Rachel Carson, 1962
Silent Spring begins with a “fable for tomorrow” – a true story using a composite of examples drawn from many real communities where the use of DDT had caused damage to wildlife, birds, bees, agricultural animals, domestic pets, and even humans. Carson used it as an introduction to a very scientifically complicated and already controversial subject.
Disturbed by the profligate use of synthetic chemical pesticides after World War II, Carson reluctantly changed her focus in order to warn the public about the long-term effects of misusing pesticides. In Silent Spring she challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government and called for a change in the way humankind viewed the natural world.
Carson asked the hard questions about whether and why humans had the right to control nature; to decide who lives or dies, to poison or to destroy non-human life. In showing that all biological systems were dynamic and by urging the public to question authority, to ask “who speaks, and why”?
Silent Spring inspired the modern environmental movement, which began in earnest a decade later. It is recognized as the environmental text that “changed the world.” She aimed at igniting a democratic activist movement that would not only question the direction of science and technology but would also demand answers and accountability. Rachel Carson was a prophetic voice and her “witness for nature” is even more relevant and needed if our planet is to survive into a 22nd century.
(From the website http://www.rachelcarson.org/SilentSpring.aspx)
Notes and Quotes
Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species, man, acquired significant power to alter the nature of the world.
It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged
In the course of developing agents of chemical warfare, some of the chemicals created in the laboratory were found to be lethal to insects. The discovery did not come by chance: insects were widely used to test chemicals as agents of death for man.
Where do pesticides fit into the picture of the Environmental Disease? We have seen that pesticides contaminate soil, water, and food. They have the power to make our streams fish-less, our gardens and woodlands silent and bird-less. Man, however much he may like to pretend to the contrary is part of nature. Can he escape pollution that is now so thoroughly distributed throughout the world?
When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizers pills of half-truth.
We are accustomed to looking for the gross and immediate effect and to ignore all else. Unless this appears promptly and in such an obnoxious form that it cannot be ignored, we deny the existence of hazard.
Life Book by Gaylord Simpson et al. In this sense of the word of life, while surely fragile and complex, is incredibly durable through time. It is more durable than the mountains. This durability is wholly dependent on the almost incredible accuracy which inherited information is copied from generation to generation.
Sir Perceval Pott in 1775 declared the Coal Cough (Cancer) was so common among chimney sweeps that it must be the soot that accumulated in their bodies. A century or more later, there seems to have been a realization the chemicals in the human environment could cause cancer by repeated skin contact, inhalation or swallowing. True, it had been noticed that skin cancer was prevalent among workers exposed to arsenic fumes in copper smelters in tin factories in Cornwall. And it was realized that workers in the mines in Saxony and in Uranium mines in Joachmsthal in Bohemia were subject to disease of lungs, later identified as Cancer.
12% of deaths in all children between the ages of one and fourteen are caused by cancer, according to the Boston Hospital
A Swedish Farmer treated 60 acres of land and a week later they fell very ill with a high fever and blood count abnormal. Later, he died. A postmortem examination showed that his bone morrow had been completely washed away. It is theorized that his cells had mutated due to exposure to radiation.
A Who’s Who of pesticides is therefore of concern to us all. If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones – we had better know something about their nature and their power.
Dutch Biologist says, “The insect world is nature’s most astonishing phenomenon. Nothing is impossible to it. The most improbable things commonly occur there. One who penetrates deeply into its mysteries will be breathless with wonder. He knows that anything can happen and that it is impossible often does happen.
Study in Holland shows support for the view that polluted waterways carry cancer hazards (carcinogens). Cities receiving their water from the rivers have a higher death rate to cancer than those whose waters come from wells or other less polluted waterways.
“Although modern man seldom remembers the fact that he could not exist without plants, that the sun’s energy manufactures the basic food stuff for life.” ~William O Douglas, My Wilderness East to Katahdin. The earth’s vegetation is a part of the web of life in which relies on plants, animals and humans all alike.
Synthetic pesticides in the US soared from 124,259,000 pounds in 1947 to 637,660,000 in 1960. The amount used on California farms alone would provide a lethal dose for 10 times the world’s population.
Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity? Who would want to live in a world which is just not quite fatal?
A New England woman wrote to her newspaper, “This is not what the tourists expect, with us spending all this money advertising beautiful scenery. Maine roadsides are merely an example, a particularly sad one, for those of us who have a deep love of beauty of that state, of the senseless destruction that is going on in the name of roadside brush control throughout the nation.
Incidents like the eastern Illinois spraying raise a question that is not only scientific but moral. The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized.
How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind? Yet this is precisely what we have done. We have done it, moreover, for reasons that collapse the moment we examine them.
It is not my contention that chemical insecticides must never be used. I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm. We have subjected enormous numbers of people to contact with these poisons, without their consent and often without their knowledge.
If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem.
We now stand where two roads diverge. But unlike Frost’s poem, the road we have been traveling is deceptively easy, as smooth as the highway on which progress is made with great speed, but ahead lies disaster. The other fork in the road, the one that is less traveled, is our last chance for the preservation of our earth. The choice is, after all, ours to make…We should look and see what other course is open to us.
We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts. It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate. The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.