Monday, June 4, 2012

The sedge is wither'd from the lake, And no birds sing.

It's now almost 50 years since the publication of Rachel Carson's seminal book, 'Silent Spring;' documenting the wholesale detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment, especially on birds and the flora and fauna symbiotically associated with them.

Carson wrote her book to highlight not only these deleterious effects on avian populations, but also, in looking at the wider environmental implications per se, to draw attention to large chemical conglomerates' profligate use of these synthetic chemical pesticides to control both actual and, crucially, perceived threat from biological pests.

As a marine biologist, Carson was aware of the need for balanced ecosystems - her earlier 1951 work 'The Sea Around Us,' argues the importance of this need and fundamental understanding; communicated with the poetic insight and intensity and clarity of vision that became a trademark of all of her subsequent writings.

Throughout her writing career, Carson was vilified by many in the scientific community - and, almost without exception, by agribusiness CEO's, politicians and political commentators on Capitol Hill - as an alarmist, as an extremist, and, by some commentators, as dangerous (witness, as recently as 2007, John Tierney's vituperative assault on Carson whilst writing in the conservative New York Times [on DDT and its use as an anti-malarial agent in Africa]).

Of course, being a hysterical woman hasn't helped...

Despite those rallied and railing against her, Carson remained convinced that she was right.  Although mortally ill, she testified, in 1963, before US Senate committees/sub-committees, on the misuse of chemicals in the environment - leading, eventually, to the curtailing and subsequent banning of DDT agricultural spraying in the United States in 1972 (something that Carson was opposed to - as a scientist she believed that chemicals/their compounds should be investigated for, amongst other things, their aetiological properties).

Rachel Carson 1907-1964.  Biologist.  Writer.  Ecologist.  Read everything she wrote.

Chemical Heritage Foundation


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