only two – urban and rural. I believe we can look forward to three rather than two types, for there is a definite place for an intermediate type between the urban and rural, namely, rural industrial group.” (29)

Despite the failure of FDR’s vision to materialize during his governorship, rural conservation became his presidential election platform. Coached by the Brain Trust, FDR made agricultural under-consumption a campaign centrepiece. The chief ‘Brain’ was Columbia U prof Rexford Tugwell – “a first-rate economist who had pushed beyond the frontiers of stiff classicism.” As an institutionalist Tugwell believed: social managers should shape economic forces; the Depression resulted from imprudent increases in productive capacity; and farmers confronted “deranged” markets. The unpleasant solution was withdrawing vast amounts of “marginal” land from production. (30)

On winning the Democratic nomination FDR exclaimed: “One-half of our population, over 50 million people, are dependent on agriculture and my friends, if those 50 million people have no money, no cash, to buy what is produced in the city, the city suffers.” (31) FDR courted farm organizations; telling the American Farm Bureau, National Grange, and Farmer’s Union he would accept any proposal they agreed upon. He promised farm aid without being specific, sketched a quota plan without calling it such, and never mentioned acreage reduction. Rural electrification, soil conservation, and reforestation were not rewards for after the economic recovery but tools to lift America from Depression. He promised a million jobs restoring “marginal” land. (32)

New Conservationism New Deal

The Depression’s crisis atmosphere justified FDR’s rushing New Conservationists (Cooke, Gray, Wilson, Bennett, and Tugwell) into his administration and giving them a free hand in crafting programs. (33) New Conservationists became “New Dealers” but continued to see “rural areas to be the victims of two interlocked forms of exploitation – the corporate extraction of natural resources, and the unsustainable abuse of those resources.” (34) In this paradigm, as the Depression was caused by urban/rural inequality, the solution was uplifting farmers with soil conservation, river development, recreational opportunity, and electrification. “No idea pulsed more vibrantly at the very heart of the New Deal in 1933 than the conviction that on the success (of the effort to raise) farm incomes rode the hopes not only of the nation’s farmers but of the nation itself.” This was accompanied by: “Ubiquitous invocations of the moral superiority of the American farmer”. (35)

With FDR’s election came the largest congressional majorities Democrats had ever known (60 to 35 in the Senate and 311 to 116 in the House). This allowed New Dealers to rush through the AAA, CCC, FERA, PWA, and TVA during the first Hundred Days. AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Administration) fixed prices for cotton, wheat, corn, hogs, rice, tobacco, and milk. To ensure farmers received these prices, AAA gave Agriculture Secretary Wallace options including direct payments for acreage reductions. His main tools were loans given to farmers at spring seeding. The farmer agreed to limit acreage and pay back the loan with his harvest. (36) Funds came from a tax on food processing companies. AAA contributed to a 50% rise in farm income over three years. CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) was an army of men employed to reforest public lands, prevent soil erosion, and improve national parks. (37) FERA (Federal Emergency Relief Administration) distributed welfare-style relief payments to the rural poor. PWA (Public Works Administration) allotted $3.3 billion for constructing hydro-electric dams, public transmission systems and soil conservation and “marginal” land purchase. (38) The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was a river development project chartered to uplift the Tennessee Valley. To PWA and TVA, “rural conservationism” meant making farmers privileged beneficiaries of electricity. (39)

By executive order FDR created Subsistence Homesteads to promote “back-to-the-land” farming and chose M. L. Wilson as director. Wilson envisioned an American frontier with “thousands of self-subsistence homestead communities properly related to decentralized industry.” He began 32 projects but was beset by legal and administrative difficulties. He had little luck persuading industry to relocate and Congress obstructed funding for his “rurban communities” (40) Subsistence Homesteads ran afoul FERA bureaucrats who wanted fewer unemployed workers in the countryside. FERA was inundated with: “people who are already on the land – thousands of share-croppers, tenant farmers, farm hands, who are existing in tumbledown shacks...cluttering up farms where there is no employment for them.” (41) Wilson left Subsistence Homesteads to become USDA Undersecretary where he preached “profit cannot be got from American unlimited production” and:

Technological efficiency is important but many applications of it have created immeasurable misery. I believe that for the present we must keep a much larger number of people on the farms than many agricultural economists would advise. There are values in rural life without rich material returns, which in my estimation are superior to maximum commercial productiveness.” (42)

Back in 1902 the US Reclamation Bureau was launched to improve farmland through irrigation. However by 1930 its projects accounted for only a small fraction of the nation’s irrigated acreage. When national public works budgets soared in the 1930s, and with 40% of funds designated for dams, conflict broke out between the Bureau and New Conservationists. (43) Pro-reclamation officials, like Interior Secretary Ickes (who ran PWA), wanted more irrigated farmland for the legions of westward migrants. New Conservationists wanted reduced acreage. Hence:

If Henry A. Wallace, the Department of Agriculture, FDR and numerous others viewed the Great Plains in terms of lowering expectations to save the soil, Harold Ickes and his allies viewed his domain largely in terms of expanding horizons, chiefly through the development of water facilities...” (44)

The Bureau of Agriculture Economists (BAE) was appalled by reclamation. Why bring more farms into production, they argued, if overproduction already plagued markets? BAE’s L. C. Gray collided with ambitious Reclamation Bureau officials who planned massive irrigation projects. (45) Ickes defended irrigation but conceded coordination was needed. An interdepartmental committee recommended any increase in cultivated acreage resulting from irrigation be offset with PWA-funded retirement of equal amounts of “marginal” land. Ickes set aside $25 million for offsets. (46)

FDR approved of irrigation undertaken “not for the benefit of the man who happens to live there at the time, but rather with the idea that we will provide comparatively small irrigated tracts which can offer settlement.” (47) This thinking was consistent with a back-to-the-land philosophy and was loosely compatible with the original Reclamation Act’s limiting of a recipient’s use of irrigation water to 160 acres. But this rule was flaunted. After the Reclamation Bureau took over California’s Central Valley Project in 1935, Congress, bowing to agri-business, exempted the project from the 160 acre rule. The Colorado-Big Thompson Project (est. 1938), which irrigated eastern Colorado by sending water under the Continental Divide through tunnels, was also exempted from the 160 acre rule. (48)

Ickes divided PWA into “federal” and “non-federal” programs. “Federal” monies went to agencies like the Reclamation Bureau and the US Army Corps of Engineers. States and municipalities applied for “non-federal” monies. Applications poured in for flood control, irrigation, improved navigation, and electric power. To win acceptance, applicants like the Mississippi Valley Committee often framed river control proposals with soil erosion/forest depletion rationales. PWA also financed “land utilization” purchases and helped the Park Service expand its domain. (49) PWA gave $10 million to Bennett’s Soil Erosion Service (SES) to advance a conflicting mix of farm practices: contour ploughing and terracing to enhance traditional crops and pasture and watering-pond building to transition away from those crops. SES also funded tree-planting and supplied farmers with shrubs and saplings. (50)

For New Conservationists, the Dust Bowl was a gift from Jupiter. Drought appeared in 1931. A 1936 survey of 14 Dust Bowl counties revealed 54% of fields blown out; 25% of farms abandoned. An additional 550,000 farm families went on relief. For New Dealers, FDR on down, the drought affirmed a belief the West should never have been farmed. FDR declared dust storms resulted from land that: “Instead of using for pasture we are using it for wheat.” He concluded: “Many millions of acres of such land must be returned to grass or trees if we are to prevent a new and man-made Sahara.” (51) In 1935 he added: “We find millions of our citizens stranded in village and on farm because Nature cannot support them...” (52) In April of that year, as dust swirled Capitol Hill, Bennett dramatically pointed to the scene outside and implored Congress pass the Soil Erosion Act. The Act made his Service permanent, moved it to the USDA, and renamed it the Soil Conservation Service (SCS). Americans were deluged with soil erosion propaganda like To Hold This Land and the dumbed-down, illustrated Behold Our Land. The National Resource Board’s Land Committee blamed the Dust Bowl on the cultivation of “marginal” land. Committee Chairman, Wilson, toured the drought region in 1935, concluding it had to “jettison its high stakes gambling and retire its marginal land.” Such land had to be made “common property.” The Committee recommended permanently taking 75 million acres of farmland out of production. (53)

In 1936, the Supreme Court struck down the Agricultural Adjustment Act. USA v. Butler ruled federal taxing authority did not permit regulating the nation’s agricultural affairs. (54) In Butler’s wake the AAA’s Planning Division, under Howard Tolley, implemented ‘Plan B’. According to Tolley, AAA’s goal was reducing certain crops. The crops causing the glut were conveniently the ones causing soil erosion. Reducing production was reframed as soil conservation. New legislation was constitutionally predicated on federal “public welfare” obligations. Tolley: “It is very easy to rationalize, (for) conserving the land of the United States enhances the national welfare.” New funding came not from food processing taxes but from general revenues (boosted by corporate tax hikes). (55) Shortly after Butler, Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act. AAA local committees became “agricultural conservation associations.”

According to Tolley, the original AAA (1933-6) aided only wealthy farmers. Its ‘rural permanence’ rationale gave way to a focus on high commodity prices. (56) A similar critique appeared in Arthur Raper’s Preface to Peasantry (1936). Raper, a student of regionalist Henry Odum, criticized the New Deal for rejuvenating the South’s decadent plantation economy by propping up landowners and penalizing the landless. His focus, Greene County Georgia, was devastated by a boll weevil epidemic but Raper blamed the county’s poverty on farming practices he claimed caused erosion. With typical New Conservationist synaesthesia, he wrote: “In the long run the plantation system causes gullies by what it does to the man...To stop gullies, we shall need to examine the philosophy of human relations.” (Due to Raper’s exposure, Greene County became a “land utilization” show case. 144,000 acres of cotton fields were converted into pasture and wilderness. 586 families received restoration funds. Federal cash poured into schools and hospitals. (57) Similar tensions surfaced in 1935 when “agrarian” officials, incensed that AAA money helped cotton planters displace black sharecroppers, decreed AAA beneficiaries retain fixed numbers of personnel. This outraged southern congressmen. Secretary Wallace rescinded the decree and began purging agrarians.

Tolley’s 1936 Soil Conservation Act did not achieve its aims. Officials soon learned: “Even though production control and soil conservation are fundamentally related methods for accomplishing the same one should conclude that either is an effective substitute for the other.” Conservation measures did not reduce production. Drought reduced production but yields rebounded with the rains of 1937. (58) Congress then passed another AAA steering a middle course between the first AAA and the Soil Conservation Act. Production restraint, AAA’s bedrock principle, proved irksome. Restricting food supply struck farmers as counter-intuitive, un-American. Many farmers felt underemployed by production limits and mocked the “weed patches” they were paid to grow. (59) Urbanites attacked the “policy of scarcity,” with its destruction of livestock and cotton, as mean-spirited in a world begging for food and clothing.

The Farm Tenancy Report (1937) drew attention to the poverty of small farmers and rural tenants. The subsequent Farm Security Administration (FSA) aided small operators and helped tenants become owners. By 1943 one in nine US farmers had received an FSA loan or grant. FSA promoted stability, not cash-crop expansion. It aimed at adapting farmers to “permanent environmental and economic conditions.” Farmers wishing to expand grain output were denied credit and urged to diversify. (60)

As USDA became the largest federal agency, internal bureaucratic-ideological struggles intensified. There were three general camps: pro-market businessmen; pro-conservationist Ivy League Northeasterners; and midwestern farm boys wishing to restore the middle-sized farms of their youth. The AAA faction fought for big farmers while the FSA faction lobbied for the poor.

In 1933 Morris Cooke’s memo to FDR, “Electrify Rural America Now,” bemoaned how only 11% of American farms had electricity (compared to 90% in France; 60% in New Zealand) because private utilities discriminated against rural consumers. To remedy this Cooke was set up inside the PWA; but in 1935 FDR, by executive order, created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), which Congress made permanent in 1936. Cooke, a fierce soil conservationist, contended the US had “twenty years of grace” to defeat the “insidious enemy” of soil erosion. He argued “permanent agriculture” was the “first step in a long ecological chain of causes and effects which leads to the solution of all our water problems.” In 1935 REA and Bennett’s SCS produced Little Waters – a pamphlet urging farmers to convert sloping land to pasture and dig reservoirs as an alternative to large-scale irrigation. (61)

The 1934 Taylor Grazing Act closed the public domain to settlement. As environmental protection was not the Act’s sole rationale, it also aimed to raise livestock prices, it was “a classic New Deal concoction.” The Act marked the end of the homestead era. New Deal “Land Utilization” marked the era’s reversal. “Land Utilization” was code for farmland retirement i.e. wilderness restoration. With FDR’s New York policies as a model, the program targeted FERA-dependent areas of the South, Lake States and Midwest. (62) By 1934, one million farm families collected FERA checks. FERA blamed rural distress on: “a frontier mentality of reckless individualism and heedless environmental destruction.” (63)

FDR, by executive order in 1935, redirected relief funds to the Orwellian-sounding Resettlement Administration (RA). Paradigmatic agrarian intellectual Rexford Tugwell left AAA to run RA. Tugwell thought rural poverty solvable only by land retirement. The land in question should never have been farmed and had to be restored to conditions “nature would tolerate.” (64) L. C. Gray was tapped to run RA’s Land Utilization Division (later transferred to the Soil Conservation Service). They purchased blocks of farmland, restored it and then tried to resettle displaced families. A committee of reps from AAA, National Park Service, Bureau of Biological Survey, and Office of Indian Affairs decided if purchased land should become agricultural rehab sites, recreational parks, wildlife preserves or Native American projects. By 1938, land utilization projects covered parts of almost every state. In North Carolina 15,000 acres of cotton land became the William B. Umstead State Park. In Florida large sections of farmland were reforested and added to Apalachicola National Forest and St Marks Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. On the plains: Cimarron, Thunder Basin, Kiowa and Comanche Grasslands Parks each began as land utilization projects. Around Milk River, Montana a million acres were purchased and restored to grass. On the plains and the Southwest alone, the federal government acquired and restored nine million acres of (mostly tax delinquent) farmland. Restoration work was done mostly by the Forest Service and CCC but RA also paid stranded families to plant trees. In 1946, when Congress halted the practice, 11 million acres of farmland had been restored. (65)

Tugwell opposed resettlement in place, preferring farmer relocation. (He also considered the “back-to-the-land” movement a form of romantic escapism.) RA’s 19 resettlement projects built 2,500 homes. (66) FERA also initiated resettlement projects (28 in total). At Mississippi County, Arkansas FERA purchased and drained a swamp; built roads, bridges and 500 cottages. In Pine Mountain Valley, Georgia FERA built 300 homesteads, an electric power system, a cannery, fish hatchery, dairy, sawmill, vineyard and a church. Such projects were criticized by landowners who feared a loss of seasonal labour. (67)

RA policies were tolerated where land lay forsaken, but where farmers intended to be successful it was politically unworkable. Plains farmers did not take to sermons on how the prairies should never have been ploughed. They thought the “drought alone was to blame for their difficulties.” Many feared FDR planned to depopulate the plains. Texas Senator Sheppard wrote to FDR reminding him “hundreds of thousands of acres of wheat have been successfully cultivated in the Panhandle for the past quarter century.” An accompanying telegram signed by Amarillo’s prominent citizens demanded assurance their investments would not be destroyed and that Texans would not be “transported to a land selected by others for them.” This and other anti-land-retirement protests caused New Dealers to backtrack. (68) In 1936 FDR went on record: “Nobody ever had any idea in their sane senses of depopulating the country.” He toured the West, repeating he never “meant depopulating these areas.” Tugwell was forced out. Secretary Wallace took over RA and appointed a new director who said Tugwell’s focus on “marginal” land was an over-simplification. Wallace admitted good land had been purchased with the bad. Tugwell’s purchases had been “blocked in rather solidly to effectuate the use of the areas as forests, game preserves and recreational areas.” (69)

However, at the same time FDR’s Great Plains Drought Area Committee (which included Bennett and was chaired by Cooke) stressed new methods were needed “to meet changes in Nature.” Their subsequent report denounced the pioneering ethos and blamed farmers for the Dust Bowl: “there is no evidence that in the historic times there was ever a severe enough drought to destroy the grass roots and cause wind erosion comparable to what took place in 1934 and 1936; that phenomenon is chargeable to... plowing and overcropping.” The problem was an imbalance between man and Nature. The solution was land retirement, not large-scale irrigation. (70)

Land retirement continued until 1946 but was much reduced by the late 1930s. In 1939 Morton County, Kansas farmers demanded a complete end to purchases. They insisted the feds were buying up good land, that towns were being emptied, tax bases undermined and families forced onto relief. The feds halted purchases in Morton County and concentrated on restoring the 107,000 acres already acquired. (71) Rural conservationism’s last grasp was a short-lived campaign kicked off at a 1938 meeting of USDA and land-grant college reps who concluded county-level farmers’ committees should front land use planning. Wallace transferred Tolley to the BAE and put him in charge of this “great surge in agricultural democracy.” (72) The surge began in 1940 after a BAE spokesman reminded the Senate that: “Human erosion and soil erosion are but twin aspects of a single problem.” (73) County land use committees were populated by wealthy Farm Bureau members and reps from the AAA, FSA, SCS, FCS, FS, TVA and REA. Federal agents at times outnumbered farmers. The Farm Bureau claimed “tenants, and particularly sharecroppers, are not competent to recognize and protect their own interests, and the affairs are best left in the hands of others.” (74) One of the few committees to get to the action phase, Teton County Montana, took 20,000 acres out of cultivation. (75)

The Tennessee Valley Authority's Conversion of Conservationism

The Tennessee River flows in a 650-mile crescent from Knoxville to Paducah (Kentucky) where it joins the Ohio. Its watershed covers Tennessee and parts of six other states. A sharp drop at Muscle Shoals, Alabama obstructs navigation but offers hydro-electric potential. In 1933 the valley was 78% rural. Crops were corn and cotton. 3% of farms had electricity. New Dealers said land degradation caused the valley’s poverty: “The region faced a closing pair of Malthusian scissors – there were too many people trying to make a living from a rapidly diminishing resource base.” (76)

TVA was chartered to improve navigability and flood control, restore/reforest “marginal” lands, and coordinate economic development. To avoid conflict with private power producers, TVA promoters “cleverly cast the proposal first as a flood control and navigation measure,” downplaying the hydro-electric component. However, most agreed with Nebraska Senator Norris: “We should commit an economic sin, a folly, if we built large dams to control floods or improve navigation...without utilizing the water to produce electric power.” (77)Hence,“to avoid the waste of water power,” TVA was quietly authorized to generate and market electricity. The Reclamation Bureau built TVA’s first two dams but by 1934 TVA was on its own. Between 1933 and 1941 seven dams were completed. (78)

TVA had three executives. Chairman, Arthur E. Morgan (A. E.), came from Ohio where he designed flood control dams and presided over Antioch College. He said the valley’s plight resulted from the environmental ruination inherent in cotton and corn farming. He envisioned a valley of dairy pastures, strawberry patches and boutique craft cooperatives employing local talent and resources. (79) Industry should “grow out of the land.” A. E. believed: “America has run to a large size and may have greatly overdone mass production.” He founded the TVA Coop Association to process foods for local farmers’ markets. (80) Sharing A. E.’s anti-industrial bias, and last name, was fellow exec Harcourt Morgan: a career agriculture prof and president of Tennessee U. Harcourt asserted: “When industrialization is concentrated in certain areas the sections producing raw materials drain off their resources and impair the economy for which Nature fitted them.” He hectored valley farmers on replacing cash crops with pasture-building grasses and clovers, to align themselves with “our common mooring”, Nature. His hydrology theory emphasized trapping water with expanded vegetative cover which again required shifting from crops to permaculture. No big factories or low-wage textile mills for Harcourt’s valley. Industry must be agriculture-based; it must “grow on the land”. Electricity was essential for refrigerating, processing and packaging farm output. The third exec, David Lilienthal, was a Wisconsin utility regulator who believed electricity so vital it had to be kept under “the strictest public control.” (81)

Initially, forestry was an important TVA activity. TVA funded CCC camps to run nurseries and plant trees. As well, when TVA acquired land for reservoirs, it purchased and forested quarter mile strips around reservoir perimeters. The 117,000-acre strip around the Norris reservoir became a European-style “sustainable yield” experiment. A. E. dreamed of a village of happy cabinet makers by the Norris. (82) A. E.’s “forest group,” seeking ever-greater land purchases, clashed with Harcourt’s “agricultural group” who wanted to lose as little farmland as possible. The “agricultural group”, already flummoxed by watching reservoirs inundate 4,200 farms, drove out the “forest group” in 1937. FDR fired A. E. (83) TVA stopped acquiring more land than necessary and transferred its forest operations to other agencies. The “agricultural group” also triumphed over the “regionalist” (cottage industry) planners. TVA planning was reduced to electricity and fertilizer. (84)

Harcourt jettisoned the assumption Muscle Shoals’ plants would produce nitrates. He claimed using nitrates on row crops would not improve soil. Farmers should use the nitrates Nature provided them. He dreamed of valley under a blanket of bluegrass. Then the region’s agricultural establishment convinced him phosphorus was the valley’s missing nutrient. TVA soon disseminated “phosphate philosophy” and supplied farmers with phosphate fertilizer and the machinery to spread it. By 1938 Harcourt’s “demonstration areas” covered 15% of valley farms (5,775 square miles). (85)

In 1936 Lilienthal pursued electricity customers among manufacturers and municipalities despite objections from private utilities. Lilienthal’s first wholesale contract, with Tupelo, Mississippi, offered electricity at half the going rate. By 1937 TVA served 19 cooperatives and 20% of valley farms. By 1938 TVA’s four dams generated two billion kilowatt hours per annum. Big deals were inked with Monsanto and Alcoa. Lilienthal created demand. His Electric Home and Farm Authority helped manufacturers develop and market appliances affordable to area households. (86) Lilienthal seized upon WWII mobilization to sell power to military installations like the Oak Ridge atomic research facility. During WWII TVA doubled output with new dams and coal-fired plants. 75% of new power went to the defence industry. TVA supplied 10% of the war effort’s electricity and became USA’s largest power provider. (87)

Despite the conservationist rhetoric accompanying its founding, TVA conserved neither tree nor farm. It never maintained forests or even resettled farmers left homeless by reservoirs. (88) Its WWII-era Douglas Dam went ahead over objections of farmers and flooded 15,000 acres of prime land. TVA cooperated with well-to-do farmers bent on economic consolidation. TVA never helped poor farmers, tenants, or the landless. Their approach was: “to him that hath shall be given.” (89)

LBJ, LCRA and Conservationism: Texas-Style

Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) built a career on the New Deal’s elastic definition of “conservation”. He was a 22-year-old Houston school teacher when he landed a job as legislative secretary for Congressman Dick Kleberg. It was 1931 – tough times for Texans. In some counties a third of farmers faced foreclosure. On February 25, 1933, 1,500 Texas farmers marched to protest foreclosures. They were armed. The federal government’s 1934 stock-purchase plan bought animals in danger of dying as a result of the drought. In Blanco County (LBJ’s home) farmers received $107,223 for their livestock: 90% of Agriculture Adjustment Act (AAA) disbursements to the county. Kleberg was disinterested in AAA but LBJ tirelessly worked it. Their congressional district was the first to have all its AAA applications approved. (90)

In 1919 the Army Corps of Engineers, pressed by landowners along the Colorado River, recommended building multi-purpose dams north of Austin. Chicago’s Middle West Utilities, leading private efforts to harness the Colorado, spent $1.5 million on surveys and water rights. In 1928, unable to resolve disputes between upstream and downstream interests, Middle West gave up. Veteran river authority attorney Alvin Wirtz took on the project and persuaded another Chicago firm to finish surveys and buy rights at six sites. This firm then sold out to Middle West, which went bankrupt in the Depression. The assets went to a receivership managed by Wirtz who, with Congressman Buchanan, secured funding from the federal Public Works Administration (PWA). In 1934 the Texas Senate’s Lower Colorado River Authority Bill was blocked in the House by private utilities and west Texas ranchers. The bill passed later that year after Buchanan got PWA to grant water rights to the ranchers. Thus was born the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). (91)

LCRA construction began in 1935 after FDR allotted $20 million. Job creation was part of the rationale. In a 50-mile radius around the construction site 95,000 families were on relief. LCRA announced plans for four dams but kept secret its hydro-electric plans. Not fooled, Texas Power and Light (TP&L) sued to block LCRA power generation. Only after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of PWA-financed power generation did LCRA reveal its electrical intentions. (92)

Buchanan died in January 1937. In February LBJ asked for Wirtz’s support in a bid to fill Buchanan’s seat. Wirtz, reckoning LBJ could fetch federal dollars, became his campaign manager. LBJ’s father-in-law kicked down $10,000. LBJ billed himself as the “total Roosevelt man.” (In 1936 FDR carried this District nine votes to one.) LBJ preached: “There is only one issue in this campaign. Are you for the President or against him?” He drove to every town in the district, told his wife not to let him in the house until dark, and loosed a barrage of newspaper and radio ads. National well-being, he insisted, depended on farmer well-being. He made much hay from the fact that: “My own father struggled for years to save his farm when I was a boy. He lost that farm. It was a family tragedy I never want to see duplicated.” Only 30,000 of the district’s 264,000 inhabitants voted. LBJ’s 8,280 votes beat his nearest competitor by 3,200. FDR called LBJ an “uninhibited pro” and directed White House staff to “help him with anything you can.” (93)

Congressman LBJ’s first mantra was: farmers must receive their fair share. He helped pass the Farm Security Act (FSA) in 1937. In Texas FSA made emergency grants to farmers and offered loans to help tenants buy land. LBJ backed the 1938 AAA, which paid farmers just to use manure and legumes in their crop rotations. Its Range Conservation Program paid farmers to $5 per acre to clear brush. (94) LBJ’s second mantra was: Texans must control their resources. The 1938 Report on Economic Conditions of the South (influenced by regionalist Howard Odum) claimed the South’s living standards were half the national average because it had a colonial economy – resource-rich but agriculture-dependent and underdeveloped. After reading the Report, FDR labelled the South the “Nation’s No. 1 economic problem.” (95) The Report convinced LBJ to emphasize the non-Texan ownership of the power industry and to stress electricity precedes development. LBJ campaigned to prevent LCRA power being sold to private utilities. Local elections determined whether an area would be serviced by LCRA or a private company. TP&L sent out notices telling people to vote against LCRA but most newspapers supported LCRA with passages like: “pay for your projects with your revenues at half the present cost, or you are going to buy it at any price the New York bankers tell you.” Gracious in victory, LCRA agreed to sell surplus power to private utilities and eventually bought most TP&L assets. (96)

LBJ negotiated an agreement between Austin and LCRA to re-build the Austin Dam. In 1937 FDR ordered the Interior Dept to allot $5 million for this project. LBJ achieved a greater score in 1938. Federal guidelines stipulated a region have three farms per mile to receive electrification loans; a requirement sparsely settled Texas Hill Country could not meet. LBJ appealed directly to FDR who then phoned the loan director. FDR: “I know you’ve got to have guidelines but you just go ahead and approve this for me – charge it to my account.” (97) In 1938 ten days of rain lifted the Colorado River 42 feet above normal and overwhelmed LCRA dams. Private utilities blamed the flood on LCRA’s over-emphasis on power generation: “an empty dam cannot run generators and a full dam cannot store flood water.” While LCRA promised better flood control it, used the affair to fund infrastructure improvements through selling bonds based on power revenues. LBJ used the flood to press for more money for higher dams. In 1939 the Reclamation Bureau okayed funds for a very high Mansfield Dam. LBJ also helped found the Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) to assist farmers over the legal and organizational hurdles of applying for federal loans to construct transmission lines. By 1939 PEC’s 3,500 members had strung 2,000 miles of lines.

During WWII LCRA’s cheap electric power attracted heavy industry. In 1940, when LBJ asked for more money to finish the Mansfield Dam he dropped any conservationist talk, casting the project entirely in terms of national defence. FDR found LBJ persuasive – eight days later he released the funds. LBJ helped get the Naval Air Base for Corpus Christi; the Naval Air Training Station for Dallas; and weapons factories for towns in south-east Texas. LCRA powered these facilities and magnesium plants, oil refineries and graphite mines. LCRA’s motto was “The Dams You Built Protect the Land You Love.” (98)

To LBJ “conservation meant abundance not abstinence.” (99) LBJ marketed electric appliances and worked with county agents to assess refrigeration needs for agricultural perishables. Farmers got low interest loans for electric stoves, washers, irons and milking machines. LBJ and LCRA put on “Electrical Magic Circuses” which drew thousands to see the latest gadgets under the banner “Use Electricity Extensively.” A 1940 op-ed prepared by LBJ’s office read: “Harness the river and stop the floods! ...Fill lakes full of blue water to laugh at droughts and bring tourists from all over America.” Dam reservoirs were re-branded “highland lakes”. To attract sight-seers they built a scenic drive connecting nearby caverns to Inks Dam. To attract anglers they opened fish hatcheries. To attract hunters they bred quail and fed deer around the reservoirs. (100) In 1947, when LBJ reminded LCRA’s board of their duty to “restore” farmlands, he clearly meant reclamation. LCRA supplied graders for terracing and drainage, bulldozers to clear brush and drag lines for ditches. Model farms promoted “whole farm improvement” and “technological efficiency.” LCRA declared: “The project will be of help as the inefficient and marginal producers will be unable to keep up with increases in the efficiency of production as developed by the more energetic and ambitious people...” (101)

In the 1940s LCRA self-financed two hydro-electric dams and purchased a coal-fired plant. By 1956 LCRA powered 30 municipalities and its “new horizons” plan called for more electricity for industry, enhanced barge facilities, and another coal-fired plant. Electricity sales increased 20% over the next decade as LCRA gained new customers among chemical firms, airplane manufacturers, textile mills, furniture factories, meat processors, and quarries. (102)

New Deal rural conservation was supposed to preserve small farming and check land expansion through farm ownership, land retirement and rural electrification – many farmers, little land. In 1925, 60% of Texas farmers were tenants; 22% had electricity. In 1950, 70% owned their land; 80% had electricity. In 1925 there were 466,000 farms in Texas; average size – 236 acres (1.09 million acres in total). By 1950 there were 332,000 Texan farms; average size – 439 acres (1.45 million acres). (103) Fewer farmers, more land. In 1956 LBJ summed: “The amount of work that went into America’s food and fibre was high and productivity per man hour was low. Under determined leadership a bold attack was made upon the evil forces that beset America...we have fewer farmers today but they are producing more...” (104)

LBJ bought his dad’s homestead to cloak himself in the country mystique. A Stetson-sporting LBJ held enormous barbeques there. As President, the homestead was where he made environmental policy announcements with a carefully unrefined Texas twang in his voice and a wink in his eye. (105)

World War II, the Cold War and the Rollback of New Conservation

After signing the Lend Lease Act, FDR proclaimed America the “world’s arsenal for democracy.” Agriculture Secretary Claude Wickard’s “Food for Defence” program was designed to maximize harvests and “to this task, all others must be subordinated.” US farmers “tore out the weed patches and pushed again onto marginal lands.” Doing a volte face, Soil Conservation Service’s Bennett declared: “We can’t afford conservation as usual...What is needed today is productive conservation” and pushed cultivating as much land as possible. Land use planning committees became “Agricultural Victory Councils.” (106) Farmers deployed more fertilizer and larger machinery. Efficiency’s triumph over sustainability was most thorough in the West where the drought’s end let farmers concentrate on cash crops and plough into “marginal” land. (107) The war effort: “edged out concerns for intra-rural equity and environmental sustainability, values that appeared quaint and outmoded in the rush to maximum output.” (108)

Five million people left the countryside between 1940 and 1945. Military service and a tripling of manufacturing employment drained 25% of the South’s farm population. Southern congressmen insisted on importing Mexicans to harvest the 1944 cotton crop. (109)

WWII empowered a pre-existing bipartisan coalition of anti-New Deal congressmen who targeted “non-essential” spending. FDR did not intervene as they dismantled the CCC and cancelled the county land use planning program. Farm Security funding was cut back after the Associated Farmers of California, National Cotton Council and US Chamber of Commerce claimed it propped up inefficient operators, constricted labour supply and inflated wages. Agrarians did not give up without a fight but the Farm Bureau blocked their attempt to distribute war production quotas to small farmers claiming such people should work in war industries. (110)

In 1939 Mordecai Ezekiel’s Jobs for All through Industrial Expansion caused him to be ostracized from BAE circles because the book argued there were too many small farms. (111) However with WWII’s ideological turnaround he returned to play a major role in BAE planning. His next book, Sixty Million Jobs, influenced the Full Employment Act (1944). 226 scholars began to see theNewDeal as “essentially a holding operation for a large underemployed agricultural labour force.” (112)

After WWII US rural conservationists formed one faction in a much-conflicted US foreign aid policy community. Their motto was: “modernization not mechanization.” Modernization meant better seeds, hand-tools, and practices. They promoted production gains achievable without commercial fertilizers, expensive machinery and especially without expanding acreage at the expense of forests or wetlands. (113) This thinking underlay the Rockefeller and Ford Foundation-led “Green Revolution” in rural aid.  While Truman’s initial approach to aid shared this “colonial” quality, Cold War competition soon summoned the best of Yankee agricultural know-how to recipient countries. This change in agricultural aid manifested lessons recently learned by Americans, namely: “the application of science and technology could obtain results as startling as those obtained in industry...Not for them the ‘slow epic of the soil’ but rather the commando approach, namely that shock tactics and fine equipment could overcome any obstacle.” Modern industry could quickly re-shape and contour fields; lay drains; plant windbreaks and construct farm buildings. (114) Had the US stuck to the rural-conservationist foreign aid plan, it would have trapped recipients in a “peasant society.” Allied Military Government officials were stunned by the “medieval state” of European agriculture; by the divide between aristocrats and peasants and the hoe-and-sickle technology. One official said this about the policy shift: “US policy was gradually shifting from tearing down Germany under a plan which was to make it a cow pasture to a more constructive approach in the hope that this country would survive as an important member of new Europe.” (115) (Hold that thought! Converting cropland to pasture is “tearing down” a region’s economy; an act of economic warfare. Converting farmland to wilderness is worse.) 


Conservationist, naturalist, outdoorsman Robert Barnes Roosevelt was so dismayed by the urban sprawl overtaking his favourite Manhattan fishing streams he founded the New York Fish Commission in 1868 to suppress development elsewhere in the state. His nephew Theodore Roosevelt, a born conservationist, founded the Boone and Crockett Club to organize like-minded patricians. President Teddy (1901-9) created five national parks, 51 wildlife refuges, and imposed restrictive federal control over forests, water-power sites and hydro-carbon deposits covering over 750,000 square kilometres. New Conservationism was the guiding paradigm of Franklin Roosevelt’s New York governorship and early presidency. “Total Roosevelt man” President Johnson ushered in new New Conservationism during his first term and presided over its makeover into “environmentalism” during his second. Somehow, the prevailing view is that US environmentalism is a grassroots movement originating in the Nixon era.

Phillips expresses puzzlement as to why academics treat each conservationist wave as an isolated episode, then goes on to claim New Conservationists dwelled in an unprecedented, historically singular space. She dwells a paradox-haunted world where politicians pursue stability and progress, preserve the family farm by modernizing it, and use conservation to expand production; where growth outruns tradition, particularly the core conservative tradition of “entrepreneurial restraint”. (116) Embracing farmers as the nation’s fulcrum entailed their uplift, which meant increasing their efficiency, which meant fewer farmers. Then America ceased debating the merits of maintaining a stable farm population, abandoned the family farm ideal and now subsidizes large landholders and encourages rural emigration. (117)

Phillips stresses: “New Deal conservation never became a movement from below.” New Deal policy wonks worked with wealthy land-owners bypassing poor farmers and tenants. (118) The New Deal never really tackled rural poverty. Helping tenants become owners won mass appeal by playing on the American yeoman ideal but actual policies increased farm size and did nothing for farm labourers. (119) Quintessentially New Deal: “The small farmer though initially held up us the model aid recipient, would prove unable to compete politically....” (120) The New Deal was a state-building exercise that “increased the value of private property without requiring much else.” (121) The New Deal created “a vigorous developmental state committed to making markets less volatile and to increasing the value of private property.” (122) While she argues the balance of power shifted to a coalition of wealthy land-owners who wanted fewer farmers, she also acknowledges, given landowners’ political clout, “it is difficult to imagine a different outcome.” (123) The New Deal’s legacy is federal programs accounting for one-third of farm income; it’s farm-owners receiving more aid than any other economic group; it’s subsidies for land-owners; it’s farmers manning the front lines of conservation battles. (124)

Compromises made during the 1930s and WWII warped New Deal policies into an industrializing force bearing little resemblance to modern environmentalism. New Deal irrigation was not supposed help farmers avoid conservation practises but this is what happened. Electricity was to be the handmaiden to rural conservation, not its mortician. The New Deal turned humble farmers into haughty consumers. The “triumphant industrial paradigm” favoured mechanized farms and chemical inputs. Phillips mourns: “These methods do not restrain economic expansion, but encourage it; they do not put a brake on consumers’ needs and wants, but accelerate their accumulation.” (125)
Phillips nowhere attempts to de-mystify 1930s soil non-science. Modern hydroponic/greenhouse technology has amply demonstrated soil is not necessary for agriculture. Modern sod manufacturers have demonstrated soil is cheaply mass produced. More to the point, one could have no more convinced the US Northeast’s or Europe’s chattering classes circa 1935 that Midwestern soil could support agriculture than one could convince their modern incarnations of the erroneousness of “global warming”. The Midwest then experienced the greatest explosion in agricultural output in human history. The amount of active farmland in Texas increased from 120 million acres in 1930 to 145 million acres by the 1970s. In 1930 Texans harvested 44 million bushels of wheat and 66 million bushels of corn. In 1990 they harvested 60 million bushels of wheat and 148 million bushels of corn. Another 1930s soil erosion write-off, Montana, increased its farmland from 44 million to 60 million acres and its wheat harvest from 40 million to 160 million bushels. Kansas increased its farmland after 1940 until conservation pressures again set in. On the same 47 million acres Kansan farmers harvested 148 million bushels of wheat, 101 million bushels of corn and 21 million bushels of oats in 1930; and 380 million bushels of wheat, 466 million bushels of corn, 105 million bushels of soybeans in 2005. (126) These increases occurred despite substantial constraint. Similar gains occurred on Canada’s prairies. North America could bury humanity in food. 

Malthus did not just get it wrong. He got it backwards. Population growth does not outstrip agricultural production. Food production races ahead of population growth and thus the countryside may never rest. As commodity prices fall and living standards rise, farmers, to maintain urban living standards, must bring ever-more bushels to market. Farm size must forever grow. The ominous agri-businesses of yesteryear are the fragile family farms crying for protection of today. Stabilizing farm size requires restricting land development, suppressing agricultural technology and jacking up food prices.
Phillips does not spare a line on the subjective nature of the farming’s “overproduction crisis.” Urbanites do not view low food and textile prices as problems. History knows thousands of bread riots, none resulting from food being too plentiful and cheap. The solution to the “crisis” is rural consolidation – increasing farm size until low cost producers are satisfied with their income. This means facilitating, not suppressing, urbanizing/industrializing forces. This means ending subsidies and protections for land-owners.

Phillips uses the adjective “liberal” hundreds of times. For much of history, and for many still, “liberalism” was/is: resistance to state controls and constraints. Phillips uses “liberal” in the deceptive contemporary sense: a promoter of statism. This appropriation dates to FDR’s speeches of the 1930s. FDR competitor, Thomas Dewey, called the sudden “transmutation” of the word liberal, “one of the great wonders of our time.” Former President Hoover called the new self-defined liberals “totalitarians” bent on destroying representative government. (127) Limousine liberals are statists but not socialists. They are not working urbanites promoting statism to increase growth and prosperity. Phillip’s “liberals” are reactionary statists, rooted in an arch-conservative landed-interest, seeking to restrain progressive growth by baiting the populace with images of disadvantaged-yet-deserving groups like poor farmers, then switching to policies benefitting rentier elites. Europe’s 1930s counterparts of such “liberals” went by different names. Michael Creighton hit the nail’s head when, while discussing environmentalism, he wrote: “the notions these institutions are liberal is a cruel joke. They are fascist to the core...”(128)   


Dodd, Donald; Historical Statistics of the States of the United States; Two Centuries of the Census; Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1993.
Phillips, Sarah; This Land, This Nation: Conservation, Rural America, and the New Deal; Cambridge University Press, New York, 2007.
Safire, William; Safire’s New Political Dictionary; Random House, New York 1993.
US Census Bureau; Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2008 (127th edition); Washington DC, 2007.


  1. Phillips, Sarah; This Land, This Nation: Conservation, Rural America, and the New Deal; Cambridge University Press, New York. p11-2
  2. Ibid p21
  3. Ibid p22
  4. Ibid p73
  5. Ibid p23-4
  6. Ibid p42-3
  7. Ibid p39
  8. Ibid p41 & 139
  9. Ibid p36-7
  10. Ibid p22
  11. Ibid p40
  12. Ibid p37 & 53
  13. Ibid p45 & 126
  14. Ibid p54-5 & 38-9
  15. Ibid p107-8
  16. Ibid p13-4
  17. Ibid p30-2
  18. Ibid p25
  19. Ibid p91
  20. Ibid p26-8
  21. Ibid p30
  22. Ibid p34-5
  23. Ibid p59. Phillips’ actual sentence: “While governor of New York, he responded to the state’s astonishing rate of farm abandonment – approximately three hundred thousand farms ceased operations during the 1920s – with a set of proposals designed to stabilize the agricultural population by means of better conservation planning.” At no time in the Empire State’s history did it have 300,000 farms. The decline in farms in New York State during the 1920s was 33,800. Across the USA, in the 1920s, the decline in the number of farms was 160,000 so the 300,000 figure is a mystery. (US Census) Strange that none of her choir of praising colleagues noticed.
  24. Ibid p59-62 & 50-1
  25. Ibid p238
  26. Ibid p9
  27. Ibid p226
  28. Ibid p114
  29. Ibid p60
  30. Ibid p63-7
  31. Ibid p66
  32. Ibid p66-72
  33. Ibid p16 & 79
  34. Ibid p146
  35. Ibid p79-80
  36. Ibid p173
  37. Ibid p76-8
  38. Ibid p134
  39. Ibid p78 & 176-7
  40. Ibid p114-6
  41. Ibid p117
  42. Ibid p211
  43. Ibid p232-3
  44. Ibid p232
  45. Ibid p43-4
  46. Ibid p110
  47. Ibid p233
  48. Ibid p234
  49. Ibid p133-4
  50. Ibid p126
  51. Ibid p111-2
  52. Ibid p76
  53. Ibid p112-3 & 127
  54. Ibid p199
  55. Ibid p202-3
  56. Ibid p201
  57. Ibid p207-8
  58. Ibid p202-3
  59. Ibid p212-3 & 126
  60. Ibid p214
  61. Ibid p132-7
  62. Ibid p109-10
  63. Ibid p116
  64. Ibid p170 & 204-5
  65. Ibid p 113-4 & 124-5
  66. Ibid p121
  67. Ibid p118-9
  68. Ibid p122-31
  69. Ibid p142-3
  70. Ibid p129-31
  71. Ibid p141
  72. Ibid p204-6
  73. Ibid p235
  74. Ibid p172
  75. Ibid p207-9
  76. Ibid p86-8
  77. Ibid p83
  78. Ibid p94
  79. Ibid p89
  80. Ibid p97
  81. Ibid p90-1
  82. Ibid p97
  83. Ibid p229
  84. Ibid p104-6
  85. Ibid p101-3
  86. Ibid p98-100
  87. Ibid p229-30
  88. Ibid p81
  89. Ibid p107 & 147
  90. Ibid p155-6
  91. Ibid p150-60
  92. Ibid p161-2
  93. Ibid p162-6
  94. Ibid p169-70
  95. Ibid p85
  96. Ibid p179-83
  97. Ibid p178-9
  98. Ibid p186-7
  99. Ibid p191
  100. Ibid p182-6
  101. Ibid p188-90
  102. Ibid p191
  103. Ibid p171-5 & 185
  104. Ibid p195
  105. Ibid p192-3
  106. Ibid p187
  107. Ibid p141 & 215-7
  108. Ibid p199
  109. Ibid p188 & 222-31
  110. Ibid p217-22
  111. Ibid p223-4
  112. Ibid p212
  113. Ibid p259
  114. Ibid p259
  115. Ibid p256 & 282
  116. Ibid p240
  117. Ibid p1-4 & 18
  118. Ibid p151-2
  119. Ibid p144-5
  120. Ibid p102
  121. Ibid p82
  122. Ibid p239
  123. Ibid p10 & 82
  124. Ibid p19 & 212
  125. Ibid p241
  126. Dodd, Donald; Historical Statistics of the States of the United States; Two Centuries of the Census; Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1993. And:  US Census Bureau; Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2008 (127th edition); Washington DC, 2007. (agriculture sections)
  127. Safire, William; Safire’s New Political Dictionary; Random House, New York 1993 p407
  128. Creighton, Michael; State of Fear; for more on this see review #6
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