Error Correction

Posted February 9th, 2005 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in What this is about

2 issues have been brought to my attention, via comments on Prometheus:

1) That the comments function on this site were not working – they should be now.
2) That the quote widely attributed to James Watt, that “after the last tree is felled the Lord will return” (used in the text on the page “About the Post-Normal Times” ) is something he never actually said, at least not in a Senate hearing. Grist, the Washington Post, and Bill Moyers have all issued retractions. Bill Moyers also issued a public apology and conceded that he made a mistake because he used it without doing his homework.

The Post-Normal Times herewith also retracts the statement, has revised the page and thanks those who take the time to point out errors. While care is needed, it is not possible to fact check every quote we use – but we do indicate our sources. Those trying to create a bandwagon to criticize Bill Moyers over a mistaken quote that has been retracted, should look into coverage of the WMD issue.

The page now references the more ambiguous statement that James Watt did make in a Senate hearing, that “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.” This statement has also been widely circulated, most recently by James Watt himself, who forwarded the transcript of his testimony to John Hinderaker at, to suggest that he has been taken out of context. Perhaps he is referring to those who claim he said it to justify dismantling of the department and the giveaway of public lands at firesale prices – as is suggested in this article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. According to, he meant the opposite. So I took a closer look at the context, as posted on

Mr. Weaver [D. Ore.]: Do you want to see on lands under your management, the sustained yield policies continued?

Secretary Watt: Absolutely.

Mr. Weaver: I am very pleased to hear that. Then I will make one final statement… I believe very strongly that we should not, for example, use up all the oil that took nature a billion years to make in one century.

We ought to leave a few drops of it for our children, their children. They are going to need it… I wonder if you agree, also, in the general statement that we should leave some of our resources–I am now talking about scenic areas or preservation, but scenic resources for our children? Not just gobble them up all at once?

Secretary Watt: Absolutely. That is the delicate balance the Secretary of the Interior must have, to be steward for the natural resources for this generation as well as future generations.

I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations.

In other words, he cites the return of the Lord as at least a factor to be considered in deciding how much should be left to future generations, and presumably, in setting the environmental policies for which he was eventually forced out of office, most notably, the give away of public assets at firesale prices. I look forward to James Watt’s response to Bill Moyers that is expected Thursday, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

One Response to “Error Correction”

  1. Sylvia S Tognetti says:

    test comment post –
    Nobody seems to know if Galileo ever said “Eppur si muove” either.

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