“Whose voice do we hear – that of science or of the sustaining industry?” The question remains as pertinent today as it did in 1962 when Rachel Carson published her book “Silent Spring” which outlined a clear and important message: that everything in nature is related to everything else. The book laid the foundations for the environmental movement.
The book was the definitive answer of biologist Rachel Carson who saw the need for science to work with nature when she found that powerful synthetic insecticides such as DDT were poisoning food chains, from insects upwards. Many questioned what was causing the large numbers of dead birds which were found strewn across the English countryside? The toll included thrushes, skylarks, moorhens, goldfinches, sparrow hawks, 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 and 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 seemed sure of the cause – with one exception: the biologist Rachel Carson.
“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.
Her work was serialised in the New Yorker during the summer of 1962, and the book “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”. 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-six 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
There are the links between pesticides and genetic damage in humans. And the list goes on with the latest exposure being the claimed link between cancer and RoundUp.
Ref: The Guardian. Robin McKie Sun 27 May 2012 09.05 AEST