Legacy of the Silent Spring

Rachel Carson and the legacy of Silent Spring

Fifty years after the publication of the book that laid the foundations for the environmental movement, what have we learned from the biologist who saw the need for science to work with nature?

Rachel Carson and her family in woods near her Maryland home in 1962, the year in which Silent Spring was published. Photograph: Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Near a brook in south-east England, the bird-spotter JA Baker stumbled on a grim little scene in 1961. “A heron lay in frozen stubble. Its wings were stuck to the ground by frost. Its eyes were open and living, the rest of it was dead. As I approached, I could see its whole body craving into flight. But it could not fly. I gave it peace and saw the agonised sunlight of its eyes slowly heal with cloud.”

The bird’s plight was clearly unnatural. Nor was its fate unique. That year, large numbers of dead birds were found strewn across the countryside. On the royal estate in Sandringham, for example, the toll included thrushes, skylarks, moorhens, goldfinches, sparrowhawks, chaffinches, hooded crows, partridges, pheasants, and wood pigeons. Nationally, more than 6,000 dead birds were reported to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, a massive leap on previous years. “We were inundated,” says the RSPB’s conservation director, Martin Harper.

The UK was not alone. For years, reports in the US indicated that numbers of birds, including America’s national bird, the bald eagle, were dropping alarmingly. Ornithologists also noted eggs were often not being laid while many that were laid did not hatch. Something was happening to the birds of the western world.

Several causes were proposed – poisons, viruses or other disease agents – but no one had a definitive answer or seemed sure of the cause – with one exception: the biologist Rachel Carson. For most of 1961, she had locked herself in her cottage in Colesville, Maryland, to complete her book, Silent Spring. It would provide an unequivocal identification of the bird killers. Powerful synthetic insecticides such as DDT were poisoning food chains, from insects upwards.

“Sprays, dusts and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests and homes – non-selective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, to still the song of the birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film and to linger on in the soil – all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects,” she wrote. One or two authors had previously suggested modern pesticides posed dangers. None wrote with the eloquence of Carson.

Published in 1962 it remains as pertinent today as then

Serialised in the New Yorker during the summer of 1962, Silent Spring was published that September. It remains one of the most effective denunciations of industrial malpractice ever written and is widely credited with triggering popular ecological awareness in the US and Europe. Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace trace their origins directly to Silent Spring. “In the 60s, we were only just waking up to the power that we had to damage the natural world,” says Jonathon Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth. “Rachel Carson was the first to give voice to that concern in way that came through loud and clear to society.” Or as Doris Lessing put it: “Carson was the originator of ecological concerns.”

We have much to thank Carson for: a powerful green movement, an awareness that we cannot punish our wildlife indiscriminately and an understanding of the fragility of nature’s food chain. But is the environment in better shape today? Have we saved the planet? Or is it in greater peril than ever? Fifty years after Silent Spring was published, as the world warms, sea levels rise and coral reefs crumble, these questions have acquired a new and urgent relevance.

Source: The Guardian Read more to find out the horrors that we have inflicted on the world and the persistence of farmers and industries to main the horrors and the dedication of one courageous woman, one voice crying in the wilderness. How her book can be traced as the source of all today’s environmental organisations. Rachel Carson exposes the experts to public scrutiny and makes it clear that at best they had not done their homework and at worst they had withheld the truth

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