Should We Also Flood the Sistine Chapel So Tourists Can Get Nearer The Ceiling?

This ad is a time machine stretching back to 1966 and a reaction by David Brower of the Sierra Club to the intellects in Washington (on par with today’s incumbents) who proposed flooding vast portions of the Grand Canyon in the name of profits.

The creator of this ad, Howard Gossage, believed that advertising justified its existence only when used for social purposes.

The time line that appears in the center of the ad, combined with the sardonic punch of the headline, makes the point brilliantly.

This ad pulled 3,000 applications for club membership and stopped the hydroelectric project from happening in the Canyon.

(You can download the 138 kb PDF by clicking on the image.)


EARTH began four billion years ago and Man two million. The Age of Technology, on the other hand, is hardly a hundred years old, and on our time chart we have been generous to give it even the little line we have.

It seems to us hasty, therefore, during this blip of time, for Man to think of directing his fascinating new tools toward altering irrevocably the forces which made him. Nonetheless, in these few brief years among four billion, wilderness has all but disappeared. And now these:

1) There are proposals still before Congress to “improve” Grand Canyon. If they succeed, two damns could back up artificial lakes into 9 miles of canyon gorge. This would benefit tourists in power boats, it is argued, who would enjoy viewing the canyon wall more closely. (See headline.) Submerged underneath the tourists would be part of the most revealing single page of Earth’s history. The lakes would be as deep as 600 feet (deeper for example than all but a handful of New York buildings are high) but in a century, silting would have replaced the water with that much mud, wall to wall.

There is no part of the wild Colorado River, the Grand Canyon’s sculptor, that would not be maimed.

Tourist recreation, as a reason for the dams, is in fact an afterthought. The Bureau of Reclamation, which has backed them, calls the dams “cash registers.” It expects they’ll make money by sale of commercial power.

They will not provide anyone with water.

2) In Northern California, during only the last 115 years, nearly all the private virgin redwood forests have been cut down.

Where nature’s tallest living things have stood silently since the age of the dinosaurs, there is, incredibly, argument against a proposed park at Redwood Creek which would save a mere 2% of the virgin growth that was once there. For, having cut so much and taken the rest for granted, the lumber companies are eager to get on with business. They see little reason why they should not.

The companies have said tourists want only enough roadside trees for the snapping of photos. They offered to spare trees for this purpose, and not much more. The result would remind you of the places on your face you missed while you were shaving.

3) And up the Hudson, there are plans for a power complex —a plant, transmission lines, and a reservoir near and on Storm King Mountain—effectively destroying one of the last wild and high and beautiful spots near New York City.

4) A proposal to flood a region in Alaska as large as Lake Erie would eliminate at once the breeding grounds of more wildlife than conservationists have preserved in history.

5) In San Francisco, real estate interests have for years been filling a bay that made the city famous, putting tract houses over the fill; and now there’s a new idea still more fill, enough for an air cargo terminal as big as Manhattan.

There exists today a mentality which can conceive such destruction, giving commerce as ample reason. For 74 years, the Sierra Club (now with 48,000 members) has opposed that mentality. But now, when even Grand Canyon is endangered, we are at a critical moment in time.

This generation will decide if something untrammelled and free remains, as testimony we had love for those who follow.

We have been taking ads, therefore, asking people to write their Congressmen and Senators; Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall; The President; and to send us funds to continue the battle. Thousands have written, but meanwhile, Grand Canyon legislation still stands a chance of passage. More letters are needed and much more money, to help fight the notion that Man no longer needs nature.*

*The Sierra Club, founded in 1892 by John Muir, is nonprofit, supported by people who, like Thoreau, believe ‘In wildness is the preservation of the world.” The club’s program is nationwide, includes wilderness trips, books and films—as well as such efforts as this to protect the remnant of wilderness in the Americas. There are now twenty chapters, branch offices in New York (Biltmore Hotel), Washington (Dupont Circle Building), Los Angeles (Auditorium Building), Albuquerque, Seattle, and main office in San Francisco.

(Our previous ads, urging that readers exercise a constitutional right of petition to save Grand Canyon from, two dams which would have flooded it, produced an unprecedented reaction by the Internal Revenue Service threatening our tax deductible status. IRS called the ads a “substantial” effort to “influence legislation.” Undefined, these terms leave organizations like ours at the mercy of administrative whim. [The question has not been raised with organizations that favor Grand Canyon dams.] So we cannot now promise that contributions you send us are deductible — pending result of what may be a long legal battle.)

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