Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 651
The author begins this chapter with a stunning observation. Within the past 100 years, man has gained the ability to alter the environment. Previously, the environment had a significant impact on plant and animal life, but there was no reciprocal ability for life forms to alter the Earth. Consequently, the human impact on the environment was relatively insignificant and benign.
Recently, humans have had an unquestionably malignant effect on the Earth, primarily through various forms of pollution and chemical contamination. Radiation, pesticides, and herbicides penetrate the soil, the water, the air, and human cells, prompting “irrecoverable” and “irreversible” changes in all forms of life on Earth. Apparently, though there are naturally occurring environmental contaminants and “hostile” elements that wreaked havoc over the course of time, they cannot compare to the scope and degree of damage caused by man-made elements.
In the natural environment, change takes place over the course of time, which allows plant and animal life to adapt, adjust, and find the means of survival. On the contrary, the human impact on the environment has recently become rapid and rampant. In this instance, nature has not been granted the time required to adjust to the changes. The time required for the environment to adequately and healthily absorb the “500 new chemicals” introduced into the environment each year can only be measured in generations. In short, these transformations are lasting and pervasive.
Pesticides are the primary source of these chemical threats. These pesticides are generally sold as “sprays, dusts, and aerosols.” Although they are applied with the sole purpose of destroying pests, these chemicals are often capable of destroying nearly all insects and plants. Therefore, rather than labeling the products insecticides, the author suggests using a broader term: biocides.
Attempts to destroy pernicious insects blamed for destroying crops are often unsuccessful. These efforts result in “flarebacks,” or circumstances in which the insect population returns in even greater numbers. Moreover, the chemical formulas that have been expressly designed to eradicate these insect populations have a human and environmental cost. In fact, they
alter the very material of heredity upon which the shape of the future depends.
When pesticides began to be introduced, some scientists had predicted the future possibility of performing genetic alterations, but the author asserts that inadvertent and unintended genetic and cellular changes were already underway. She speculates that future generations will be incredulous at our current actions. The mere suggestion that intelligent humans would intentionally risk all forms of life for the purpose of eliminating “a few unwanted species” will be unimaginable and seem insane.
Controlling insect populations, according to the author, is both a necessary and reasonable practice. Insects pose a two-pronged problem: they compete with humans for food and they carry a range of diseases. However, the manner in which humans generally approach the insect problem is ineffective.
The author attributes the rise in some pestilent insect species to human action. In particular, single-crop farming has led to escalating numbers within some insect populations. Another factor in escalating insect populations is the relocation of some species of insects to new habitats through human means. Human imports and exports of plant species have had the simultaneous effect of introducing insects into many areas. As a result, invasive species of insects have begun thriving in geographic locations that were formerly inaccessible to them.
In closing the chapter, the author acknowledges that chemical insecticides can be beneficial but only if they are administered properly. Thus far, people have failed to do so. In addition, she argues that until and unless the ramifications of pesticide use are thoroughly investigated, any pesticide use is negligent, irresponsible, and disastrous. She blames short-sighted scientists, greedy industrialists, and a poorly informed public for failing to act responsibly. She charges that the public must be given complete and accurate knowledge to truly give informed consent. Finally, she adds, “the obligation to endure gives us the right to know.”
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