A New Book Reminds Us Dedicated Citizens Can Prevail over Polluters

John and Patricia Adams (Credit Anthony Clark-NRDC).jpg

In the aftermath of the Senate’s failure to pass comprehensive clean energy legislation, I have found inspiration in a new book, A Force for Nature, written by NRDC’s Founding Director John Adams and his wife Patricia Adams.

The book reminds us that when it comes to protecting the environment the odds have always been long, but dedicated stalwarts prevail in the end.

A Force for Nature begins in 1969 when John and a group of young visionaries decided to open the nation’s first law firm dedicated to the environment. Most people thought they were crazy to leave respectable jobs to pursue an untested idea: holding polluters accountable in court on behalf of ordinary citizens.

But they weren’t afraid of the fight. This group of a dozen young guns took on giant corporations and the federal government and they won the cases that got raw sewage out of our waterways and the lion’s share of smog out of our cities.

Many of the stories in A Force for Nature have a David and Goliath feeling, especially in those early years. NRDC held strong in the Reagan era against James Watt, Anne Gorsuch, and their oil-industry backers. We went toe-to-toe with the chemical industry over the toxicity of the pesticide alar until we got it taken off the shelves. And we took on the nation’s polluters in order to strengthen the Superfund law.

John and Patricia reveal that with each passing decade NRDC's strength and leadership became more embedded in the environmental movement. As our credibility grew, so did our platform. We became on organization with 1.2 million members and activists and earned invitations to serve on prestigious entities like President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development to the Pew Oceans Commission.  

NRDC has been built over the years with a forward-looking vision and a strong fighting spirit—both of which we owe to John. But he would never take credit for it. In each story he tells, he puts his NRDC colleagues first. From the tales of the early years enforcing the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act with NRDC co founders Dick Ayres, Ed Strohbehn and Gus Speth, to the first battles to protect public lands with Johanna Wald, the determination of John’s fighting force shines through. 

Together, they have secured innumerable environmental safeguards. But at the same time the movement has gained in strength, the challenges we face—from climate change to the collapse of the world’s oceans to nitrogen overload in our waters—have become more complex and intractable. Now more than ever, we need the kind of tenacity and vision that John has brought to the fight.

John and Patricia’s book refreshes the spirit and reminds us how essential it is to keep the force strong.  For those who want to be inspired and reassured that the fire still burns, A Force for Nature is for you.