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Silent Spring

Silent SpringThere are books which have changed history. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was one such book; it alerted the nation to what was going on in the slaughter houses. It triggered a federal investigation and, soon after its publication, Congress passed a Pure Food and Drug Act and  strengthened the system of meat inspection already in place . The reaction to these measures of those who had a vested interest in the status quo was to make the claim that they constituted “socialist interference” with the rights of business . Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was also a book that changed history. First published in 1962, it sounded a wake-up call to America. The book told the nation and the world that the vast and wholesale pollution of the environment with toxic chemicals was placing in jeopardy the habitability of the nation and the world. Because Rachel Carson had already published a book that had been very well received, The Sea Around Us, and because she was technically knowledgeable, and because she was an unusually gifted and lyrical writer, Silent Spring had the ability to both convince her audience on an intellectual plane and to move it on an emotional plane. Because the massive environmental destruction she talked about was demonstrably occurring, a new activism formed in the land. Out of this new activism the “environmental movement” came in to existence and, in time, became what it is today, a power in the politics of the nation.

It is to be noted that just as vested interests tried to discredit Sinclair’s book by raising the specter of socialism, the chemical industry attacked Carson. Wilkonson points out that hundreds of thousands of dollars—in 1962 a lot of money—were spent in an attempt to discredit Carson. He states, “Carson was described as an hysterical woman who wanted to turn the world over to the insects .” To this day there are those who vilify her work. In truth, Carson’s assessment of the nature of the interaction of DDT with the environment was not entirely accurate . But it is not to be thought that she could have been completely accurate given the fact that she was doing pioneering work in a world where the biological and medical sciences were not nearly as sophisticated as they are today. And the substance of her message, that DDT persists in the soil , that it is retained in the human body , that, where used, it destroys bird populations , that it is dangerous to the human nervous system, that flies and other insects develop resistance to it , and that it is carcinogenic were correct.

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