Udall Publishes Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Stewart L. Udall’s The Quiet Crisis helped redirect attention toward a fresh and broadened commitment to conservation and to the enhancement of the quality of life in the United States.

Summary of Event

The public prominence of conservation, environmental, and ecological movements in the United States has been greatest during periods of political reform. Thus the term “conservation” was given general currency by Gifford Pinchot, the most widely acclaimed twentieth century conservationist, under the aegis of President Theodore Roosevelt’s reform administrations between 1901 and 1910. Similarly, the New Deal administrations of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, himself by conviction and by action a conservationist, produced another upsurge of land and resource consciousness throughout the 1930’s. Quiet Crisis, The (Udall) Environmentalism Conservation [kw] Udall Publishes The Quiet Crisis (1963) [kw]Quiet Crisis, Udall Publishes The (1963) Quiet Crisis, The (Udall) Environmentalism Conservation [g]N orth America;1963: Udall Publishes The Quiet Crisis[07470] [g]United States;1963: Udall Publishes The Quiet Crisis[07470] [c]Environmental issues;1963: Udall Publishes The Quiet Crisis[07470] Udall, Stewart L. Kennedy, John F. [p]Kennedy, John F.;environmental policy Pinchot, Gifford Marsh, George Perkins Muir, John Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;environmental policy Olmsted, Frederick Law, Jr. Rockefeller, John D., Jr.

Notable conservation efforts include the achievements of the Tennessee Valley Authority; the Civilian Conservation Corps; the great power projects on the Columbia, Tennessee, and Sacramento Rivers; the Soil Conservation Service; and the Agricultural Adjustment Act.

The return to a national reform agenda with the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961 signaled a new set of priorities for protection of the nation’s land, its resources, and its quality of life. This presidential commitment was nowhere more manifest than in Kennedy’s appointment of Arizona representative Stewart L. Udall as the country’s thirty-seventh secretary of the interior.

Born in St. Johns, Arizona, in 1920, Udall was one of several in his family who would earn high repute for public service in his native state. Following service in the Army Air Force during World War II, he practiced law in Tucson until 1954, when he gained election to the U.S. House of Representatives. There he shone as a proponent of the national park system and an advocate of public power and public works projects while a member of the Committee on Internal and Insular Affairs. Having supported Kennedy’s presidential election, Udall, a Mormon and a rising liberal, was swiftly appointed interior secretary after Kennedy’s inauguration.

Two years later, Udall published The Quiet Crisis (1963), the first of four books and scores of magazine columns, newspaper articles, and public speeches designed by Udall to bring fresh perspectives and updated priorities to America’s conservation efforts and environmental movements.

The fourteen chapters of The Quiet Crisis pay homage to conservation’s principal traditions, including Pinchot’s insistence upon the regulation of forests and other resources “for use,” and to conservation pioneers, including Native Americans, Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, George Perkins Marsh, Carl Schurz, John Wesley Powell, Pinchot, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, Frederick Law Olmsted, and others.

The Quiet Crisis, however, represents more than a historical survey of conservation and its battles with America’s economic royalists and rugged individualism. Udall implies that previous conservationists were more appropriate spokespersons for problems and perspectives of a predominantly rural nineteenth and early twentieth century United States than they were for the overwhelmingly urban culture that emerged between the 1920’s and the 1960’s. Thus the focal points of the “quiet crisis,” in Udall’s terms, stemmed from the insistent demands of America’s overgrown, largely unplanned, and maldeveloped cities, coupled with the consequences of the public’s addiction to the “myth of superabundance.”

Within this context, Udall sees the confusions of modern life arising from imbalances between the works of humans and the works of nature. Such imbalances, he believes, necessitate a “new land ethic for tomorrow” and a new sense of stewardship that would “make America a more pleasant and productive land.”

In The Quiet Crisis, Udall departed from earlier conservationists—Pinchot foremost among them—who argued that the land and its resources should be kept available for “multiple use,” meaning that the land should be accessible to private, although regulated, commercial development. Udall insisted that America’s increasingly urban, commercial, and industrial society made it essential that wilderness areas be withdrawn from any commercial exploitation. Wilderness areas should be safeguarded instead as sanctuaries for the human spirit in which new aesthetic values might be cultivated and in which the country’s diminishing quality of life might be reversed. Udall expressed confidence that if such objectives were met, America would not only become a “more pleasant” place but also would become more productive.

Udall extolled the scientific and technological advances of the 1940’s and 1950’s—nuclear power, electronics, aerodynamics, and spectacular developments in chemistry and space technology—but he perceived an immense imbalance attending these gains. Massive urbanization in the United States had created crises of disastrous proportions, threats not only to the land but also to human beings’ inner space.

Perversely, triumphs of technology, in Udall’s view, had introduced an “age of poisons,” of pesticides that polluted the nation’s air, soil, and water and posed threats to human health and to wildlife. Society, in addition, was being inundated by its own wastes. Urbanites believed that science and technology could resolve all problems and continued, moreover, to ignore their misuse of the land, whether it was being paved over for malls and parking lots in the suburbs and cities or left to erosive grazing on the high plains. In Udall’s view, only the evocation of a new sense of public and private stewardship toward the land could preserve a productive and happy society.

Udall stressed that nearly all components of The Quiet Crisis required thoughtful planning; daily consultation and collaboration among the scientific communities, businesses, and government; and intensified actions by individuals and volunteer organizations. In traditional conservation work—the preservation of water and forest resources—he believed that government leadership and investment were destined to play the larger role, chiefly through the training of hydroscientists and through regional planning. Udall praised Kennedy’s Land and Water Conservation Fund for being a “turning point in conservation history.” Udall’s quiet crisis called for global study and cooperation to preserve the planet itself.


Udall’s cabinet appointment and his publication of The Quiet Crisis coincided with the maturation of an American environmental consciousness to which he was one of many contributors. During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Americans were euphoric about their technological prowess as exemplified by the moon walk of the Apollo astronauts as well as by scientists’ and politicians’ glowing predictions about the future benefits of atomic energy.

The hopes that many Americans had for their entrance into a bright new era, however, were marred by what they perceived as stark realities. The oil crisis brought on by actions of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) after 1973, for example, painfully underscored both the dissipation and limitations of American resources. Revelations about the human and environmental costs of utilizing atomic energy as well as about the costs of the continuing war in Vietnam darkly clouded many people’s visions of the nation’s, indeed, of the earth’s prospects. For these disillusioned people, the Earth Day celebrations in the spring of 1970 symbolized the planet’s fragility and the perils confronting human enterprise upon the earth.

Over the years, Udall has continuously stressed the basic themes enunciated in The Quiet Crisis. Only the range and specificity of his appeals for the centrality of environmental issues changed over the years. He variously championed the isolation and protection of national parks and wilderness areas, insisted on a new land ethic and the development of land stewardship, participated in antinuclear campaigns, denounced scientific mystification and government secrecy about nuclear programs, criticized antiquated and unfair grazing and mining laws that benefit special interests, and assumed the legal causes of radiation victims. During more than four decades of dedication to such pursuits he marshaled a large general audience for his views. He is widely cited by other environmentalists and ecologists and enjoys high repute among them. Quiet Crisis, The (Udall) Environmentalism Conservation

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Callicott, J. Baird, ed. In Defense of the Land Ethic. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989. These essays on environmental philosophy provide excellent context for Udall’s concepts of land stewardship. Part four respectfully critiques Udall’s naïve understanding (in The Quiet Crisis) of Native Americans’ approaches to the environment. Essays are clearly written. Annotated chapter notes and an excellent index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hocher, Philip. “What’s Mined S’theirs.” Sierra, September, 1989, 20-26. Udall’s attacks on antiquated nineteenth century federal mining laws as applied in Western states are examined in the light of embarrassing federal giveaways to private interests.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac: With Essays on Conservation. 1949. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. This posthumously published work is regarded as a classic among conservationists and environmentalists. Udall, like many others, frequently cites its messages and acknowledges its influence on him. Leopold was a lifelong forester with experience both in the field and in academe. A short but beautiful and reflective book.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nash, Roderick. The Rights of Nature. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989. Superb for context. An intellectual historian, Nash previously published the classic Wilderness and the American Mind. The Rights of Nature is a history of environmental ethics. Extensive annotated notes to pages, a fine, annotated select bibliography, and a useful index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Oelschlaeger, Max. The Idea of Wilderness. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991. A thorough study that traces the idea of wilderness from prehistory to the age of ecology. No mention is made of Udall, but chapter 9 provides pertinent context for his views. Useful annotated notes to pages and a fine index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sirgo, Henry. Establishment of Environmentalism on the U.S. Political Agenda in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century: The Brothers Udall. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004. A history of the work of brothers Stewart and Morris Udall. Focuses on the politics of ecology, conservation, and environmentalism. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Taylor, Bob Pepperman. Our Limits Transgressed. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992. A clear, splendidly written study of environmental political thought in the United States. Udall is appreciatively considered in chapter 3. Annotated page notes, updated bibliography, and a useful index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Udall, Stewart Lee. The Myths of August. New York: Pantheon Books, 1994. Udall’s personal exploration of America’s experience (Udall calls it “tragic”) with nuclear energy since 1945. Substantively richer than The Quiet Crisis, with lengthier discussions about threats to democracy and the environment from government and scientific community secrecy, mythmaking, and lies. Excellent chapters on cover-ups of radiation exposure. Appendixes, annotated notes to pages, valuable index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Quiet Crisis. 1963. Salt Lake City, Utah: Peregrine Smith Books, 1988. This book brought Udall popular repute as an environmentalist and attracted a general readership. An understated moral tract, with wonderful photographs and a detailed index.

Osborn Publishes Our Plundered Planet

World Conservation Union Is Founded

Leopold Publishes A Sand County Almanac

Acid Rain Changes Lake and Riverine Ecology

Nature Conservancy Is Founded

World Wildlife Fund Is Established

Carson Publishes Silent Spring

Lady Bird Johnson Begins the America Beautiful Program

Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge Is Dedicated

White Explores the Judeo-Christian Roots of Environmental Problems

Categories: History