In August of 2007, I read my first book about the environment, This Moment on Earth: Today’s New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future, by John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry. Since then, I’ve devoured a wide range of research on topics including the American food supply chain, our country’s regulatory policies, the science of endocrine disruption, climate change and green living, to name a few. My completed syllabus is now up to 27, and there are eight newly arrived resources staring at me from my desktop this March morning.
There is no shortage of information out there about these many subjects. And what I have found MOST astounding is that the warnings we hear from scientists, doctors and environmentalists today have profound echoes that ring from the 1950’s when questions first began to arise about the impact that modern chemistry will have on all living species. Concerns were voiced from the first years when man began to wave his synthetic wand at Mother Nature.
So as I closed the final pages of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring last night, it occurred to me that I was traveling through my newfound awareness on a backward trajectory. The Kerrys’ inspirational words that initially galvanized my awareness are a passionate attempt to awaken a culture that has chosen to ignore the dire predictions that are beginning to manifest on our planet today. But it is my sincere hope that we pay a little closer attention this time.
In a quote from Silent Spring, published in 1962, the author wrote, “We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one ‘less traveled by’ – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.”
From what I understand, Rachel Carson’s words were hardly ignored. In fact, her extraordinary efforts to compile data outlining and explaining the potential connection between chemical exposures and disruption to animal life in habitats throughout the United States in the 1950’s, led to the eventual ban of DDT and other pesticides a decade after her book was published. But beyond prosecuting a specific category of lethal chemistry, did Americans really HEAR her concerns, or heed her warnings?
In another extremely prescient comment from this same book, Dr. Francis Ray of the University of Florida stated that, “we may be initiating cancer in the children of today by the addition of chemicals [to food]…We will not know, perhaps for a generation or two, what the effect will be.” I was born in 1966. I was one of those children. And I believe with all my heart that 40+ years of exposure to food grown with chemicals, polluted water, toxic air, and countless everyday hazards that we wear on our bodies and utilize in our homes is delivering truth to every prediction that was made by these researchers.
These experts knew what was around the bend. They attempted to make it clear. But in our American devotion to convenience and innovation, their words were trampled and sequestered to hippies and treehuggers who fell outside of mainstream society as they held on to a slower life, and pledged a more gentle relationship with our earth. The values that were safeguarded by these “outsiders” are now exactly those we aspire to embrace in our burgeoning “green society” of today. At this crossroads of awakening, we admit that the truth has always lingered within our grasp.
To close on Silent Spring, a quote from the introduction accurately leads us to where we find our civilization in 2008, although the words were written 45 years ago, “Along with the possibility of the extinction of mankind by nuclear war, the central problem of our age has therefore become the contamination of man’s total environment with such substances of incredible potential for harm – substances that accumulate in the tissues of plants and animals and even penetrate the germ cells to shatter and alter the very material of heredity upon which the shape of the future depends.”
So I wonder, are we ready to listen yet? Whose voice will awaken us from our blissful banquet of ignorant consumption? Will it be a politician who pledges to protect us? A writer whose words spark a decision to become more informed? A teacher who inspires activism? A friend who is suffering from breast cancer? Or worst of all, a dying child, an innocent pawn in the global game of chemical warfare that leaves no bug or blade of grass safe on this planet.
It is time to take that “less traveled” road, the one that might require some heavier boots, a fresh map and a stainless steel canteen. We know where our current path leads. We’ve actually known it for quite some time.
So let’s all listen, NOW. Let’s not wait any longer. It’s time to learn more, behave responsibly and care abundantly.