Reading Silent Springs in the middle of a very noisy one.

It can be hard to concentrate on an environmentalist declentionist narrative while sitting next to a glacier fed river, surrounded by mountains, singing birds, and lots of insects…but some how I managed to concentrate on Silent Spring and not get too distracted by the various life forms Rachel Carson mourns the loss of in the post-WWII attempts to control nature through chemicals.

There is not a lot to say about Silent Spring that hasn’t already been said. A book does not become the seminal work in an area because no one reads it, the research is weak, and the writing is poor. Carson’s work is none of the above. Her passion for nature comes through from the Author’s Note onwards. The message gets repetitive and tiresome at times. The information Carson provided about the extreme toxicity of common herbicides and insecticides was groundbreaking in the early 1960s, but is common knowledge today. Yet the idea of recognizing the interconnections between all living things and the growing distance urban living creates from the environment is still pertinent. Carson’s observations of the society around her – a society that blindly trusted tweaked science propaganda – are still applicable to North America in 2009. Her closing observation says it all – “To have risked so much in our effort to mold nature to our satisfaction and yet to have failed in achieving our goal would indeed be the final irony. “(245)

The question I kept coming back to while reading this seminal modern environmentalist work is how far has the environmental movement come since Silent Spring appeared way back in 1962? Sure DDT is not used in most western nations to control insect populations, but there are still developing nations using it to control malaria. The chemical menaces Carson deconstructed have been replaced by panic over poorly explained man-made toxins (BPA for example) and the still unclear consequences of a few centuries of fossil fuel addiction are having on the planet. Unfortunately no one has explained the wide spread implications of these environmental hazards with the eloquence Carson brought to biological magnifiers, man-made chemicals, and the intricacies of ecological systems. Yet little has truly changed since 1962. The poisons we pump into the environment have different names and it is harder to track how they alter ecosystems. There are so many contributors that it is nearly impossible to trace what any single toxin can do because it is interacting with so many others. Carbon emissions contribute to global warming but which of the sources is the greatest contributor? Reading Silent Spring I couldn’t help thinking a similar book could be written about the climate change; but nearly 50 years after the launch of the modern environmental movement have we become desensitized to the ever present doom-and-gloom reports from the plethora of friends of the earth organizations competing for attention and support. Every time I hear Kasabain’ s “L.S.F” I am thrown back into thinking about Carson’s work and the state our endeavour to control every aspect of the world.

“Ahhh, oh come on!/We got our backs to the wall!/ Ah/Get on!/And watch out!/Before you kill us all!”

About Lauren Wheeler

A reformed history phd student working as a public historian and looking for connections between museums and environmental history from the often freezing reaches of Canada (aka Edmonton).
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