The death of Russell Peterson, a major figure in the environmental movement after having worked with the DuPont Chemical Corporation as a research scientist for 26 years, deserves attention.
Peterson died a few days ago at age 94, and anyone concerned about the environment must applaud his transformation from a research scientist with a Ph.D. in chemistry who worked for the one of the most prominent corporations which helped to undermine the environment in the process of doing business, the DuPont Chemical Corporation, to a environmental leader who fought DuPont and the Shell Oil Company, among others, who resisted any intervention by government on their business and industrial practices.
A one term Governor of Delaware as a Republican, Peterson promoted protection of the state’s coastline from industrial development, including a Shell Oil Company refinery, and utilized a lapel button which declared “To Hell With Shell”!
This activity led to Peterson’s appointment by President Richard Nixon as chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, which he kept under President Gerald Ford. Peterson worked to protect the ozone layer of the atmosphere, and the phaseout of freon, a DuPont product.
Peterson promoted the publication of environmental impact statements and drew our attention to the environment like few other people had been able to do.
Peterson became head of the National Audubon Society from 1979-1985 and fought the environmental decline under President Ronald Reagan. He reacted to Reagan’s statement that his society was trying to make the White House a “bird’s nest” by stating that the White House under Reagan was already a “cuckoo’s nest”!
Peterson fought not just for protection of wildlife, but also for population control measures, consideration of energy issues, dealing with the dangers of toxic chemicals, and promotion of films on the environment and adaptation of an environmental curriculum for elementary school students. He also became involved in the protection of birds, and concern about the biological threat presented by nuclear war.
Imagine this: here was a man who developed Dacron polyester fiber and nylon carpet yarn while working for DuPont, and yet he became a reform Governor, possibly the best Governor in Delaware history, and grew to appreciate that industry must be regulated in the public interest to save our environment.
So with his death, one of the greatest public figures on environmental issues has left us with a great legacy to pursue!