For many years, public-spirited citizens throughout the country have been working for the conservation of the natural resources, realizing their vital importance to the nation. Apparently, their hard-won progress is to be wiped out, as a politically minded administration returns us to the dark ages of unrestrained exploitation and destruction. It is one of the ironies of our time that while concentrating on the defense of our country against enemies from without, we should be so heedless of those who would destroy it from within.
These words could have been written today but were actually penned in 1952 by Rachel Carson in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post. The Eisenhower administration was replacing experienced agency directors with businessmen who had no scientific background. Sound familiar?
Carson, heralded by many as the female leader of the modern environmental movement, was a marine biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. She opened the eyes and hearts of many people in the 1950’s with her nature writing about life in the oceans. But it was her battle in the early 1960’s over the use of pesticides that sparked a movement.
Her 1962 book, Silent Spring, helped millions of Americans become aware of the dangers of unchecked economic growth at the expense of the environment. Battling breast cancer and ravaged by treatments, she continued her fight against widespread pesticide use. Spreading the message to all who would listen, she pointed out that poisoning the natural world in the end would poison mankind. Her efforts to inform the public and government officials would lead to change.
One of the most notable changes was the ban of DDT. It not only killed insects but also the birds who consumed them by the millions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Earth Day were also the result of the movement she started. Standing up for change doesn’t come without a price. Both her character and her scientific credibility were attacked by the powerful chemical lobby.
Carson’s messages are even more relevant today. The public not only has a right to know but must ask questions. We need to question scientific innovations before they are put into practice and study their long term effects on the environment. A disciple of Aldo Leopold, Carson believed humans are arrogant to think they are the conquerors of earth’s ecosystem when they are mere citizens living within it.
We are facing some pretty complex problems today that require a sense of urgency. Political leaders seem to be denying the evidence that our planet is in peril. They see environmental protection as a roadblock to our country’s economic growth. In these worrisome times, we need to work together at a local and regional level.
We can our use voices to ask questions and look for solutions. We can use our wallets to protect nature in our community. We can use our choices to stop the deficit spending of earth’s finite resources. We can treasure the natural world we live in and leave a healthy legacy for our children and their children.