This September, environmentalists around the world will mark the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, one of the most influential works and authors in the history of the environmental movement.
In fact, the publishing of her landmark work made Carson a hero in the eyes of many and she has been widely recognized as one of the originators of the environmental movement.
For those that don’t know, Carson was a marine biologist in 1961 when she first became aware of the intense and devastating effects of pesticides. One in particular, DDT, was particularly toxic and problematic to almost every living creature besides the mosquitoes that it was intended to kill. The effects of DDT and other pesticides continued to be present in the environment for decades after they were applied. Carson recognized this and publicized her findings thus effectively ending the use of DDT and other related chemicals.
You would think that knowing what we know now and with a ban on DDT firmly in place that Rachel Carson would have been lauded for sounding the alarm and making the public aware of the devastating effects of toxic pesticides on our ecosystem. Instead, Carson at the time was vilified, threatened, intimidated and slandered by the chemical companies that had a stake in continuing to peddle their products regardless of the consequences.
Rachel Carson was questioned as a scientist and the fact that she was a woman was used to try and incite doubt in relation to her abilities and her research. However, Carson stood firm and refused to buckle and because of her, the world is a better place.
You would think that 50 years later, our society must have progressed.
You would think that we would have learned our lessons and come to respect the important work of the scientific community.
You would think that we would encourage those who devote their lives to analyzing information and data in order to help us make decisions that would be good for ourselves and our future.
However, just last week members of the Canadian scientific community took to the streets to protest government cuts to their work while some of the braver academics have, at great personal sacrifice, spoken out about the chill our current government has placed on agencies and organizations.
The scientific community has been sent a clear message that information that is not kind to our current government or to the goals of some of our biggest industrial polluters would not be tolerated and those who made such pronouncements would face consequences.
Projects like the Experimental Lakes Area, a vital research project in Northern Ontario instrumental in banning phosphorus and detergents and stopping acid rain, have been cancelled. Agencies such as the Climate Action Network have been cut loose and funding for organizations as progressive as our Canadian Biosphere Reserves has been discontinued.
It would appear that in our country, the legacy of Rachel Carson has been forgotten and we will be celebrating the anniversary of her work very quietly for fear what may happen to us if we make too much noise. Carson herself would not be pleased.
Sadly ironic is the fact that Rachel Carson died of cancer herself just two years after Silent Spring was published. She never knew the impact that she had on the world and how great her influence has been.
Rachel Carson was a hero. We need more like her.
If you wish to honour her legacy, don’t be afraid to speak out.