By Sam Nelson
The first chapter of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring imagines a dying earth, desolate and barren where it was once lush and vernal. The chapter details the richness of wildlife before an unnamed blight causes everything to wither and die. Carson wrote Silent Spring to warn the public about the dangers of DDT, an insecticide used liberally in the late 1940s, ‘50s, and early ‘60s which Carson and other scientists linked to poisoning the environment and eventually harming human health.
Even though Silent Spring was written specifically about DDT and the dangers it posed to society, the topic of human impact on the environment remains uncomfortably relevant. Her bleak vision is coming closer to fruition.
Carson penned Silent Spring in 1962 before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) existed. Had EPA laws been in place during Silent Spring’s publication, DDT would not have been sprayed as freely. Carson’s outspoken stance against DDT helped spark the environmental movement that led to the establishment of the EPA. However, its conception was hard-won and not without sacrifice.
At first, concerned politicians advocated for a Congressional department dedicated to environmental protection. Almost all of these advocates were leftists and called for action under Nixon’s presidency. Many of Nixon’s policies opposed leftist ideals, however, and Nixon avoided advocates’ wishes by proposing the establishment of an agency instead. A government agency has significantly less power than a Congressional department, so while the advocates were appeased, not all of their demands were met.
In the 2016 fiscal year, the federal government granted the EPA a budget of $8.14 billion. Total federal spending that year amounted to $3.54 trillion, so the EPA’s budget made up only .23 percent of total federal spending.
This year’s federal budget proposes a hike in defense spending by about 10 percent. But when one section of the budget sees a significant increase, another section sees a decrease. The proposal for the 2017 fiscal year will decrease the EPA budget by an estimated 25 percent. The negative human impact on the environment is widely visible, and a budget cut to the EPA – in addition to the persistent denial of climate change – will set back the strides environmental activism has made over the past few decades.
These budget cuts will affect spending for years to come. A decrease in EPA spending will influence college students studying environmental science and related fields. A reduced budget will likely lead to lay-offs and less new-hires at the EPA. This poses a problem for students who hope to one day be employed by the agency, as their chances of getting hired will be severely limited.
“I think it’s a complete mistake to cut the EPA budget,” said Ryan Cuthbert, BU junior studying international relations and renewable energy. “At one point, working for the EPA out of school seemed like a priority, but now with the hiring freeze it seems impossible and I need to start looking at other avenues.”
The EPA, as the stand-alone government body focused on the environment, is the lens through which American environmentalism is viewed. If the federal government cuts funding for the environmental group with the most national influence, then less work will be done to minimize human impact on the environment and slow (or even reverse) the progression of climate change.
“Cutting funds to the EPA is ignoring scientific facts and dooms our future,” said Valeria Menendez, BU sophomore majoring in bio-anthropology and minoring in environmental science. “It begins with the risk of devaluing the study of the environment and discouraging the efforts to sustain and preserve what’s left. It will possibly make my career choice look less useful and there may be decreased career opportunities available to me due to the devaluing of my interests.”
Fewer people will be inclined to study environmental science if it cannot offer the promise of job security. And if fewer people study it, fewer people will come up with solutions to minimize human impact on the environment. It’s cyclical.
The first chapter of Silent Spring is titled “A Fable for Tomorrow.” Budget cuts to the EPA imply a dismissal of environmental issues, and with such implications, the strife Carson predicts for that world of “tomorrow” seems less like a fable and more like a looming reality.
Interested in the environment and want to make a difference? Join Branch Out!
Figures on defense spending increase and EPA cuts gathered from CNN.