When I was growing up in the 1970s I can’t remember anyone talking about solar power or environmental issues. So it is surprising to learn that so many forward-thinking people in the 19th and early 20th century were eloquently trying to raise the topic of the environment.
The topic is discussed far more openly today – and people really have started to listen.
Here are some great old and new quotes about man’s attempts to harness nature and produce energy.
1. Henry David Thoreau: “Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.”
American philosophical writer Thoreau lived in the 19th century before the age of the aeroplane increased mankind’s already-sizeable carbon footprints. He would surely have approved of attempts to promote clean and renewable forms of energy.
2. Frank Shuman: “The human race must finally utilise direct sun power or revert to barbarism.”
Shuman’s quote comes from a letter he wrote to the Scientific American magazine in 1913.
The American engineer invented curved solar mirrors which reflected the heat of the Egyptian sun and heated water; producing steam to power pumps which irrigated cotton fields.
3. C.G. Abbott: “In time, manufacturing will to a great extent follow the sun.”
In 1928, American astrophysicist C.G. Abbot raised the possibility of deserts becoming great industrial areas through the development of solar power.
Today, his vision does not seem to be a mirage. The world’s biggest solar power installation is located in the Mojave Desert in the United States and a 12-square-kilometre solar farm is due to be constructed in a desert city in Morocco.
4. Albert Einstein: “The environment is everything that isn’t me.”
This concept is far simpler that e=mc squared!
5. Sir George Porter: “I have no doubt that we will be successful in harnessing the sun’s energy… if sunbeams were weapons of war, we would have had solar energy centuries ago.”
British scientist Sir George Porter made this claim in 1973. He would go on to be a major contributor to the public understanding of science through being president of the influential Royal Society scientific organisation.
6. Jimmy Carter: “Because we are now running out of gas and oil, we must prepare quickly for a third change, to strict conservation and to the use of coal and permanent renewable energy sources, like solar power.”
US President Jimmy Carter made this statement in a televised speech in April 1977. He might not have been a particularly successful President but this quote shows his foresight. You can’t imagine his successor, Ronald Reagan, issuing a similar warning.
7. Warren Christopher: “Environmental degradation – like overpopulation, refugees, narcotics, terrorism and organised crime – is a worldwide problem that doesn’t stop at a nation’s borders.”
Warren Christopher served as US Secretary of State under Bill Clinton and clearly saw protecting the environment as a global, rather than a national, problem.
8. Al Gore: “Our world faces a true planetary emergency. I know the phrase sounds shrill, and I know it’s a challenge to the moral imagination.”
US politician Al Gore might have lost a presidential election contest against George W. Bush Jnr but he was a lot more successful at educating the public about environmental issues.
9. Robert Redford: “I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defence of our resources is just as important as defence abroad. Otherwise what is there to defend?”
The American actor, who starred in films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, has long been an advocate of green living. His comments show that he is as articulate without a film script as he is with one.
10. Let’s end this article on a note of hope with a quote from Roger Tory Peterson: an educator who was one of the leading inspirations for the 20th century environmental movement. “Not all is doom and gloom. We are beginning to understand the natural world and are gaining a reverence for life – all life.”
James Christie writes for Strenson Solar: provider of solar panels in Brighton.