By John Gibb
“From all over the world come reports that make it clear we are in a serious predicament.”
The above timeless quote was taken from Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s landmark 1962 book. It is widely acknowledged as having inspired the environmental movement and all its accomplishments. Today’s environmental regulations, government agencies, citizen action groups, toxicity testing, and environmental education are a testament to her courage and determination.
Among the multitude crediting Silent Spring for influencing their life and work is David Suzuki. He left behind his genetics research saying, “The lab is not the real world. In the real world everything is connected.”
Does Silent Spring have special meaning for you? Maybe this 60th anniversary tribute will stimulate inspiration while encouraging others to read it for the first time. To fully appreciate this amazing woman, see the classic 1963 CBS Reports ‘Silent Spring’ via YouTube.
Carson was born on a small Pennsylvania farm in 1907, and started writing in her childhood. “I can remember no time, even in earliest childhood, when I didn’t assume I was going to be a writer.” After completing her zoology Master’s at Johns Hopkins University, she began her doctorate work in 1932 but had to leave as her father’s ill health made her the family’s only constant wage earner.
While with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, she continued to develop her analytical and writing skills. Her love for the sea, its inhabitants and all its mystery inspired three beautifully written and successful books, Under the Sea Wind (1941), The Sea Around us (1950), and The Edge of the Sea (1955).
After World War II, DDT and an ever-increasing host of toxic synthetic chemicals were heralded as the miracle tool for controlling insects and weeds. Dupont’s slogan was “better living through chemistry.” However, independent scientists and the public soon noticed that these chemicals did more than kill the targeted insects. Carson’s research coupled with her ability to break scientific concepts down into readily understood form allowed her to bring the risks of widespread and indiscriminate use of these pesticides into the public forum.
“These sprays, dusts, and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests and homes – nonselective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the good and the bad, to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger in the soil – all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects. Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for life? They should not be called insecticides, but biocides.”
She taught the public about the way toxins accumulate in ever greater concentrations as they move up through the food chain from prey to predator. Most importantly, she reminded humanity of our true place and responsibilities within our environment. “But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”
Silent Spring’s release was met with enormous public interest and substantial criticism. Many government leaders, including President John F. Kennedy, took Carson seriously. Those having vested interests in the sale and use of synthetic pesticides attacked her relentlessly but with no success. The book’s 55-page List of Principal Sources made challenging the integrity of her claims impossible.
The U.S. banned DDT in 1972, vindicating Rachel Carson who, long suffering from cancer, died in early 1964. She showed us the way …
“Knowing what I do, there would be no future peace for me if I kept silent.”