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"Spring is Coming" environmental lecture

12-4-2018

Julia Guerrein, Editor-in-Chief

Patrick H. Cosby, Ph.D., assistant teaching professor of world history, discussed the legacy of well-known environmentalist, Rachel Carson, and the effects of her 1962 book, “Silent Spring” on the U.S. and the world. The event was organized by the Public Policy Fund at Penn State Behrend.

Carson is credited with spurring the modern U.S. environmental movement by raising awareness about the impact of the pesticide DDT on the environment, her most notable observation being a sharp decline in bird populations. The 1970s was a time of increased awareness in the U.S. surrounding the environment, culminating in the first Earth Day, the founding of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the passing of multiple notable environmental laws, such as the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Although there is a clear tangible outcome from “Silent Spring” in the U.S., this is not as easy to see throughout the world. Some places still use DDT even though it has been shown to harm the environment and cause severe health problems. Particularly around the time of the Cold War, there were two major concerns, including nuclear weapons and feeding the world.

The feeding the world piece gave way to the “Green Revolution.” This movement, as explained by Cosby, focused on hybrid plants that would yield more crops in order to produce more food. This has since evolved into the production of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

The Green Revolution has faced criticism and pushback, particularly concerning the commercialization and big business approach that it has taken. Even though DDT was banned in the U.S., it is still used around the world to mass produce food. Commercialization also disregards the cultural eating habits of people by mass producing specific products, such as soybeans and corn. In response to this movement, there have been counter movements such as the “Slow Food” movement (as opposed to “Fast Food”).

Cosby also discussed President Trump and his repeated moves towards environmental deregulation, which is far different from what some other countries, including many in Europe, are doing.

“Spring is coming represents both something optimistic and something that is coming,” said Cosby.

Cosby took a moment in the evening to discuss the amount of plastic in the ocean, which accumulates in the middle of large currents known as gyres. Most well-known is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a slurry of garbage the size of Texas located in the middle of the North Pacific Gyre.

After the talk, the floor was opened for questions and discussion. After some questions to Cosby, the crowd got into a discussion about the recycling debacle on campus that is also plaguing the local community and world. Through the discussion, it was garnered that there is a fundamental disconnect between what people believe recycling is and what the reality of recycling is. Although heated, those in the discussion sounded hopeful that they can take this problem into their own hands, rather than waiting for the administration to solve it.

After the question and answer part ended and the event was adjourned, people stayed around to further discuss with each other. These conversations are representative of what the Public Policy Fund at Penn State Behrend’s purpose is, to bring together a diversity of perspectives to inform public policy decisions.