Published in 1962, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson is widely credited with having launched the modern environmental movement. And yet fifty years later, we continue to allow Big Business to poison our environment, our planet, and us. A new study from the National Research Council disclosed that sea levels along the California Coast are expected to rise by an average of three feet by the end of this century because of global warming, wreaking havoc on low-lying areas. A new report from UC Santa Cruz found that lead ammunition from hunting is poisoning California condors, one of the world’s most endangered species. And this week, the chemical industry is battling a bill in Sacramento that would ban the use of toxic flame retardants on furniture sold in the state.
Although many of us consider ourselves to be environmentalists, we’ve also been slow to react to the inconvenient truths of scientific data. The myriad problems, for example, that will be caused by global warming are undeniable, as evidenced in the recent study, yet some East Bay residents still act like climate-change skeptics. In Berkeley, for instance, residents continue to fight against increased urban density, even though most environmentalists agree that one of the best ways to limit greenhouse gases is to curb suburban sprawl and spur growth in cities.
The hunting lobby, meanwhile, is expected to try to kill attempts to ban lead ammunition in California, even though the science is clear that condors are being poisoned when they scavenge on small prey that has been shot by hunters. The question is: Will we react to the scientific data with a strong public outcry over the fate of an iconic bird that was brought back from near extinction? Or will we let the gun lobby win again?
Similar questions can be asked about poisonous flame retardants. Numerous studies over the years have shown that carcinogenic chemicals such as V6 and TCEP are leaching from our furniture into our bodies. Moreover, studies have revealed that the use of such flame retardants is unlikely to have much effect on fire safety. And yet the chemical industry has repeatedly blocked attempts to ban their use. Will that change in 2012 — the fiftieth anniversary of Silent Spring — or will it remain the same?