Fifty years ago, Rachel Carson published her groundbreaking and paradigm-shattering book, “Silent Spring.” In it, she charted the depth of our dependence on chemicals as a means of subduing our environment. By chronicling the effects of these chemicals on our ecosystems and ourselves, she pulled back the curtain on the depth of our arrogance and naiveté.
As a good friend, who is also a historian of science, is fond of saying, Silent Spring, more than any other work of the 20th century, is responsible for shifting our understanding of ourselves from masters of the environment to stewards of it. In short, her book has become a kind of watershed moment. We look back and chart our own progress by asking, “Where did we go from there?”
The answer to that question is complex. We demanded regulations. We have banned DDT. We have begun a worldwide environmental movement. And yet, we still use pesticides almost ubiquitously. We still learn almost monthly, it seems, of new contaminants in the water and potential threats to our health and safety.
We are changed, for sure. But we are still mired in many of the same dilemmas that Carson outlined for us 50 years ago. Two recent articles – one about the recent and potentially catastrophic infestation of Asian Citrus Psyllids in East County — and another about the federal halting of new highways in Imperial County as incentive for complying with pollution reduction standards — paint a perfect picture of our current practical and ethical bind when it comes to the use of pesticides both locally and across the globe.