Rachel Carson and Climate Change

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Rachel Carson’s Legacy Applies To Climate Change Issues

Earth Day 2019 has just passed by as I write this essay. I came across a fine Earth Day essay on Rachel Carson at one of my favorite blog sites called “BrainPickings” . In writing about Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” on Earth Day, blogmaster Maria Popova stated:

Carson’s aim with Silent Spring was threefold — to transmute hard facts into literature that stands the test of time, to awaken a public hypnotized into docility to the perils of substances so mercilessly marketed as panaceas by chemical companies, and to challenge the government to rise to its neglected responsibility in regulating these perils. She admonished against the fragmentation, commodification, and downright erasure of truth in an era when narrow silos blind specialists to the interconnected whole and market forces sacrifice truth on the altar of revenue. When citizens protest and try to challenge those forces with incontestable evidence, they are “fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth.” In a sentiment of striking resonance half a century later, Carson exhorted: “We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts.” Above all, she countered the pathological short-termism of commercial interests with a sobering look at “consequences remote in time and place” as poisons permeate a delicate ecosystem in which no organism is separate from any other and no moment islanded in the river of time.”

Carson, of course, had written Silent Spring to protest the widespread use of DDT and warn of its dangers to both mankind and the environment in which humanity lives. It struck me on Earth Day – 2019 that Rachel Carson’s words could also be directed at climate change issues. In Silent Spring, if one were to remove the word “DDT” and replace it with the words “climate change”, Carson’s profound wisdom would still apply.

In the course of making her case for the harmful effects of DDT and other insecticides and weed killers, Carson skillfully defined an interdependence between various living creatures and their environment. Then she recorded man’s ignorance of these crucial connections.  Her message concerning connections in Nature is reflected in a quote by her biographer, Linda Lear.

I don’t think Rachel should be or would want to be credited with starting the environmental movement or banning pesticides. I think what she was hoping to do is raise the American consciousness about the natural world and our interconnection to it, instead of thinking we can control nature.

Carson’s powerful, message was a precursor to a major paradigm shift in Western science.  It is also the answer to curing our current environmental ills about climate change by changing mankind’s current view of Nature to one of interdependence from a worldview of control over Nature. In her “Essay on the Biological Sciences” written in 1958 she said:

Only within the 20th Century has biological thought been focused on ecology, or the relation of the living creature to its environment. Awareness of ecological relationships  is — or should be — the basis of modern conservation programs, for it is useless to attempt to preserve a living species unless the kind of land or water it requires is also preserved. So delicately interwoven are the relationships that when we disturb one thread of the community fabric we alter it all — perhaps almost imperceptibly, perhaps so drastically that destruction follows.

Rachel’s Advice To My Students

As I ready myself to say goodbye to my high school students as they leave for a new life in their colleges and universities, I always prepare myself to offer them some final advice. This year I wanted to say something about climate change challenges to our youth. But, Rachel Carson has done the job for me:

The stream of time moves forward and mankind moves with it. Your generation must come to terms with the environment. You must face realities instead of taking refuge in ignorance and evasion of truth. Yours is a grave and sobering responsibility, but it is also a shining opportunity. You go out into a world where mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and its mastery — not of nature, but of itself.

Therein lies our hope and our destiny.

For Your Further Consideration

This essay is part of a series of essays that present ideas to environmental educators and all stewards of Nature about ecoliteracy and legacy.   These ideas come from some of our modern great thinkers. The emphasis is on two key ideas:

  1. Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms energy. The key to an active ecoliteracy that results in a healthy environment for all life on earth is the building of a systems view of life into the minds and hearts of humanity, This worldview includes the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
  2. Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must be hands-on and place-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of our youth. Environmental education must include the the passing of this consciousness to future generations.

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself,  or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

5 thoughts on “Rachel Carson and Climate Change”

  1. I love it Bill, Always enjoy. Thank you for this added piece. It fits very well with a high school project we are presently conduction on a “sense of place”. Sara Garcia

    1. Thanks Sara for your comment. I am particularly happy when I hear from teachers. I teach an environmental education program st a high school in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico. I think that we educators play a powerful role and have a deep responsibility for inspiring our young people to follow a worldview of interdependence in Nature rather than the typical adult view of controlling Nature and practicing consumerism.

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