Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Chemical "Solutions" May Cause More Problems

By Lisa Quaglino

Of all the topics in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, one that stood out the most to me is the focus of the chapter titled “Surface Waters and Underground Seas.” The use of water is so common in today’s modern world that often its importance is overlooked, as Carson points out. And because water can be found everywhere, it is one resource that is the most susceptible to pollution. 

As Carson states, the pollution of water leads to “the pollution of the total environment of mankind.” The most alarming aspect of Carson’s discussion about water pollution is that these problems still exist today, even though the book came out in 1962. We continue to pollute our waters in numerous ways, whether it be from the spraying of chemicals or runoff from factories, and we show no signs of stopping anytime soon. If Carson was able to see the long term effects this continued pollution would have on our world, why is that still nothing is being done?

Which brings up another point made by Carson: pollution can take days, months, or even years to reach an area where its effects will be felt by humans or seen in the wildlife that surrounds us, yet we see no need to change our ways. We have placed ourselves in an endless cycle, where an area is sprayed with chemicals one year, yet complaints from a farmer down wind do not appear until the year after. Carson explains how once an area is sprayed with chemicals, such as DDT, the chemicals take many months to seep into the ground, and eventually reach our ground water, our main source of drinking water. This groundwater will travel, sometimes very slowly, until it reaches a larger water source, like a well or spring, and create a path of contamination. Eventually, all of our groundwater will become contaminated, but no one seems to want to stop polluting it.

Our way of thinking, as Carson makes very clear, is incredibly short sighted. It is not often that we think in the long term, but rather come up with quick solutions that will instantly solve a problem, like the example of spraying to get rid of gnats near a lake in California. The spraying may allow visitors of the area to enjoy a gnat free environment for a period of time, but at a high cost for local birds and fish. Instead of coming up with a plan that could reduce the number of gnats safely to keep the people happy, it was decided to use the quickest and easiest method available, without taking into consideration any future consequences.

If there is anything that can be learned in this chapter, and Carson’s entire book, it should be that as a society, we need to begin thinking more long term in order to ensure a better future for both humans and the environment. Short term solutions only lead to long term problems that are even more difficult to resolve than the original, and cost much more money. By preventing damage to wildlife before it occurs or gets out of hand, it is possible that the future will be a time to enjoy the environment, instead of trying to save it.

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