Should the environment be a political issue?
Environmental concerns have been of increasing salience to Americans since the 1960s, when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring and spurred public anxiety over the use of the widely utilized pesticide DDT. The impact of Carson’s work was hugely important, both for its eventual impact on regulation in the chemical fertilizer industry and for its role in bringing the environment more resolutely into American political consciousness.
In the wake of Silent Spring’s publication, DDT was banned, public attention was heightened, and in 1970 President Richard Nixon signed new legislation that created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Seemingly, concern for the environment moved out of the shadows and had found a definitive place on the political agenda.
Nevertheless, in the period since the EPA was created the debate over the environment became more political – and perhaps, less rational – than at any previous time. Today the politicization of the environment is apparent along stark right-left lines and the debate has become subsumed within broad philosophical and theological questions of ‘state versus market’ and ‘science versus faith.’