by Alex Scott Antram, ’05
Since this month marks the centennial of Rachel Carson’s birth, it seems like a good time to acknowledge her contribution to conservation and to look ahead to what more we can do today.
Carson is best known for her 1962 work, Silent Spring, the book credited with launching the environmentalist movement in the United States. She was concerned about the affect of DDT, a massively used pesticide, and encouraged people to recognize forms of human pollution and their toll on the environment.
Carson, a scientist by training, became a social critic who had a profound impact on the development of environmental policy in the United States. With the obvious need for greener policies in the U.S. today, we can, like Carson, have a voice in pressing these issues.
In Carson’s honor, here are some suggestions for policy development:
Looking back to move forward: Did you know that railroads can move one ton of freight 414 miles for each gallon of low-sulfur diesel fuel used? With improvements in emissions control and technology used to monitor locomotive operations, trains are the most efficient and least environmentally harmful mode of transportation. Trucks, our country’s primary means of internal shipping, are far less energy efficient, and release more volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide than any other form of transport. We could be taking better advantage of the railway systems already in place across America and lessen congestion on highways.
Providing for future generations: We can do more than instill an understanding of and appreciation for environmental conservation in America’s children at the family level (although that is vitally important). We could also have policies in place to require conservation education for each grade level throughout public schools.
Creating something from nothing: Garbage could be converted into biodiesel instead of rotting in landfills, releasing methane into the atmosphere. While the debate over whether fresh corn should be converted into ethanol continues (research shows the effect on the environment is fairly the same as burning gasoline), garbage is also a domestic, renewable product, unfortunately produced in mass amounts each day. It could also be
incinerated and the heat used to generate steam to run turbines to generate electricity.
Taking a tip from Europe: The wonders of hybrid cars aside, let’s consider other alternatives to gasoline. One gallon of diesel is cheaper to produce and has more energy than one gallon of gasoline. Therefore, diesel results in better fuel mileage and less use of crude oil. With technology in place to remove sulfur and other environmental toxins from diesel emissions, these engines can now be made less polluting and therefore cleaner than gasoline engines. This could be a viable option for American vehicles as the energy crisis continues. Diesel is also less flammable than gasoline and therefore safer for drivers. Why am I suggesting this change, instead of hydrogen powered vehicles? The amount of energy it takes to create hydrogen isn't worth the environmental cost. If only we could encourage the making of more hybrid cars…
Encouraging personal fuel efficiency: Highway vehicles could be taxed according to their fuel usage (ie, the less fuel efficient, the more the tax), and the funds could be used to develop mass transit.
Beyond pressing our representatives in Congress to develop greener environmental policies, there are smaller steps you can take in your everyday life to tread lightly on the earth:
We can all do a part to celebrate the legacy of Rachel Carson in our everyday life. Her words still ring true today: “The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery - not over nature - but of ourselves.”
Editor's note: We recently noticed this new book on Rachel Carson: The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement, by Mark Hamilton Lytle. Although we haven't read it yet here at SCA, we thought it might be of interest to some of you Hands On readers. If you decide to pick it up and read it (or if you already have) we'd love to hear what you think of it. Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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