Green Beat: Silent Spring must be heard

With the late onset of spring here in Langley this year, many are wondering whether it will ever come

A varied thrush made a visit to the Clements’ backyard this past winter.

With the late onset of spring here in Langley this year, many are wondering whether it will ever come.

The birds have not been silent though. My birdfeeder has had record attendance, and we’ve had the usual guest bird during snowy times — the beautiful varied thrush.

The song of the varied thrush is haunting — somehow it manages to whistle two notes at the same time, making for a very unmistakable and charismatic call.

We will soon welcome a cacophony of other calls as the migrant birds return.

When Rachel Carson penned Silent Spring in 1962 she warned that if we continued using certain pesticides that caused thinning of bird egg shells, especially DDT, we would no longer hear the spring chorus.

Carson had a long career as a government scientist before taking off her lab coat and picking up her pen to write full-time in 1951. Her warnings in Silent Spring communicated the science in ways never before heard by the general public.

President John F. Kennedy’s Advisory Committee took up the question of misuse of pesticides and he awarded her the Distinguished Civilian Civil Service medal in 1962.

DDT was banned in the U.S. by 1972, and her literary siren became a call to arms for many in the nascent environmental movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

More than 50 years later, I often talk to young people who have not heard of Silent Spring. And yet Carson’s messages still ring true today … have a listen:

“There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings… Even in winter the roadsides were places of beauty where countless birds came to feed on the berries and on the seed heads of the dried weeds rising above the snow…

“Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change… There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example, where had they gone? Many people spoke of them, puzzled and disturbed. The feeding stations in the backyards were deserted. The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices…”

“No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves…

“This town does not actually exist, but it might easily have a thousand counterparts in America or elsewhere in the world…every one of these disasters has actually happened somewhere, and many real communities have already suffered a substantial number of them. A grim specter has crept upon us almost unnoticed, and this imagined tragedy may easily become a stark reality we all shall know.”

David Clements, Ph.D. is Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at Trinity Western University