Climate Corner: ‘Silent Spring’ may be inevitable

Mar 4, 2023

Aaron Dunbar

“Everywhere was a shadow of death. The farmers spoke of much illness among their families. In the town the doctors had become more and more puzzled by new kinds of sickness appearing among their patients. There had been several sudden and unexplained deaths, not only among adults but even among children, who would be stricken suddenly while at play and die within a few hours.

“There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example–where had they gone? …”

This passage from Rachel Carson’s “A Fable for Tomorrow” is the opening chapter to “Silent Spring.” It’s impossible not to reflect on Carson’s mid-20th Century ghost town in the wake of Norfolk Southern’s chemical nuking of East Palestine, Ohio. It’s been revealed that nearly 44,000 aquatic animals were killed by the negligent rail company’s “controlled release” of deadly chemicals in an angry black mushroom cloud. That’s well above a tenfold increase over ODNR’s initial estimate of 3,500 wildlife deaths- and mainstream news outlets, often with major shareholders such as BlackRock and Vanguard in common with Norfolk Southern, have the gall to wonder why the town’s citizens have been so distrustful of the government.

The dread evoked by Ohio’s Silent Spring is hardly ameliorated by the premature onset of actual springtime throughout the United States, with temperatures last week reaching nearly 80∂F.

This is not normal.

Entire complex ecosystems are being disrupted by the chaotic shifting of Earth’s seasons, thanks almost certainly to global warming. Birds that migrate seasonally are being lured to starvation by false promises of plentiful food. Insects are missing opportunities to feed and to pollinate, thus jeopardizing our own food systems. Invasive plant species in particular are given greater opportunities to proliferate in a warming climate.

“I’m seeing the trends I rely upon, the calendar I have trusted to see rare plants in bloom, just completely disappear,” Dr. Deborah Landau of the Nature Conservancy said in an interview with The Guardian. “Everything has been thrown out of whack, species that have evolved together for millennia are now off-kilter. There is this cascading effect on everything that is more than just a missed cherry blossom season.”

The widespread prevalence of these cascades should terrify anyone with even an elementary knowledge of the implications. Scientists studying mass extinction events have found the destruction of wildlife can culminate in seemingly abrupt “tipping points,” much like the climate crisis as a whole, beyond which ecosystem collapse becomes inevitable.

The End-Permian extinction event, otherwise known as the “Great Dying,” resulted in the annihilation of 90% of Earth’s species, a direct consequence of global warming triggered by massive volcanic eruptions. Shockingly, species today are being eliminated at a faster rate than they were during any of Earth’s past mass extinction events. And in many cases, ecosystem collapse was a result of just such species cascades as previously mentioned, with different species often taking the role of those that went extinct. Finally there remained no species that could fill these crucial ecological voids, and these complex interconnected systems entered a death spiral.

Our world today is staring down the barrel of a similar mass extinction event, though the causes, in today’s case, are anything but natural.

The common thread between the destruction of life in East Palestine and the larger global ecocide happening around us is this: Just as Norfolk Southern decided to funnel some $18 billion into stock buybacks instead of responsibly upgrading their Civil War-era braking systems, so too do fossil fuel giants like Shell and ExxonMobil choose the hoarding of obscene wealth over the survival of the biosphere. Corporations value profits over anything else on this Earth.

The modus operandi for these corporate terrorists is always the same: deregulate, destroy, and deceive. They promise us they’ll be on their best behavior because the free hand of the market dictates it, then they reduce the world around them to a wasteland. They fill our bodies with poisons, then lie to us and tell us we’ll be fine. Then a toothless political system controlled by these same oligarchs comes along and reassures us just enough to maintain the illusion that everything is as it should be, despite the iridescent shimmer in our waterways and the fish floating belly-up downstream.

For some time now, scientists have debated renaming the current era of Earth’s history, the Holocene, as the Anthropocene, due to the outsized negative impact human beings have had. But more recently, an alternative name has been proposed which more accurately assigns the blame for our current environmental nightmare — the Capitalocene.

Those rapacious elites most responsible for the desecration of our world are invariably the ones least impacted by its destruction. And as we fail to confront this horrendous scorched earth capitalism, the grim spectre of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” draws nearer and nearer each day.