Leading article: In praise of the green movement

 

Share
Related Topics

Fifty years ago today, on 16 June 1962, The New Yorker magazine began a serialisation of Silent Spring, and the modern environmental movement began.

Rachel Carson's passionate polemic against the damage pesticides were doing to America's wildlife did far more than highlight an outrage against nature, although it certainly both did that and brought the outrage to an end. It also awoke, for the first time, the generalised sentiment that the Earth was threatened by human activities and needed defending from them.

Carson's book showed to a non-specialist audience how everything in the natural world was connected, how people were part of it, too, and how what people did could drastically disrupt the balance of nature that had built up over millions of years. She suggested, in a way that substantial numbers of people began to hear for the first time, that the idea of endless scientific and economic progress on which America had been built might not always be benign.

This was a true revolution in thinking, a radical departure from the unquestioned shibboleths of US capitalism, and it provoked a fierce retaliation from the pesticide-producing chemical companies and also parts of the American business and scientific establishments. But the majority of the American people instinctively felt that she was right, and that the disappearance of their songbirds was not an excusable piece of collateral damage in the large-scale aerial spraying campaigns – using a new generation of super-powerful insecticides – which the US chemical industry, in the pursuit of ever-fatter profits, had persuaded US farmers and local authorities to adopt.

So it was that an overreach by American business and an inspired campaign against it by a middle-aged, single, female marine biologist and writer (all attributes which were held against her) changed everything. We have all done well out of capitalism. But no one has ever pretended that markets alone will deliver us a clean environment or an unspoiled and undamaged natural world. The vital insight from Rachel Carson was that if we wanted nature undamaged and unspoiled, then we would have to fight for it.

That fight has gone on for half a century now, and this week in The Independent we have looked back at some of its key themes and key moments. Most notably, there was the appearance of Earthrise, the first photograph of our planet from a distance, taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts coming back from the Moon on Christmas Eve, 1968. The picture revealed unforgettably the Earth's shimmering blue beauty, yet also its vulnerability and isolation in the infinite blackness of space. And it crystallised at a glance the message Carson had put forth six years earlier.

Thus fortified in their convictions, a generation of young activists set out to defend the planet, and registered a series of tremendous victories, from the banning of commercial whaling and the banning of the ivory trade (to save the African elephant), to the reduction of pollution in all its forms, especially the dumping of waste at sea. But we can see now that these were the easier triumphs, the low-hanging fruit. The problems green campaigners are tackling now – such as deforestation, overfishing and, above all, climate change – are of another order of magnitude. They are systemic, driven by the very nature of human society and the remorseless rise in human numbers. As such, they are a far greater, and more complex, challenge.

But to deal with them is to prevent our despoiling the planet beyond repair. And so it is that we need the environmental community now more than ever before. After half a century of campaigning, the green movement has unquestionably made the world a better place than it was. We can only hope that activists continue to fight the good fight for the next 50 years, and beyond.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Ellen E Jones
Scientists have discovered the perfect cheese for pizzas (it's mozzarella)  

Life of pie: Hard cheese for academics

Simmy Richman
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Chosen to lead the women's wing of the ruling Zanu-PF, the wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding the 90-year old
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model of a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution