Andi's Reviews > Silent Spring

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
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Jul 12, 12

bookshelves: environment-and-society

I knew I'd end up needing to read this classic. It appears to be required reading for anyone interested in environmental issues, because it's quoted from and referred to endlessly in all the current environmental books I've read. It had a controversial start when it was published in 1962, but it seems that people were ready to start hearing the truth.

Bottom line: man-made chemicals, used to control insects and weeds=bad.

This is widespread opinion today, but in the early 60s, chemicals were being used excessively and not a lot of people realized the true damage done to all wildlife, and to the health of humankind. Many claim that this book got the ball rolling, got the message out there, which is why so many people are aware today of the damage we are able to wreak out in our quest to control insects and weeds.

Before I began reading, I quickly researched Rachel Carson and was fascinated to learn that she suffered through breast cancer and died shortly after Silent Spring, her final book, was published. Knowing that she was going through physical, and probably mental turmoil, as she wrote this book made me read it with even more attentive eyes. Carson felt that her message was so important, even dying of cancer would not stop her from getting it onto paper--and not only that, I had to wonder if her cancer might not have been caused, in part, by the very message she was urgently describing.

Having been referenced so often, her message has spread wildly in the past 50 years. The message is not new or shocking, and in fact, many of the case studies are out of date. I do think it's valuable, though, to read Silent Spring for yourself--to see where the message first started, and where the beginnings of a movement began.

I was left with a couple of thoughts as I read that made me realize how much has changed since Carson wrote her book. For one, in several chapters she describes the effects of chemical warfare from the personal stories of ordinary people. She describes the housewife who notices problems with her chickens and garden. The small farmer who is horrified by the upsurge of insects despite the continual spraying that has destroyed so much else. These 'common' people noticed the effects of the chemicals because they lived with them, and were still tied to nature in a very personal way. During that time, it was very common for people to live in this very connected way. Most people had gardens, spent much time outside, and many small farms still had not been overtaken by massive agriculture. I couldn't help but think about today's world, where most of us have very little idea how nature is being affected, because it's all so distant to us. We are in a position that so much damage could be done without us ever noticing, because we live in our cars, houses and workplaces and rarely have to spend any one-on-one time dealing with nature. I hope that many more people start getting to know nature in a more personal way, even by perhaps just growing gardens, in order for a sort of monitoring of nature to occur, by all of us.

The other realization I was left with was that Carson didn't necessarily think trying to control insects was a bad idea--only the use the chemicals that proved toxic to all life. She discussed the ideas of using biological controls (hormones that would interrupt mating, introducing predators, use of sound to attract insect populations to fatal traps). I was surprised by this, because starting out with the book I had made the assumption that Carson would have a 'hands-off' attitude about nature, and I could hear a voice in my head repeatedly ask "but, is it a good idea to try to annihilate a species of insects, even with safe methods? Won't that effect the whole cycle of nature?" Apparently Carson recognized that within limits, we should be able to safely hold back tides of crop-killing and disease-spreading insects. She ended the book with the promise of new ideas for controlling insects, and with the idea that there are many ways that humankind can try to coexist with populations of insects that negatively effect our lives.
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