Rachel Carson has been on my mind lately. Maybe it's because we are approaching the 50th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring. Maybe it's because I have been given the honor of receiving the Rachel Carson Award from Audubon. Maybe it because spring has finally come to New York, and the sound of birdsong makes me grateful for her work.
But there is another reason I keep thinking about Carson these days: the current efforts to discredit climate scientists look a lot like the powerful resistance that met Carson's warnings about DDT.
Carson was vilified by the chemical industry and the Agricultural Department. She was called "hysterical and unqualified." Her information was described as "oversimplified" and "filled with downright errors and scary generalization."
These accusations are eerily familiar to anyone concerned about climate change.
Rachel Carson was treated like Cassandra who foretold the fall of Troy: a zealot, a nutcase. We loved our DDT, and we didn't want to give it up. It multiplied our harvests and our profits in dizzying amounts. Why should we listen to one lady's doom and gloom?
Even after the chemical companies backed down, it took 10 years for Congress to legislate against DDT and other toxic chemicals that were seeping into our soil and water systems. Politicians don't like to respond to a Cassandra quickly.
It's the same today. We learned from Carson that what we put into nature remains there and that we cannot allow our corporations and government to define what is safe for ourselves and our families. And yet we still can't persuade our lawmakers in Washington to limit dangerous carbon pollution that is poisoning our climate.
A few weeks ago, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences released a report called "America's Climate Choices." It outlined the threats of unchecked global warming and called on the government to immediately create a plan for confronting climate change.
How did Washington respond? With almost total silence. Congress asked the National Academy of Sciences to produce this report a few years ago, yet now that the research has been done, lawmakers barely paid any attention. Instead, they spent the last few weeks voting on subsidizing oil companies and expanding offshore drilling.
Imagine if during the time Rachel Carson was testifying before the Senate and President Kennedy's Science Advisory Committee about DDT's connection to cancer, Congress had voted to hand over billions of dollars in taxpayers' money to chemical companies and encourage them to build more DDT factories in American communities.
I don't expect lawmakers to read every scientific report, but all they have to do is watch the news and see the devastating floods in the South and the punishing winter storms in the East to know the dangers we face from a disrupted climate. It is long past time for our government to finally listen to these warnings.
And it's time for citizens to put our vote on the line and say we will only support candidates who commit to addressing climate concerns -- and I mean candidates from all parties, because droughts and heat waves do not observe party lines.
We must expect more from our political leaders. Too many of our lawmakers are afraid to even say the words "climate change." We must burst through the quiet that prevails in Washington.
Carson wrote in Silent Spring: "It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn choir of scores of bird voices, there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh."
We can't let this be a spring, a year, an election cycle in which we allow our voices to remain silent and we allow our legislators to get away with inaction.
This fight won't be easy, but we can draw from Carson's example. She faced her detractors with fortitude and she pushed herself to do more on behalf of the creatures she loved. She wrote: "Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts."
Whenever you are weary from the struggle, remember Rachel Carson's words. Contemplate the beauty of the earth. And then demand that our lawmakers protect it.
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