Rachel Carson versus a besieged Rachel Notley

Robert Billyard

Rachel Carson is a voice from the past. Knowing Rachel Notley’s dirty little secret she would have a few choice words for Alberta’s premier.

The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery, not over nature but of ourselves.-  Rachel Carson

The real wealth of the Nation lies in the resources of the earth soil, water, forests, minerals, and wildlife. To utilize them for present needs while insuring their preservation for future generations requires a delicately balanced and continuing program, based on the most extensive research. Their administration is not properly, and cannot be, a matter of politics.-Rachel Carson


 Rachel Notley is well-known to us as the Premier of Alberta. She is presently at the center of a political controversy concerning the building of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

Rachel Carson(1907- 1964) is a legendary environmentalist, who might be considered a personification of Mother Earth.  Though she was a shy retiring academic she was a giant in her time, taking on formidable challenges. From her earliest beginnings she pursed a love of science, while developing as a writer. She had the unique gift of writing about science in poetic terms. She could masterfully synthesize her scientific knowledge, giving us a true picture of the power and rhythms of the natural world. In the age of rampant progress following WWII she challenged those who declared war on nature, and the idea all technology must be uncritically accepted. Her view of our world was holistic, much like that of our First Nations. For Carson…man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.  

Carson witnessed the emergence of the chemical age when scientists went on a reckless binge of new discoveries.  They quite arrogantly declared war on the natural world which they thought they could bend to their will and mercilessly exploit. Carson was among a small minority of scientists who knew there would be a huge downside. Like Newton’s third law- for every action there will be an equal and opposite reaction.  Science was so obsessed with new discoveries and “progress” there was no concern for consequences.

She was mortified at the advent of the nuclear age. For her this was the ultimate arrogance of mankind that it pursued such a reckless and destructive technology. So reckless was the science, it was only after the fact scientists realized the devastation of atmospheric radioactive nuclear fallout. To this day the same technology persists. We are more than ever hostage to it in a war against ourselves we are losing.

Carson was a heroic figure in so many ways. She was born into stark poverty.  She was tutored by a devoted mother determined her talents not be wasted.  In a time when women were blocked from higher education and full opportunity she excelled in a man’s world through obsessive hard work and dogged determination. All this time she had to deal will difficult family problems and financial hardship.

It was only after her first books started to sell she resigned her job as a marine scientist and devoted more time to writing.  The credibility she earned with publisher’s from her earlier books paved the way for her to write her most important and controversial book: Silent Spring. Even as she wrote the book she was dying of cancer. Her death came two years after the book’s publication.

DDT, a house wife’s best friend in the 1950’s

Silent Spring was prompted by the indiscriminate use of DDT. It was touted as the miracle chemical that would eliminate bugs and insects that transmitted disease and were the scourge of agriculture. It was used world wide hosing down people and crops, without regard for environmental impact. Only after it was proven DDT attacked and killed other species, and had entered the human food chain, including milk, was its use highly restricted.

In her time Carson saw the disasters that ensued  when rash and arrogant decisions were made. Vested interests prevailed and consequences ignored.  Governments and industry conspired,  leaving whole populations exposed to lethaI chemicals like DDT and a host of related toxins, including radioactive Strontium 90.

Carson believed a Nation’s resources should only be developed after the most “extensive research” and must never  be “a matter of politics.”  Since her time we have developed the ability to do the sophisticated research, studies and analysis necessary to determine judicious resource development and environmental policy. Yet in Canada today these are pushed aside and ignored. Perfidious politicians are left to make the most disastrous of decisions as they cater to vested interests.


 Notley as the besieged politician

Rachel Notley is a politician under siege. She has a stranded, toxic, and highly polluting resource she wants to get to tidewater at the expense of a neighboring province’s environmental integrity. Her political masters, the oil companies, are the bully boys, pushing hard and fast to move their product. 

Her and UCP leader Jason Kenney are in a bare-knuckle race, fighting the next election as Alberta jingoists in a win-at-any-cost political farce. Kenney has declared war on the “green left.” Notley makes ongoing threats of sanctions against BC if she doesn’t have her way. Her and Kenney reveal themselves as sock-puppets to the oil industry as these are the very sort of bully tactics the oil industry uses time and again.  

 There is a stark air of unreality in her government’s role in all of this. Her party is supposedly social democratic yet it has abandoned this identity.  This though is what political parties do these days, whoring themselves to vested interests, at the expense of the public sector and promoting more environmental degradation. 

As governments they exist in a perpetual state of abdication. 

Her dubious ally, the present federal government, has undermined her cause by its ongoing ineptitude, not restricted to this issue. Yes, it has granted supreme authority to build the pipeline. In doing it is no respecter of process or “extensive research” and has left itself impeachable. As our country’s supreme authority it very sloppily “cooked the books” on this pipeline.  Suddenly this pipeline suffers a certain disrepute.

The disrepute only deepens when Notley and her dubious ally go into secret negotiations with KM to insure this pipeline gets built. This smells of desperation, corporate welfarism, and third world resource development.

She claims this pipeline is essential to sustain her province’s wealth. Is the wealth really there when her government is running substantial deficits and debt? Does oil really benefit her province when the  oil companies are walking away with the profits?  A true social democratic government would make sure a good portion of that wealth is transferred back to the public realm to serve the common good, as did “socialist” conservative Peter Lougheed. In his time he insured the tar sands were run responsibly and to the benefit of Albertans.

Rachel Carson is a voice from the past. Knowing Rachel Notley’s dirty little secret she would have a few choice words for Alberta’s premier.  Her dirty little secret is the matter of cleaning up the mess. The oil companies are obligated to clean it up and restore the land. So far none of this has been done. The present cost is estimated at 50 billion dollars and the final cost might well be 260 billion dollars. This is a nasty little externality Notley and her dubious allies don’t want us to know.

The clean up will no doubt be at tax payers expense. This is the habit of resource companies. They hi-grade the mining of a resource and plead poverty when it comes to cleaning up their mess. Big oil may walk away from the tar sands in the next, ten, fifteen or twenty years; when they can no longer turn a profit. What then?

In retirement former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed flew over the tar sands and was less than pleased with what he saw.

A chastening moment

Referring back to the life and writings of Rachel Carson can only be a chastening moment for us.

She was a scientist, writer and environmentalist who set a new benchmark that cannot be ignored. She gave her readers a whole new understanding of how the natural world works. Fellow scientists admired the solid knowledge of science on which her writings were based. Publishers and editors adored her talent. Carson was an impeccable researcher as she knew her work was going to come under vicious attack. And indeed, profiteering industrialists declared war on her.

When she pronounces our war against nature being a war against ourselves, she states the obvious. We are clearly losing the war as the same political corruptions exist now-even more so than then. 

She also urges us to show mastery over ourselves instead of our utterly self-destructive pursuit of dominance over nature. We are a very long way from mastering ourselves as we indulge in tyrannies that can destroy us.  We have fallen in love with the bomb, serial warfare(when was the last time you heard any politician speak for peace?) and berserk militarism that robs the public purse blind. We thought DDT was the miracle chemical only until we woke up and found it was a lethal killer. Now we worship at the altar of fossil fuels. They are killing us now and the numbers will only get bigger. The fossil fuel death train is coming down the tracks, right on schedule. 

Rachel Notley is a besieged politician captive to forces she cannot control. She is in league with purblind dubious allies practicing age-old corruptions so very conspicuously. Her party’s integrity is a shambles and its political fortunes terminal.  Her, and so many other politicos like her, exemplify why we are losing and will continue to lose.

Rachel Carson is a heroic figure, her immense stature and legacy fixed in time. Rachel Notley is a tragic figure.  She has shown contempt for British Columbia’s legitimate environmental concerns, her complete servility to the oil patch, and is a beneficiary of Ottawa’s corrupted approval process.   

Rachel Carson shows the winning way. Her way is there for all to see…. if only we can master ourselves.


About Robert Billyard

Robert Billyard is a visual artist and writer with a particular interest in history, politics and world affairs. He reads widely on these subjects and has been a nomadic blogger for fifteen years. With the activation of canadianviews-ymo.ca, he now has a virtual home.