Thursday, May 1, 2014

Quiet Spring

By Kyle Van Dyke

With Earth Week here, the world is reminded of “nature,” that elusive term that often is degraded to mean “the Amazon.” In other words, nature is often seen as being something that is “over there,” not something that is “everywhere.”

The opening line of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring describes the perception of nature as being a part of human civilization has been lost. She writes, “There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings.” It was so foreign to the American public at the time that she had to describe this kind of civilization as if it were a long-lost tale, even titling the chapter “A Fable for Tomorrow.”

The American public today as a whole is not much more aware of ecological degradation than it was in the 1960s. The upside though is that today we have recycling. However, even though the vast majority of Americans are “ecologically asleep,” many are recognizing the negative impacts that we are having on our environment, and are speaking out against it.

One such issue is the one that spurred Rachel Carson to write Silent Spring, which was the excessive use of harmful pesticides that significantly diminished wildlife populations, thus causing a “silent spring” where no songbirds could be heard.

Carson took a middle-ground approach with pesticides, believing that pesticides are harmful and should not be used excessively while also acknowledging the benefits of pesticides when they are used appropriately. She advocated for the appropriate use of pesticides, preferring that pesticides not be used as the first and only solution to pest problems, but instead to be seen as but one option to solve pest problems. One notable alternative solution is now referred to as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), elements of which Carson described as involving the introduction of pests' natural predators, parasites, and diseases, as well as the sterilization of the pests.

Carson explains the harmful effects of many pesticides, one such being DDT. This chemical was widely responsible for the decimation of the Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) populations in the Northeast United States. In fact, at its lowest point in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were less than one dozen pairs of Peregrine falcons along the entire East Coast of the United States.

I agree with Carson's logic involving the limited use of pesticides, however I cannot help but feel that there should be no pesticide use whatsoever. Perhaps it is more of a reaction against the current food system which has little concern over limiting pesticide use and their effects on humans and wildlife. Perhaps it is more of an increasing frustration with corporations in general, such as the pesticide industry, which has a vested interest in spreading disinformation.

The way to protect the environment over the long-term is to change the public’s conception of nature from being “out there” to nature being “everywhere.” After all, if you not only care about the forest that has been declared a nature preserve, but also care about the quality of the water runoff on the farms that produce your food, the tailpipe emissions’ effect on air quality in communities along the highway that you use to drive to work, and the level of plant and animal diversity in the city in which you work, then you will feel obligated to take much more responsibility for the world that you help to create.

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