photo courtesy of comedy_nose
2012 marks the 50 year anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. But 50 years on have we learnt from her message that everything in nature is connected and that human disturbance can cause devastating impacts on natural habitats?
Silent Spring was published in 1962 following a number of unexplained bird deaths in Europe and the US during 1960 and 61. Many explanations for the deaths were hypothesised including poisons, viruses or other diseases but only one woman, Rachel Carson, published the real answer. She identified that the problem was powerful synthetic insecticides, such as DDT, that were being sprayed on plants and poisoning food chains from insects upwards. Such chemicals were being used across the western world, from farms to gardens to forests, and led to over 6,000 bird deaths in England alone in 1961.
Despite the validity of Carlson’s findings, Silent Spring faced strong opposition when it was published. The American companies that produced DDT and similar chemicals tried to sue her and her publisher. When this approach failed they launched a $250,000 publicity campaign rubbishing Carlson and her science. This included ridiculing her for being an unmarried woman who kept cats and loved birds. In 1964 President John F Kennedy took an interest in her work and instructed his science advisory committee to investigate her claims. They discovered that widespread use of pesticides building up in the food chain posed a real risk to humans. Ten years after this discovery the production and use of DDT in agriculture in the US was banned, and Britain followed suit several years later.
Carlson’s message from 50 years ago is also still hugely relevant today. Oceanographer Callum Roberts of York University states that the seas are now witnessing horrors similar to those described in Silent Spring. Chemicals are washed out of the soil, into rivers and streams and into the ocean. These chemicals should settle on the ocean bed; however, due to the intensity of fishing and disturbance to the sea bed toxins, including DDT, are being mixed back into the water.
Carlson’s work has had an imperative influence on the green movement. As an individual she has had the most influence in raising awareness about the devastating impact humanity can have on nature. Both Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace can trace their origins directly back to the publication of Silent Spring. Despite this, and the banning of DDT, we still have a lot to learn from Carlson’s work and need to fully embrace the impact that humanity has on the environment.
If you would like to get involved with nature conservation projects there are numerous worthwhile opportunities available on the Frontier website.
By Julia Crabbe