A Science Odyssey On The Edge: Ecology is Hep

Ecology is Hep


Wednesday: It reads like poetry. Poetry that reveals how the human race is ravaging our common pad, the earth. I speak of the best-selling book "Silent Spring."

I'm Wednesday Sullen. With me today is the chick who wrote this disturbing book, Rachel Carson.

Wednesday: Rachel, you are responsible for singlehandedly starting this whole ecology movement in the U.S.

Rachel: Well, Wednesday, I don't know about that, but I have long had a deep concern of how we as a race are changing the balance of nature.

Wednesday: Like, how do you mean?

Rachel: I mean that throughout earth's history, life has been molded by the environment. Life has also modified the environment, but these changes have been slight. Things have recently changed. Man now has the power to alter the nature of the world.

Oh Daddy-o, you stand there,
butcher knife in hand.
You slash away at Nature,
and mutilate the land.

Rachel: Ahh..., if only the problem were that simple. In fact, our species is contaminating the air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials.

Rachel: Since the 1940's over 200 chemicals have been created for use in killing insects, weeds, rodents, and other so-called "pests."

Wednesday: They're, like, a real drag, these pesticides.

Rachel: To say the least. They have been applied across the U.S., to farms, forests, homes, rivers and lakes. They have killed countless birds and fish. They still contaminate the soil. Quite a high price to pay, considering the chemicals' intended target was a few weeds and insects.

Wednesday: All these chemicals, killing off birds, just so a few squares can make a lot of bread.

Rachel: Yes, and there are pesticides in every slice of bread you eat. In everything you eat. And just because you can't feel the effects of these chemicals doesn't mean they're not harming you.

Pesticide, foul pesticide,
Tainting my black bean soup.
You settle in my liver,
Inducing me to puke.

Rachel: You're not that far off the mark. Pesticides have made many humans sick -- they've even caused death. Let's talk about what happens when one kind of pesticide, parathion, enters your body.

Rachel: Parathion is an organic phosphorus insecticide. Organic phosphorus insecticides work by targeting the nervous system of insects.

Rachel: Unfortunately, these pesticides cannot distinguish between an insect's nervous system and that of warm-blooded animals, including humans.

What happens in your body, under normal conditions, is that impulses move from nerve to nerve. These impulses are carried by a "chemical transmitter."

Rachel: The chemical transmitter is released by a nerve, travels through the synapse (the space between two nerves), then binds to the other nerve's receptor. This causes the other nerve to fire off an impulse.

Almost immediately after the chemical transmitter initiates an impulse, another enzyme -- a "protective enzyme" -- destroys the chemical transmitter. If this didn't happen, the nerve would continue to transmit impulses. In other words, the nerve would continue to fire.

Rachel: Now let's say that the insecticide parathion enters your body. It has no effect on the chemical transmitter. However, it destroys the protective enzyme.

This causes the nerves throughout your body to "stay on." Impulses will continue to flash from nerve to nerve. This causes tremors, spasms, convulsions, even death.

Organic phosphorus insecticide
Lurking in my bread
You attack an innocent enzyme
Hours later, I am dead.

Rachel: It has happened before. To two boys in Wisconsin. One was playing in his yard while his father was spraying a nearby field; the other touched the nozzle of a sprayer stored in a barn. They both died that night. There are other cases, too.

Wednesday: Like, what a drag, these pesticides.

Rachel: Now I do not believe that chemical pesticides should never be used. But I do believe that we have allowed the use of these chemicals without testing, or even thinking about, how they will affect the soil, water, and wildlife. We have put these chemicals in the hands of those who have no idea how dangerous they really are.

Wednesday: Like, Rachel, you are really one hep chick. I hope you never cop out. Now I'd like to finish this interview with one last poem.

Enchanting Rachel Carson,
Your words are fair and wise.
You crusade against insecticides,
Postponing our demise.

Note About This Feature:
Many of Rachel's thoughts and words presented in this feature were taken from her book, "Silent Spring." Although thirty-five years have passed since it was originally published, its message is not outdated. It is a book well worth adding to your reading list.

The End

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