|Rachel Carson: 100th Anniversary
||[May. 27th, 2007|06:39 pm]
When Silent Spring came out, I was still in high school. A year after I graduated from high school, she died, of cancer. I already knew her name before her most famous book came out, because I'd read her 1955 book, The Edge of the Sea. One of my mother's friends was a renowned undersea photographer, Harry Pederson, who with his brother filmed most of the footage for Disney's first undersea movie. The Pedersons had a considerable library of marine-related books, and some popularized science books also showed up in Readers Digest Condensed Books and in the local library, so I don't remember the source for The Edge of the Sea, only that I read it and liked it. I never quite overcame my fear of deep water (long story, having to do with a fishing trip in the Gulf when I was a small child and "monsters" rose out of the green depths) but the seashore fascinated me, and my mother took me camping on the beach before it was built up.
We got to see the Pedersons' films before they were edited--they used to invite friends over for a viewing--and when I was eleven, we visited them for a few days in the Bahamas, where they worked in the summers. Another of my mother's friends was a Texas Highway Department engineer, Johnny Coston, and his wife Rena; Johnny was instrumental in starting the native wildflower plantings along Texas highways, and he was my first botany teacher (though it didn't feel like teaching, when "Uncle Johnny" showed me the parts of a flower, and how you could tell when the seed was ripe...) They were also birders, though that didn't take for me until much later. My mother herself loved the natural world, and took me camping and fishing, pointing out the beauties that others might not notice--the texture and color of bark, of lichens, the veination of leaves, etc.
We lived in an area that then depended on agriculture, and where there was also a great fear of mosquitoes (even though most of the really bad local diseases were carried by dirty water or personal contact), so every summer the spray machines came through the neighborhoods spraying DDT. Kids liked to chase the machines (the spray was cool) but my mother wouldn't let me go outside while it was "fogged." She had a background in both medicine and engineering; she was convinced that overuse of pesticides, like overuse of antibiotics, would cause problems, including the rise of resistant organisms. And we had observed that as more and more pesticides were used, that's what happened...and also, the higher organisms began to disappear--birds being one obvious marker taxon, but also frogs, toads, fish.
So I was primed to read and understand Silent Spring when it came out. It made a huge impact, and finally other people--city people--seemed to catch on to the dangers of overuse of pesticides--and then other pollutants.
Unfortunately, some people never have caught on, and are still sneering at Rachel Carson and anyone else who proposes taking care of the environment instead of ruining it as fast as possible to get a short-term profit out of it. Among those is Senator Tom Coburn (Republican) of Oklahoma, who with other Republicans blocked a proposal to honor Rachel Carson on the centennial of her birth, on the grounds that Silent Spring "both directly and indirectly created a climate of hysteria and misinformation about the impact of DDT on the human populations..." The Senator's spokesperson (Senators these days--at least this one--are too important to say things themselves...) agreed that her scientific work was correct but said that her approach was "consistent with a lot of environmental rhetoric which tends to sensationalize the facts..."
In other words, she was right, but she said it in a way the Senator didn't like. Coming from someone whose own party "sensationalizes" non-facts in order to scare the public into submission, I find this...offensive. But beyond that, it's incredibly mean-spirited...in the exact same way as someone who cuts down a noble old tree because someone asked him not to, and he's not going to do anything an "environmentalist" might like.
Rachel Carson deserves every honor she ever got, and every honor that could now be given her memory. I honor her. I would have named her during the prayers for the dead in church this morning, but we had baptisms and thus a different form of the prayers and no chance to do so. I think it's important to state, loud and clear, that Rachel Carson was a *true* "conservative"--she wanted things *conserved*, protected. The return of bald eagles and peregrine falcons and ospreys to our skies is not just some environmentalist frill, useless and ridiculous...nor is cleaner air, nor cleaner rivers, nor unpolluted land. These *are* good for humanity. We live on the bounty of earth, and if we destroy the systems that create that excess, we--the human race that Senator Coburn pretends to care about--will disappear. Not, probably, in a nice quick clean way, but in a long, slow, painful way in which billions suffer for the idiocies of a few in power.
If you gave Rachel Carson an Earth to steward...it would stay healthy. If you gave Tom Coburn an Earth--well, that's the Earth we're getting, and it's clear what that's going to be like.