I didn’t want to leave this Earth Day week, 2010, without remembering the godmother of the save-the-earth movement: Rachel Louise Carson. Ms. Carson, born in 1907 in Pennsylvania, began her career as a marine biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. She became well-known in the 1950″s with a series of well-received books on the oceans, particularly, The Sea Around Us. Her iconic expose, Silent Spring, describing the destructive capacities of the pesticide DDT on the chain of life within nature, gave rise to a widespread grassroots environmental movement, and a new concept of a government watchdog, The Environmental Protection Agency.
The chemical industry, often underwritten by the military, vociferously rejected the conclusions of Carson’s careful research, that pesticides could kill outright as well as accumulate within tissues of whole species and eventually lead to the extinction of species. Human Events magazine, a right wing megaphone featuring such columnists as Oliver North, Ann Coulter, and Robert Novak , included Silent Spring ( along with The Origin of Species) on it’s honorable mention list of the “most harmful” books of the 19th and 20th centuries. Ronald Reagan was an avid follower of the ideologies featured in Human Events. Ronald Reagan gutted much of the infrastructure of regulation and environmentalism.
Let’s leap fifty years ahead of Carson’s work to the first decade of the 21st century. The situation is much the same for proponents of climate instability caused by greenhouse gases, burning of fossil fuels. Once again, energy and chemical companies, fronted by right wing media platforms and religious charlatans, are waging a full-scale attack on the very idea of scientific method employed to regulate unfettered resource use and extraction. The same right wingers that blamed hurricane Katrina on homosexuals,the eruption of the Icelandic volcano on the recent health reform legislation and bear an eternal hatred of the theory of evolution, now challenge science to prove the threat of climate instability beyond a doubt. Activists against mountain-top removal for coal extraction, acidification of the oceans, rain forest destruction, are called atheists, communists and terrorists. Stephanie Hendricks, author of Divine Destruction, says this far right Christian views of nature:
Some of the fundamentalist Christians interpret the Bible to mean that, when God says you have to subdue the earth, it means you have to use up the earth in order for Christ to return. There’s evidence that James Watt, the former Secretary of the Interior under Reagan, believed this. Gale Norton, who just stepped down as Secretary of the Interior, comes from this school of thought as well. And there’s a parallel in the “Wise Use” movement. Among certain right-wing Christian fundamentalists it is considered heretical to say that God does not provide unlimited abundance. To say that we have a contained ecosystem that’s in danger is to be anti-Christian.
The megaphones have gotten louder and the penalties more dire for taking on the destructive and omnivorous capitalist profit machine.
The right wing response to the environmental movement has been creation of a counter movement, a modern so-called “Wise Use” movement described here:
The Wise Use movement consists of a range of groups, including industry, grass-roots organizations of loggers, mill workers, ranchers, farmers, miners, off-road vehicle users, and property owners. It also includes libertarians, populists, and religious and political conservatives. The movement became known as “Wise Use” after the 1988 Multiple Use Strategy Conference in Reno, Nevada. The movement includes or is supported by most anti-environmentalist groups, by companies in the resource extraction industry, by land development companies, and by libertarian and minarchist organizations. The movement was most active in the Western United States in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Some environmental activists describe the Wise Use movement this way:
Some critics of the Wise Use movement claim that the strong rhetoric used has deepened divisions between opposing interest groups, and has created a climate that has led to an increase in violence and threats of violence against environmental groups and public employees. “Many observers noted that Wise Use activity in some areas overlapped heavily with the 1990s formation and growth of militias, self-styled volunteer paramilitary organizations presciently committed to their own version of homeland security.
The Wise Use movement, under the direction of the umbrella group, Alliance for America, has been able to marginalize direct action environmentalists with the charge of anti-Americanism and “eco-terrorism”. Penalties for a second conviction on eco-terrorism charges can bring as many as twenty years in federal prison even when there is no harm committed against life or property. Since when have the worst polluters and wreckers of the environment spent even one day in jail?
Even in Rachel Carson’s day things didn’t look this bleak.