On Silent Spring / Rachel Carson

They have been a part of our lives in many ways for the last century. They invade our homes, our bodies and now every part of the green planet. Much of the convenience of running our lives and our homes depend on chemical cleaning power. Crops depend on their killing power (of pests, etc.) But as we clean and kill our way through life, the Killer Chemicals are building up.

Rachel Carlson did pioneering work back in the 1940s, USA. She launched a movement and was demonized by America’s chemical lobby. To put it in the words of Linda Lear who wrote the Introduction to the new edition of Carlson’s book, –
“In postwar America, science was God, science was male.
Carlson was an outsider who had never been part of the scientific establishment, first because she was a woman but also because of her chosen field, biology, was held in low esteem in the nuclear age….

It is “the classic that launched the environmental movement”. Her books do not provide dry facts but are a pleasure to read in their lyrical prose.

“The history of life on earth has been a history of interaction between living things and their surroundings…Considering the whole span of earthly time…in which life actually modifies its surroundings, has been relatively slight. Only …. man – acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world….
The chemicals to which life is asked to make its adjustment are no longer merely the calcium and silica and copper and all the rest of the minerals washed out of the rocks….they are the synthetic creations of man’s inventive mind, brewed in his laboratories, and having no counterparts in nature.
To adjust to these chemicals would require time on the scale that is nature’s… the life of generations.
…new chemicals come from our laboratories in an endless stream…to which the bodies of men and animals are required somehow to adapt each year, chemicals totally outside the limits of biological experience.”

Carson was especially referring to the new pesticides, DDT amongst them.
“..we need the basic knowledge of animal populations and their relations to their surroundings….
Much of the necessary knowledge is now available but we do not use it. We train ecologists..but we seldom take their advice….
It is not my contentin that chemical pesticides should never be used. I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals 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.”

She was attacked viciously by the industrialists and chemical lobbys of the day and her own career almost but ruined. (Echoing the attacks on Darwin after the publication of Origin of Species) Already ill, she died soon after the publication of Silent Spring.
But a legacy was created and a trickle of movement begun. But the earth is as much at danger today as 40 years ago.

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