The Ecological Citizen

A free-to-access publication confronting human supremacy in defence of the Earth


Long article

Criticizing Muir and misunderstanding the foundation of American nature conservation

Bruce A Byers

The Ecological Citizen Vol 5 No 1 2021: 65–73 [epub-047]

Share via browser:    |    | 

 Access PDF of article

First published: 22 October 2021  |  Permanent URL  |  Download citation in RIS format


The recent controversy within the Sierra Club about whether their founder, John Muir, held racist views provides a useful opportunity to examine a much more important issue: the anthropocentric worldview that is the root cause of the global environmental crisis. The claims against Muir are easily refuted by a thorough and fair reading of his work; they are based on out-of-context quotes and revisionist interpretations of his early writings. But those claims give rise to a harmful misinterpretation of the history and philosophy of American nature conservation. The founders of American conservation had all been influenced by the life and work of Alexander von Humboldt. Muir, Thoreau, and all of Humboldt's other acolytes were slowly constructing a new ecological worldview that combined science, philosophy, aesthetics and spirituality. They were revolutionaries, far ahead of their times in arguing against human domination of nature or other humans. The real unfinished business of the environmental conservation movement is the need to overthrow the dominant paradigm of human supremacy and adopt an ecocentric worldview that can heal the human–nature relationship and create a society in which justice and reconciliation within the whole biotic community can occur, including within the human species.



Anthropocentrism, Conservation movement