2012 was the 50th anniversary year of Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” a book which in many ways inspired the environmental movement, nationally and internationally. Rachel Carson was born and raised in Springdale, Pa., a town about 15 miles north of Pittsburgh, along the Allegheny River. As a child, Rachel was fascinated by the river and the natural world around her. She credits her mother for introducing her to the beauties of nature, despite the negative features of the industries in the area. She studied at Chatham University in Pittsburgh and earned a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University. As a marine biologist, she worked for 15 years for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a writer and researcher.
In “Silent Spring,” Rachel Carson carefully and coherently detailed the threats pesticides pose to public health and the environment. The prospect of chemicals like DDT leading us to a “spring without songbirds” was a chilling warning of the dangers we faced. As Time magazine put it in 1999: “Before there was an environmental movement there was one brave woman and her very brave book.”
Rachel Carson was attacked by the chemical industry using tactics developed by the tobacco industry:
- Discredit the messenger;
- Foster doubt and denial about the science;
- Call for additional research.
These same tactics are still used by opponents of any environmental changes.
While the future of Mother Earth is endangered by many neglects and improper uses, one crucial concern is hydrofracking. The issues are growing. Drilling for natural gas by hydrofracking may be a source of income for some in the present, but who will be able to enjoy the future? Groundwater contamination and cancer-causing air pollution, constant noise and countless diesel trucks, giant ponds full of radioactive wastewater and chemical spills–this is the fracking industry. Both New York and Pennsylvania are coveted locations for natural gas extraction by hydrofracking. Can we live with this?
Fracking is inherently dangerous. Air emissions from fracking put nearby residents at greater risk of cancer, as well as a number of neurologic and respiratory illnesses. Fracking generates millions of gallons of toxic, radioactive wastewater, which can spill and contaminate drinking water. Some people living near gas wells have found heavy metals like arsenic and carcinogenic toxins in their blood. There is no such thing as safe fracking.
Rachel Carson’s issues were not about fracking, but about the health of planet earth and those who call earth home. Our concerns must also be about life and health—for ourselves and future generations of living things. We must understand the complex environmental effects we are witnessing and care enough to do things differently. Rachel Carson would be glad to know that we are still watching, listening and learning in this 21st century.