Friday, March 21, 2014

Silent Spring


It's maple syrup season! The trees are warming and the sap is running right into our buckets. The past few days I have been stoking the fire under a big pot of boiling sap, while occupying my mind with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. It's been a long time since I've read it and I figured it would be good to refresh my memory.

I was a bit surprised to be reminded that this book was written over 50 years ago. FIFTY! I just have to wonder, how far have we come since then?

Carson details so much in her book- stories of mass deaths of birds, stories of children dying after exposure to chemical pesticides, stories of lakes treated with chemicals to kill gnats that resulted in the death of much of the surrounding wildlife . She focuses on DDT and other human-made synthetic chemicals that people have decided are the best way get rid of pests.

But the book is about so much more. Essentially, "we are reminded that in nature, nothing exists alone," she says. And yet, here we are 50 years later fighting battles against people who want to poison our deep water and rock to extract gas through fracking; fighting to inform people that the climate is indeed warming, and the earth's systems are indeed changing due to human activity; and just yesterday I read a story that made me want to fight even more, about certain republicans in congress who want to prevent the president, any president, from being able to preserve natural lands via designation of National Parks through the Antiquities Act of 1906. And, according to this article, and the PEW Research Center, 25% of all adults surveyed think that evolution does not exist! (This makes me fall over with dizziness-and no, I haven't been drinking.)

Why are we still fighting these battles? Why are we too shortsighted to see that what we are doing to the animals, the plants, the ecosystems around us, we are doing to ourselves? Why can't people see that we depend on the natural world, just as it depends on us?

We humans are a part of the environment in which we live. We dominate it, utterly. And yet we are killing it. Well, not everyone is. Maybe that is where to keep the focus... on the people who are doing good work to inform and teach people of the environmental truths. Like Rachel Carson. Like Sandra Steingraber. Like E.O. Wilson. Like the people in my town who created the opportunity for people to purchase cheap and healthy local meat. Like an old friend who is fighting the drilling companies in central Ohio. Like those who inform people about the treatment of animals on factory farms. Like parents who take their kids outside to play.

Carson's book was a landmark one. President John F. Kennedy ordered his Science Advisory Committee to study the issues Carson wrote about. Their examination of the science in her book resulted in greater regulations on pesticides, and eventually the banning of DDT. It also woke people up a bit. The public, maybe for the first time, took notice that their human practices were affecting the world around them.

And our practices still are. 

I could go on all day with articles and facts, and disbelief and exasperation. A short blog post can hardly do justice to Rachel Carson or her amazing work, plus, I've got maple sap to tend to. Maybe I'll just leave you with the reminder that we have a choice. A choice to move either towards responsibility to the earth or towards self-interest. Maybe we'll wise up enough to see that the two choices are actually one in the same. 
"We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road -- the one less traveled by -- offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth."                  -Rachel Carson

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