September 2012 will mark the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s landmark book Silent Spring. In many respects, this book launched what is considered the modern environmental movement in North America. It was a catalyst to major changes in regulation, the government’s role in public and environmental health, and in many ways announced the birth, in earnest, of today’s organic community.
Pause and think a moment of this woman who made such fundamental change as a contrarian amidst the feverishly innovative and entrepreneurial post-war era, when the miracle of chemistry was being integrated into everyday life. She was in many respects a solitary voice, an outsider by her gender and strong conviction, and a questioner of how sustainable our decisions to date had been.
At the time of Silent Spring, we were on a long road to sickness: companies were advertising the uses of DDT to protect crops, livestock and even babies. Dairy cows and their feed were sprayed with the toxic compound. Children frolicked in the plumes of community spray-trucks. Families were sold DDT-laced wallpaper for their newborn’s bedroom to protect them from “pests.”
Today, some of our food is being impregnated at the genetic level similar pesticides— still “miracles” of science to save us from vague threats, and still questionable in their necessity or long-term sustainability.
This fall will also mark the 40th year of IFOAM, when a community came together of those who were unconvinced that chemical death-agents could sustain our life on the planet. These individuals helped shape the vision of an alternative system of organic agriculture and values, and how it could be practiced in nations all around the world.
Then, 20 years ago, we took a sobering moment in Rio to question what the future of our toxic and warming world might look like, and to try to shift it, collectively, to a more sustainable future. And then we returned again this year, with many great achievements to celebrate, but the conviction that more has to be done to truly make a difference.
50 years, 40 years, 20 years ago: major milestones on our road to sustainability. So what will this year bring—will California choose to label GMOs and by so doing help shape the continent? What will we see in five years’ time—will organic agriculture prove its resilience and restorative qualities in a world of unpredictable and extreme weather shifts? And what will we realize in the next 50 years that will ensure our descendants can enjoy the same gifts we were given?
That question is the same one that Rachel Carson faced in 1962: we each must internalize sustainability, we must question every day how the things we do, support, make, or buy either sustain or drain our world of its diversity and its life. This is a daily moment, and a personal one; but we are all, collectively, shaped by its outcome.