From Zero to Hero to Zero Again: Environment Ministries in Government

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Half a century ago on September 27, 1962, a book revolutionized the way environmental issues were included in the scope of the world’s governments.

Author Rachel Carson penned Silent Spring during a time when Environmental Ministries were as of yet a non-reality. Economies and industrial entities were booming, and mankind’s ambitions were still gearing ahead full force in both science and technology. A great part of this advancement took place in agriculture, where the advent of mass-employed pesticides on crops were a new, and exciting, development; in fact Swiss scientist Paul Mueller won a Nobel Prize in 1948 for demonstrating the powerful pesticide properties of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane). The chemical was at the time used to combat typhus, malaria and dengue fever, and also to ward off pests that damaged agricultural crops. (David Suzuki Foundation)

It was Carson who educated the world on many of the realities of this hazardous pesticide, first in a response to the New Yorker and then in Silent Spring.  John F. Kennedy became aware of her research through the novel and had his Science Advisory Committee investigate her claims of hazard—finding the facts stark enough to officially recommend phasing out “persistent toxic pesticides.”

Within 10 years of Silent Spring’s publication, the United Nations Environment Programme was created and the first global environmental conference was held in Stockholm, Sweden. Today most governments in the world have environment departments that, despite a range in their effectiveness, are meant to strike balance in the ethical development and care of our planet’s natural resources.

Here in Canada, it’s been a quick 50 years to include, and then denounce, the representation of environmental science in government.

Postmedia News recently reported that nearly one third of Harper’s 2012 budget legislation was dedicated to “changing Canada’s environmental laws, offering new tools for the government to authorize water pollution, investigate environmental groups, weaken protection of endangered species, and limit public participation in consultations and reviews of proposed industrial projects,” such as the Northern Gateway pipeline from Edmonton to Kitimat, B.C. (Financial Post)

photo from TheTyee.ca