The Power of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring
In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring and was greeted with a roar of protest and approval. After years and years of controversy and skepticism surrounding its argument, Silent Spring was and still is recognized as a perceptive warning of things in progress and things to come. The book set the stage for the first real and effectual environmental movement.
In 17 chapters, many of which can stand alone as essays, Carson develops a deceptively simple premise: the use and overuse of synthetic chemicals to control insect pests introduces these chemicals into the air, water, and soil and into the food chain where they poison animals and humans, and disrupt the many intricate interdependencies that make up the delicate natural order. In the concluding paragraph of the book, Carson said:
The "control of nature" is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man. The concepts and practices of applied entomology for the most part date from that Stone Age of science. It is our alarming misfortune that so primitive a science has armed itself with the most modern and terrible weapons, and that in turning them against the insects it has also turned them against the earth.
Rachel Carson: a renowned nature author and a former marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was uniquely equipped to create so startling and inflammatory a book. A native of rural Pennsylvania, she had grown up with an enthusiasm for nature matched only by her love of writing and poetry. The educational brochures she wrote for the Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as her published books and magazine articles, were characterized by meticulous research and a poetic evocation of her subject.
Carson’s other books, Under the Sea Wind, The Sea Around Us (which stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 86 weeks), and The Edge of The Sea all focus on nature’s strength and the inter-connectedness of nature and all living things. But DDT exposed the vulnerability of nature and I think this influenced the writing of Silent Spring. DDT was the most powerful pesticide in the world at the time of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Unlike most pesticides, whose effectiveness is limited to destroying one or two types of insects, DDT was capable of killing hundreds of different kinds at once. Developed in 1939, it first distinguished itself during World War II, clearing South Pacific islands of malaria-causing insects for U.S. troops, while in Europe being used as an effective de-lousing powder. Its inventor was awarded the Nobel Prize.
When DDT became available for civilian use in 1945, there were only a few people who expressed second thoughts about this new miracle compound. One was nature writer Edwin Way Teale, who warned, "A spray as indiscriminate as DDT can upset the economy of nature as much as a...