Rachel Carson: Don’t Look

This summer will mark the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring‘s publication in 1962.

I think it is safe to say, she would be appalled by what has happened to the global bird population. It was their susceptibility to pesticides that she focused on, to call our attention to the impact  our heavy-handed chemical-based agriculture was having on an integral planetary function. Today we’d call what birds do an environmental service. They pollinate plants, spread seeds, and along with the bats (too bad about them, too) eat untold tons of potentially-harmful insects.

When a cosmopolitan species like Starlings shows more than a 50% reduction in 30 years, that tells us something is seriously wrong with the common environment we share with them. (Nevermind that I can’t think of a better bird to have fewer of.)

Read How EU farming policies led to a collapse in Europe’s bird population from the Guardian for all the details. And don’t think we’re doing a whole lot better in this country. The blighted world Carson held up as apocalyptic example to get our attention–didn’t, apparently. And as the Guardian article and Carson both point out, the cause of most of our environmental ills stem from economic, philosophical and ethical sources. All of that is without our grasp to change, but it means WE will have to change.

I’ve just come in from the back porch with an empty coffee cup after listening (common) and seeing (not so common) the scarlet tanagers–two males defending adjoining territories. I don’t take it for granted, and think each summer that it might be the last. How sad that would be–not to mention a further warning we had better turn this ship around while there is still time.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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