We hired two students this last few months where I work; I was going to chat with one of them a couple of weeks ago and I found a half-read copy of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in her cubicle. It brought back memories of when I read it for my geography classes at Penn State. Over three decades old when I read it, the book has passed the fifty year milestone: and is still popular among environmentalists and naturists. It still has same sense of urgency and concern that it had when it was written. The problems may not be exactly the same as they were in previous generations, but they are eerily similar today.
At the time that Silent Spring was published, one of the big pesticides of concern was DDT. Students today know the initials primarily through history: the chemical was extremely effective against a wide variety of insects, but it also built up in the environment and the food chain, and was ultimately linked to preventing some kinds of birds from reproducing. Fifty years later, we have our own version of DDT. Neonicotinoids, a type of pesticide that is a bit more difficult to pronounce than DDT, was first linked to insect populations and bees some years ago: Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was described as a potential problem with pollinators that could lead to problems in agriculture. The history of CCD goes back into the nineteenth century, but in the years after 2007 it lead to significant losses of honeybee populations: in 2010, a third of the honeybee population (USDA, 2010). I helped at a local “Polinator Festival” here in Toronto in 2012 when I suggested mapping pollinators using GIS; there were big concerns among groups that relied on bees and such. More recently, the pesticides have also been linked to declining bird populations (CBC, 2014).
The EU banned neonicotinoids in 2013; Ontario did so this year. Even in the U.S., Obama has at least established a task force to explore the question (Guardian, 2014). Not only has Harper remained silent on the subject, he has fired many federally supported scientists and has closed down many programs. “The federal government has also severely cut Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency. This is the agency that regulates things like the neonicotinoid pesticides now found to contribute to massive die-offs of bees and other pollinators across much of the world.” (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2013) Even as the world comes to accept the link between these chemicals and the environment, it becomes harder in Canada to regulate those who use the chemicals.
The world that Harper is building is not only silent referring to his critics, it is silent regarding the buzz of pollinators and the songs of birds. But the sounds of industry are loud in the PM’s ear. I suppose that’s the way he wants it. But it’s not the way I like it.