Monday, January 13, 2020

Not so Silent, Spring

I gave Nora a number of books for Christmas this year, most with an environmental theme, and, to be honest, most that I am hoping to read myself.

As appropriate, I have started with Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson.  I am about half way through.  With chapter titles such as Needless Havoc, And No Birds Sing, and Rivers of Death, Carson lays out a compelling description of man's attack on the natural world.  Her examples pointedly illustrate that our misguided beliefs that we can conquer or subdue nature, or that by poisoning one particular pest, we don't kill other creatures when we upset the balance of nature, are leading us down a path fraught with the possibility that we will be the authors of our own demise.

Silent Spring was published in 1962, at a time when the widespread use of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides to combat the animals, insects and plants that we had determined to be economically detrimental, dangerous to our health, or just plain annoying, was just beginning to be questioned by biologists, naturalists and other observers of the natural world.  While Carson's most famous target, DDT, was banned in the United States in the 1970's, she also directed her concerns to the vast arsenal of chemicals which were used at this time, chemicals that were proven effective poisons, but had not been fully tested as to how they would effect all other life, including mankind.

For her efforts to warn us of our folly, Carson was attacked, not surprisingly, by the chemical industry, and some governmental organizations, labelled everything from tree hugger to anti-capitalist.  Yet she says many times in the nine chapters I have read so far, that she understood the necessity of combating diseases being spread by insects, or crops being destroyed by parasites.  It wasn't the reasons for the creation of all those deadly chemicals and the massive sprayings that followed their creation that alarmed her, but that she knew the chemicals were not vetted for their effects on the birds and fish and other animals that would be caught in the crossfire, and that she knew that there were other ways, more in balance with nature, that could be applied to address those issues, and that she suspected that above all, money and profit were behind much of the purposeful withholding of funds to study the effects of those poisons, and denial that the chemicals were dangerous.  Chemicals which needed to be applied every year, as opposed to natural remedies that might work, once and done for as any good businessman knows, there is no profit when the cure doesn't need repetition.

Rachel Carson died just a few years after the publication of Silent Spring.  I don't know if she was, or would have been an "I told you" type of person, but in light of the declining bee populations, the ongoing species extinction that is occurring today, and the rise of the "superbugs" which have developed resistance to antibiotics, not to mention the possible links between the increase in many nerve, brain and fertility ailments among humans, and the barrage of chemicals that we have been subjected to, in our food, air and water, I imagine that Carson would have multiple opportunities to remind us of her warnings.

I don't doubt, however, that she would be very vocal in her outrage at our continued attempts to dominate the natural world.  I imagine that she would have been present at many a protests aimed at waking up our current administration to its denial of climate change, belittling of those, like Carson, who are sounding the alarm, and worse, actually contributing through policy and advocacy of those partly responsible for its exacerbation.

I imagine that she would be lobbying for disclosure of the chemical cocktail being blasted into the earth to release natural gas.  I am sure she would ask why the public does not have a right to those recipes, since those chemicals are now a permanent part of our groundwater, and, like the pesticides she studied, will eventually seep into our wells, our rivers, our oceans.

I imagine that she would be at the forefront of those calling for a halt to the burning of the Amazon rain forest, as just another example of short sighted actions with long term ramifications.

And, it is easy to imagine that Rachel Carson would be aghast at the amount of plastics that we are carelessly tossing into our lakes, rivers, streams and oceans.  It has already been documented that micro-plastics are ubiquitous, found in everything from the arctic tundra to human breast milk.

It is hard to know if we will wake up in time to avoid environmental disaster, or that, perhaps, our ingenuity will supplant our carelessness, and we will progress, two steps forward, one step back.  It is hard to be hopeful, when, frankly, far too many people are resistant to admitting we need to alter our approach to nature, or just don't care.  Fortunately, there are voices like Carson's who live in perpetuity through her books, and people and organizations today that continue to carry the banner of environmental awareness, and who remain not so Silent.