Every step of the progress of mankind
is marked by the discovery and use of resources previously unused," the president
said. "Without such progressive knowledge and utilization of natural resources,
population could not grow, nor industries multiply, nor the hidden wealth of the earth be
developed for the benefit of mankind."
Roosevelt noted that in George
Washington's time, anthracite coal was considered "a useless black stone," and
that "water was practically the only source of power, save the labor of men and
animals: and this power was used only in the most primitive fashion." At the same
time, wood was virtually the only fuel, "and what lumber was sawed was consumed
locally, while the forests were regarded chiefly as obstructions to settlement and
Alluding to the emergence of the United
States as a world leader, Roosevelt said, "Our position in the world has been
attained by the extent and the thoroughness of the control we have achieved over nature;
but we are more, and not less, dependent upon what she furnishes than at any previous time
of history since the days of primitive man."
Ninety years ago the president said
that "the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are
gone; when the coal, the iron, and the oil and the gas are exhausted; when the soils shall
have been still further impoverished and washed into streams, polluting the rivers,
denuding the fields and obstructing navigation."
"These questions," he
continued, "do not relate only to the next century or to the next generation. It is
time for us now as a nation to exercise the same reasonable foresight in dealing with our
great natural resources that would be shown by any prudent man in conserving and wisely
using the property which contains the assurance of well-being for himself and his
The president divided natural resources
that we use into two sharply distinguished classes according to whether or not they are
capable of renewal.
He warned that minerals do not and
cannot renew themselves. "Therefore, in dealing with the coal, the oil, the gas, the
iron metals generally, all that we can do is try to see that they are wisely used. The is
certain to come in time."
"The second class of resources
consists of those which cannot only be used in such a manner as to leave them undiminished
for our children, but can actually be improved by wise use. The soil, the forests, the
waterways come in his category," Roosevelt told his White House audience.
He cautioned that "various uses of
our natural resources are so closely connected that they should be coordinated and should
be treated as part of one coherent plan and not in haphazard and piecemeal fashion."
"We are coming to recognize as
never before the right of the nation to guard its own future in the essential matter of
natural resources," the president said.
Extraordinary observer that he was,
Roosevelt had a genius for detail and an equal genius for seeing nearly everything he
investigated as being an essential element of a larger, all encompassing picture. He told
his listeners that the conservation of our natural resources "is yet but part of
another and greater problem to which this nation is not yet awake, but to which it will
awake in time, and with which it must hereafter grapple if it is to live with the problem
of natural efficiency, the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the
Teddy Roosevelt's words on conservation
are as valid today as they were 90 years ago. He had much to teach New York and the nation
then, and he continues to have much to teach us today. We can best honor his legacy by
continuing to listen to him.