Monday, February 05, 2007

February, 2007

No More Silence by Fireweed

When American scientist Rachel Carson published her now famous expose on chemical poisons back in the early 60's, the book's title "Silent Spring" roused a nation. It's been said that while others had been cautioning about pesticide dangers for some time, it was Carson who struck upon the metaphor that would draw all these dire warnings to a point.

"There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings ... Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change ... There was a strange stillness ... The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of scores of bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh." (Silent Spring, 1962)

How fortunate that here on Denman and elsewhere around our lively west coast, we can look forward to spring being anything but 'silent'. Even while winter's chilly grasp continues to hold on tight, February's promise of rebirth and renewal cannot be denied. Before we know it, those boisterous sea lions and raucous gulls will be kicking it up a notch, celebrating the returning herring with all the noisy fanfare the rest of us seaside dwellers have come to take for granted!But can we afford to be complacent?

According to the results of the Fourth Waterbird Population Estimate survey released this week from the Netherlands by Watershed International, nearly half of the world's waterbird species are in serious decline. Not surprisingly, coordinators of the study covering 100 countries, attribute the most frequently known cause of population decrease to habitat destruction, "often caused by unsustainable human activity". Besides the more obvious forms of encroachment like urban sprawl, it seems to be becoming clearer everyday that global warming is contributing to increasing drought and rising sea levels that disappear habitat also.

And of course even while so many of us dream the final days of winter away pouring over open-pollinated seed catelogs and organic gardening plans, the right to adequately protect our own personal and ecosystem health from chemical contamination is nowhere near a given. While Cumberland and Comox have now joined other communities across Canada in adopting at least regulatory bylaws for the cosmetic use of pesticides (banned in places like Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver), Courtenay recently decided to stick with the 'educational approach' rather than opt for legislation.

The over-stretched bylaw officer I spoke to made it clear that in his opinion there's little point in enacting regulations he doesn't consider enforceable! City Council still needs to be convinced of the reality that wherever such bylaws do get passed, significantly more public compliance has been shown to follow than where voluntary education options exist alone.

According to the Cancer Smart Consumer Guide, an expanding body of evidence points to a correlation between our increased use of pesticides, household cleaners, food additives and other chemicals and rocketing cancer rates. In the 1930's, 1 in 10 Canadians could expect to develop cancer. By the 1970's cancer rates had risen to 1 in 5, and today 1 in 2.4 Canadian men and 1 in 2.7 Canadian women can expect to develop cancer over their lifetime.

While the damage being done by poison chemicals around the world today is far worse than when Rachel Carson wrote her now famous book on the subject, "one shudders to imagine how much more impoverished our habitat would be had Silent Spring not sounded the alarm." (environmental writer, Peter Matthiessen)"

"The beauty of the living world I was trying to save," wrote Rachel Carson in a letter to a friend in 1962, "has always been uppermost in my mind - that, and anger at the senseless, brutish things that were being done. I have felt bound by a solemn obligation to do what I could - if I didn't at least try I could never be happy again in nature. But now I can believe that I have at least helped a little. It would be unrealistic to believe one book could bring a complete change."

Carson died herself of cancer, at the age of 56. This year marks the centenary of her birth, and renewed appreciation for her important contributions to the world.

Gaylene Rehwald, mother and regional health and safety promoter, is a modern day crusader for pesticide reduction. Two years ago this month Gaylene was scheduled to make a presentation at our community vegan potluck series on behalf of the group she co-founded in Courtenay, Valley Green. A last minute cancellation due to illness intervened, but at the invitation of Denman Islander Peter Thomsen, she braved winds and choppy seas to finally attend our DIRA meeting last month. In honor of the Potluck Series choosing this month to celebrate Rachel Carson's centenary, I'm delighted to report that Gaylene is happy to share her knowledge and inspiring spirit with others in our community once again on Sunday, February 18th.

Among other issues, Gaylene is sure to touch upon the fact that aerial spraying for the gypsy moth is scheduled to happen in the Courtenay area three times between May 15th and June 30th this year. While the deadly DDT used for such purposes back in Rachel Carson's day has been replaced by the comparatively benign Foray 48B - containing Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki (Btk) - many aerial spray opponents take issue with government claims that the health risks are negligible. Concerned citizens can find plenty of evidence to the contrary compiled by STOP, Society Targeting Overuse of Pesticides, accessible on line @

Gaylene's advocacy work through Valley Green first came to my attention when she and other mothers descended upon Courtenay City Council chambers a few years ago in concert with their children…the latter dressed as ladybugs and butterflies. Children are exceptionally vulnerable due to their small size, physiology and lifestyle, according to the Sierra Club of Canada. Kids typically play in grass and dirt, put toys and hands in their mouths, consume considerably more pesticides than adults do per pound of body weight, and have immature metabolic systems that can't process or excrete toxins like adults' systems.

For their sake, and the health of our planet, I believe activists like Gaylene Rehwald deserve our full attention and support. We've still a long way to go to do justice to Rachel Carson's legacy, and it's up to all of us who share her passion to rise to the occasion and make whatever difference we can. For further information and links, please google Denman Potluck Series online or call 335-1209.

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