As it now states at the end of the “Harriet Tubman” Wikipedia article, “On April 20, 2016, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced plans to add Tubman to the front of the twenty-dollar bill, moving President Andrew Jackson to the rear of the bill.” But I very much would have preferred seeing another woman chosen instead — a woman that as far as I know was never even under consideration — and that woman is … Rachel Carson. Rachel Carson is often credited with helping to spark the global environmental movement. Lew wanted to choose a woman whose work contributed to expanding or promoting democracy. But I would argue that you can’t have democracy (in the future), if we don’t save the planet (today). Just as Henry David Thoreau memorably stated “What’s the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?,” we could ask “What’s the use of democracy, if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” Or in the words of the late David Orton, “Social justice is only possible in a context of ecological justice.” Orton also pointed out that “There is no justice on a dead planet.” True. There would be no human life at all on a dead planet. I find the fact that Rachel Carson was never seriously considered for this honor, just one more illustration of how eco-consciousness is hardly ever in our thoughts. It’s also all the more telling, the fact that this was announced just days before April 22nd. And I wouldn’t even necessarily be surprised if more people are aware that April 27th is Administrative Professionals Day, than are aware that April 22nd is Earth Day.
I’m going to share with you something that you might not believe, but it’s true, so I’ll share it anyway. Less than a year ago, I chanced upon someone who had dropped someone off for a scheduled interview, and was basically killing time. I asked him what kind of work he did, and when he said he worked for the Department of Environmental Conservation, in another state, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to ask him something I sometimes ask people: “Who would you say are your three most favorite environmentalists – living or dead?” The fact that many people struggle to name even one, further demonstrates how much the odds are stacked against us.
He was stuck, so to help him along, I suggested: “Someone like Rachel Carson, for example.” His eyes lit up. I could see this sparked something inside him; and I thought “Great!” But, as it turned out, … not so great.
The reason his eyes lit up when he heard the name “Rachel Carson” is because he works in a building called “The Rachel Carson Building,” but, he added, he wasn’t aware that Rachel Carson had been an actual person. (Perhaps he comes from a country where buildings are sometimes named after fictional characters?) In short, I explained to him who Rachel Carson was, he still couldn’t name any other environmentalists, and we soon thereafter went our separate ways. When I got home, I googled “The Rachel Carson Building” out of curiosity and discovered that such a building, housing a Department of Environmental Conservation, does indeed exist, and in the state and city in which he said he worked. It is a seventeen-story building, with a webcam pointed at a peregrine falcon’s nest, resting on one of its floors. True story. Scary, but true.
Here’s something else I’ll share with you. Whenever I encounter people soliciting for a cause or raising money for something, when they ask if I would like to contribute, here’s what I generally say: “To tell you the truth, on principle (I emphasize this), I only support one cause.” I pause to let this sink in, before continuing: “Would you like three hints?”
These are the three hints:  “It’s the most important cause there is — by far.  It’s almost always overlooked. And  it’s the hardest — by far — to actually address (resolve).”
Usually, any guesses that follow, at this point, are way off.
So I’ll ask: “Do you want one more clue?” This final clue often elicits the correct response, or what I deem close enough. The final clue is this: “And it’s keeping you alive right now. And … every second that you’re alive.”
One young girl, going door to door, raising money for her school, guessed: “Church?” Someone else, at this point, responded: “God keeps me alive!”
But many respond by saying “Air?” or “Oxygen?”
Either of which, I’ll accept: “That’s right,” I’ll say, “the environment! The biosphere, the ozone shield, oxygen (photosynthesis), biodiversity, rain forests, the oceans, the food we eat, aquifers that supply the water we can’t live without … We’re trashing this planet. It’s all disappearing. There’s so much pollution and deforestation and overpopulation and consumerism. And we’re doing virtually nothing about these problems.” I usually don’t even feel the need to mention global warming or climate change, since those issues are the ones most frequently brought up whenever environmental issues are given some attention in the media.
Since my encounter with that Department of Environmental Conservation employee, I have started asking people who solicit money (it’s never for an environmental cause, by the way) this question: “I’m curious, let me ask you, are you familiar with Rachel Carson?” And I’m shocked at how many people (these are mostly young, college-age individuals that I pose this question to) don’t know who she was. I find it frightening.
Anyway, there are a few more things I wanted to add to this post, but I plumb ran out of time. So, to be continued …