Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Reflections on Silent Spring

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I just finished listening to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.  I have it available on the Nightstand Reading in the Amazon store on the right that supports student scholarships if you are interested.  I also have it on my list for the Sustainability Bookshelf store.  Of course, it is also available from your local library.

I have a few reflections on the book that I thought I would share.  I read it many many years ago and this is my first more mature read of it.

First, I am struck by the practicality of the book and how it fits very nicely into the current discourse on environmental sustainability.  Carson fully recognized the need for pest control, but she took issue with the methods utilized during her life.  Many dangerous chemicals were employed in broadcast spraying and public use that caused serious environmental issues and human health problems.  She details many such cases.  However, the book concludes with many examples different low-impact solutions that many would find familiar today.

She notes that we are dealing with life and by modifying life cycles and forces.  The use of poisons to control one pest have unknown consequences on the life cycles and health of other organisms.  She questions the long-term consequences of pesticide use and the overall ethics of their use on our planet.

Second, I found her detailed accounts of environmental health problems associated with chemical use fascinating.  I've read many of the scientific articles that she cites and certainly have read many studies that link pollution to environmental problems and impaired public health.  Yet, to have so many of these issues presented at once in a book written for the public must have been eye opening at the time of its publication in 1962.  The book would probably be called a bit wonkish today given the amount of scientific detail and public policy discussion.

Lastly, the book is beautifully written.  The prose is nearly lyrical.  While those without an interest or knowledge of organic chemistry may find it rather boring in parts, I found the clarity and simplicity of the writing rather lovely.

This book had a big influence on my career.  My doctoral dissertation was on lead pollution in gardens and near bus stops.  There are so many chemicals all around us that our not naturally occurring.  We really do not know the long-term impact of our exposure to them.  Yet, without the work of Rachel Carson, we would probably be in much worse shape.

1 comment:

Portland Pest Control said...

Awesome topic! Thanks for sharing and have a good year 2013!