The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction – Rachel Carson
Earth Day is an opportunity to reflect on the state of our natural world. It is a time to think of the work that has been done to make our world a better place and to come to grips with the task of repairing past damage and ultimately improving our sustainable use of this place we call Earth. During this past Earth Day I thought lot about how our attitudes and understanding of our natural environment have changed over the years and decades. We have come a long way in this regard, but I think it is safe to say we still have a long way to go.
I have been thinking specifically about Rachel Carson and her landmark 1962 book,Silent Spring. It was here that Carson sounded the alarm bell about negative environmental impacts resulting from our indiscriminate use of a pesticide called DDT. This chemical was used to control pest insects and given its status at the time as a “modern miracle”, it was used prolifically and with very few, if any, precautions.
Carson was one of the first to vocalize that this chemical was having a very adverse impact on the natural environment. Aside from indiscriminately wiping out “pest” insects (which in itself we now understand has other unintended negative environmental consequences), DDT was also making the eggs of some predatory bird species so thin that the eggs were breaking before they could hatch. Consequently, serious implications for a number of bird populations were beginning to emerge – hence the title of Chapter 8 of Silent Spring – And No Birds Sing.
As an adult I got around to reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring some 30 years after it was published in 1962. I am embarrassed to say even with my many university courses dealing with the environment, I was never required or inspired at the time to read this landmark piece in environmental literature. However, when I did read it so many years after it was published, it shocked me to think our attitude in the early 1960’s toward the environment was one of indifference and that the willful destruction that our actions caused could have been so readily accepted by so many people at the time. It is unbelievable to me to think that we could have so readily used a chemical like DDT without understanding its impacts on the earth and ultimately on ourselves. While DDT was used to control insects like mosquitos it was ultimately responsible for the near collapse of a number of predatory bird populations due to its tendency to accumulate in the bodies of animals at the top of the food chain – a process known as ‘biomagnification’.
In this day and age, we seem to understand better that we need to treat the environment with care. Books like Silent Spring helped us to come to this better understanding. We no longer blindly spray chemicals like DDT to the extent that we used to, but it is fair to say that we still have a long way to go in living and acting in a sustainable manner. These better choices can start with each of us as individuals, right here at home.
As a municipality, and as citizens of Richmond Hill, we do not have the power to change the world overnight. I do believe however that we need to continually take action to improve our corner of the world and influence others to take similar action. We are not perfect, but I do think that as a community Richmond Hill is taking a proactive role toward a goal of sustainability and environmental stewardship. I will continue to encourage this progress. There is always more to do and I believe we have the responsibility to our future generation to take this action!
To find a link to Richmond Hill’s Environment Strategy called Greening the Hill, Our Environment Our Future please visit – www.richmondhill.ca/en/find-or-learn-about/environment-strategy.aspx
It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility – Rachel Carson