This month I was honored to be asked to participate in events at USM and Maine Audubon commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.
Carson is often referred to as the mother of the modern environmental movement and is credited with raising an alarm that resulted in (among other things) a ban on the pesticide DDT and creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
In re-reading Silent Spring to prepare for my presentations I was struck by the sense that it is as fresh today as it was then. Unfortunately we haven’t yet truly heeded her call.
A few months after my college graduation I first learned about the fact that there are no safeguards ensuring household products are free from toxic chemicals and I found that hard to believe. I wrongly assumed that if something was on the shelf someone must have approved it.
Carson wrote about this false assumption I grew up with in Silent Spring, more than a decade before I was born.
“I think until very recently the average citizen assumed someone was looking after these matters. That some little understood but carefully relied upon safeguards stood like shields between his person and harm. We’re experiencing a rather rude shattering of those ideals.”
Somehow 50 years later the average citizen still (wrongly) assumes someone is looking after these matters (they aren’t) and safeguards exist (they don’t).
She felt the public was being asked to take a risk that they didn’t understand, and we still are today.
So, what do we do?
We demand that we have a right to know what’s in products and that a process is created to ensure that unsafe chemicals don’t end up in the stuff we use everyday. In recent years some momentum has begun to build up again- 50 years after Rachel Carson first got the ball rolling.
When parents found out that plastic baby bottles were made with BPA we passed laws and put manufacturers on notice that we wouldn’t accept it- so in the four short years since my daughter was born the entire baby bottle market has phased out of the use of BPA. Yay!
One small example, among many, that when we realize the risks we’re being asked to take and reject them our laws will improve and the market will move. Let’s keep it up!
So in honor of Earth Day and Rachel Carson and Mother’s Day too do something more than you planned on doing to heed the call of the mother of the modern environmental movement- join us on a bus trip to D.C. to support the Safe Chemicals Act, write a letter to the editor supporting BPA free food cans, make a donation to support our work. Don’t wait for someone else to do it or another 50 years may pass before we see the change we need.
If you’ve hesitated until now to get involved take heart, so did Rachel Carson. She looked for two years for someone else to write the book that became Silent Spring. After it’s publication she said she didn’t want to write it because “a book about pesticides would be a book about poison and death, and I wanted to write about life”.
As the mother of two young children I understand that sentiment. I want to be caught up in life all the time not thinking about poisons, but to protect the life we love there is a need for many more of us to embrace the role of mothers of the modern environmental movement by joining Rachel to demand safer chemical policies.