Silent Spring

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
Silent Spring  

The Book-of-the-Month Club edition, with included endorsement by William O. Douglas
Author Rachel Carson
Country United States
Language English
Subject(s) Environmentalism
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Publication date September 1962

Silent Spring is a book written by Rachel Carson and published by Houghton Mifflin in September 1962. The book is widely credited with helping launch the environmental movement.[1]

When Silent Spring was published, Rachel Carson was already a well-known writer on natural history, but had not previously been a social critic. The book was widely read (especially after its selection by the Book-of-the-Month Club and an endorsement by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas), spending several weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and inspired widespread public concerns with pesticides and pollution of the environment. Silent Spring facilitated the ban of the pesticide DDT[2] in 1972 in the United States.

The book documented detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment, particularly on birds. Carson said that DDT had been found to cause thinner egg shells and result in reproductive problems and death. She also accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation, and public officials of accepting industry claims uncritically.

Silent Spring has made many lists of the best nonfiction books of the twentieth century. In the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Nonfiction it was at #5, and it was at #78 in the conservative National Review. [3] Most recently, Silent Spring was named one of the 25 greatest science books of all time by the editors of Discover Magazine.[4]

A follow-up book, Beyond Silent Spring,[5] co-authored by H.F. van Emden and David Peakall, was published in 1986.


[edit] Background

In January 1958,[6] Carson's friend, Olga Owens Huckins,[7] wrote a letter to The Boston Herald describing the death of numerous birds around her property resulting from the aerial spraying of DDT to kill mosquitoes. Huckins sent a copy of the letter to Carson.[8] After Carson[9] received the letter she turned her attention to conservation and the environmental problems caused by synthetic pesticides.[10]

[edit] Thesis

The book stated that uncontrolled pesticide use not only led to the deaths of animals and especially birds, but also humans. Its title was meant to evoke a spring season in which no bird songs could be heard, because they had all died from pesticides. Its title was inspired by a poem by John Keats, "La Belle Dame sans Merci", which contained the lines "The sedge is wither'd from the lake, And no birds sing."[11]

[edit] Support

History professor Gary Kroll commented, "Rachel Carson's Silent Spring played a large role in articulating ecology as a 'subversive subject'— as a perspective that cut against the grain of materialism, scientism, and the technologically engineered control of nature."[12]

According to Time magazine in 1999, within a year or so of its publication, "all but the most self-serving of Carson's attackers were backing rapidly toward safer ground. In their ugly campaign to reduce a brave scientist's protest to a matter of public relations, the chemical interests had only increased public awareness."

Carson had made it clear she was not advocating the banning or complete withdrawal of helpful pesticides, but was instead encouraging responsible and carefully managed use, with an awareness of the chemicals' impact on the entire ecosystem. However, some critics asserted that she was calling for the elimination of all pesticides.[13]

In response to the publication of Silent Spring and the uproar that ensued, U.S. President John F. Kennedy directed his Science Advisory Committee to investigate Carson's claims. Their investigation "vindicated" Carson's work, and led to an immediate strengthening of the regulation of chemical pesticides.[14][15]

[edit] Criticism

Even before Silent Spring was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1962, there was strong opposition to it. According to Time in 1999:

Carson was violently assailed by threats of lawsuits and derision, including suggestions that this meticulous scientist was a "hysterical woman" unqualified to write such a book. A huge counterattack was organized and led by Monsanto, Velsicol, American Cyanamid — indeed, the whole chemical industry — duly supported by the Agriculture Department as well as the more cautious in the media.

In the 1960s, biochemist and former chemical industry spokesman Robert White-Stevens stated, "If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth."[16]

Industry and agribusiness advocates continue to criticize Silent Spring. In a 2005 essay, "The Harm That Pressure Groups Can Do", British politician Dick Taverne was damning in his criticism of Carson:

Carson didn't seem to take into account the vital role (DDT) played in controlling the transmission of malaria by killing the mosquitoes that carry the parasite (...) It is the single most effective agent ever developed for saving human life (...) Rachel Carson is a warning to us all of the dangers of neglecting the evidence-based approach and the need to weight potential risk against benefit: it can be argued that the anti-DDT campaign she inspired was responsible for almost as many deaths as some of the worst dictators of the last century. [17]

However, DDT has never been banned for anti-malaria use,[18] and Carson argued in Silent Spring that:

No responsible person contends that insect-borne disease should be ignored. The question that has now urgently presented itself is whether it is either wise or responsible to attack the problem by methods that are rapidly making it worse. The world has heard much of the triumphant war against disease through the control of insect vectors of infection, but it has heard little of the other side of the story—the defeats, the short-lived triumphs that now strongly support the alarming view that the insect enemy has been made actually stronger by our efforts. Even worse, we may have destroyed our very means of fighting. ... What is the measure of this setback? The list of resistant species now includes practically all of the insect groups of medical importance. ... Malaria programmes are threatened by resistance among mosquitoes. ... Practical advice should be 'Spray as little as you possibly can' rather than 'Spray to the limit of your capacity' ..., Pressure on the pest population should always be as slight as possible.

In the 2000s, Carson and Silent Spring have come under increasing attack from authors who argue that restrictions placed on DDT have caused needless death, and more generally that environmental regulation unnecessarily restricts economic freedom.[19][20] For example, the conservative magazine Human Events gave Silent Spring an "honorable mention" in its list of the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries,"[21] and in 2002, to mark its 40 anniversary, Reason Magazine published an essay by economist Ronald Bailey, a former fellow with the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute.[22] Bailey argued that the book had a mixed legacy:

The book did point to problems that had not been adequately addressed, such as the effects of DDT on some wildlife. And given the state of the science at the time she wrote, one might even make the case that Carson's concerns about the effects of synthetic chemicals on human health were not completely unwarranted. Along with other researchers, she was simply ignorant of the facts. But after four decades in which tens of billions of dollars have been wasted chasing imaginary risks without measurably improving American health, her intellectual descendants don't have the same excuse.[23]

Some environmentalists consider this latter day criticism of Silent Spring and Rachel Carson and concomitant push for DDT to be an industry sponsored strategy to discredit the environmental movement.[24][25][26][27] For example, Monica Moore of Pesticide Action Network has argued that "Renewed promotion of DDT and attacks on those who would limit its use isn’t about malaria, or even DDT. It is a cynical 'better living through chemistry' campaign intended to discredit the environmental health movement, with support from the Bush administration and others who seek nothing less than the dismantling of health and environmental protections."[28].

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Josie Glausiusz. (2007), Better Planet: Can A Maligned Pesticide Save Lives? Discover Magazine. Page 34.
  2. ^ EPA reference: DDT. Retrieved 2007-11-04.
  3. ^ The 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of the Century. National Review. Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  4. ^ "25 Greatest Science Books of All Time". Discover Magazine, Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  5. ^ "Beyond Silent Spring: Integrated Pest Management and Chemical Safety. Edited by H.F. van Emden and D.B. Peakall". SpringerLink. Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  6. ^ Matthiessen, Peter (2007), Courage for the Earth: Writers, Scientists, and Activists Celebrate the Life and Writing of Rachel Carson, Boston, MA; New York, NY: Mariner Books, p. 135  ISBN 0618872760.
  7. ^ Himaras, Eleni (May 26, 2007), RACHEL'S LEGACY - Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking 'Silent Spring’ was inspired by Duxbury woman, Quincy, MA: The Patriot Ledger. 
  8. ^ Himaras, Eleni (May 26, 2007), RACHEL'S LEGACY - Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking 'Silent Spring’ was inspired by Duxbury woman, Quincy, MA: The Patriot Ledger. 
  9. ^ Wishart, Adam (2007), One in Three: A Son's Journey Into the History and Science of Cancer, New York, NY: Grove Press, p. 82  ISBN 0802118402.
  10. ^ Hynes, H. Patricia (Sep 10, 1992), PERSPECTIVE ON THE ENVIRONMENT Unfinished Business: `Silent Spring' On the 30th anniversary of Rachel Carson's indictment of DDT, pesticides still threaten human life., Los Angeles, Calif: The Los Angeles Times, p. 7 (Metro Section). 
  11. ^ Peter A. Coates. (October 2005), "The Strange Stillness of the Past: Toward an Environmental History of Sound and Noise". Environmental History, Volume 10, Issue 4. Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  12. ^ Gary Kroll, "Rachel Carson-Silent Spring: A Brief History of Ecology as a Subversive Subject". National Academy of Engineering. Retrieved 2007-11-04.
  13. ^ Murphy, Priscilla Coit. What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005. ISBN 978-1-55849-582-1
  14. ^ Audubon Magazine
  15. ^ NRDC: The Story of Silent Spring
  16. ^ Dorothy McLaughlin. "Fooling with Nature: Silent Spring Revisited". PBS Frontline. Retrieved 2007-11-04.
  17. ^ Taverne, Dick "The Harm That Pressure Groups Can Do", collected in Panic Nation, 2005, edited by Stanley Feldman and Vincent Marks, ISBN 1-84454-122-3.
  18. ^ Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants(POPs)
  19. ^ Lytle, Mark Hamilton. The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007 ISBN 0-19-517246-9
  20. ^ Examples of recent criticism include:
    (a) Rich Karlgaard, "But Her Heart Was Good",, May 18, 2007. Accessed September 23, 2007.
    (b) Keith Lockitch, "Rachel Carson's Genocide", Capitalism Magazine, May 23, 2007. Accessed May 24, 2007
    (c) Paul Driessen, "Forty Years of Perverse 'Responsibility,'", The Washington Times, April 29, 2007. Accessed May 30, 2007.
    (d) Iain Murray, "Silent Alarmism: A Centennial We Could Do Without", National Review, May 31, 2007. Accessed May 31, 2007.
  21. ^ Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries, accessed August 24, 2007
  22. ^ "Ron Bailey bio"
  23. ^ "Silent Spring at 40", Ronald Bailey, Reason, June 12, 2002
  24. ^ Rachel Carson, Mass Murderer?: The creation of an anti-environmental myth. Aaron Swartz, Extra!, September/October, 2007
  25. ^ Rachel Carson's Birthday Bashing, Kirsten Weir,, June 29, 2007.
  26. ^ David Roberts, "My one and only post on the Rachel Carson nonsense", May 24, 2007. Accessed September 23, 2007.
  27. ^ In this context, some draw attention to the fact that both the Reason Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, both criticial of Silent Spring, have received substantial funding from corporations in regulated industries. (W. Bush's Anti-Environmental Advisors, Tempest).
  28. ^ Monica Moore, "First Words", PAN Magazine, Fall 2006. Accessed September 23, 2007

[edit] Sources

[edit] External links

Personal tools