Rachel Carson, “Silent Spring”

This is my first book review for the Social Responsibility competency. I don’t know if I’ll actually use all of the books on my list for this competency, but I’m going to blog them so I can reference them in the future if appropriate for my required reflection papers.

Summary. Silent Spring was written in 1962 as a reaction and warning on the prevalent use of chemicals and pesticides such as DDT in the 1950s. Carson, a biologist, wrote at great personal cost about the effects of chemical sprays, dusts and aerosols applied to farms, gardens, forests and homes. Many of these effects were hidden by the powerful chemical companies. Chapters in the book describe the uses of chemicals and their effects on our surface waters, underground seas, the soil, plants and grasses, birds, fish, our food, children, farm workers, pesticide workers, and reproduction. In addition, Carson describes the ineffectiveness of non-selective chemicals, how parasites and insects surge in population after a treatment of chemicals. She offers alternatives to widespread overuse of non-selective chemicals, including using natural predators to control insects. PBS did a special on her in the 1990s, and what struck me is the voice of a lone woman against powerful chemical companies. That voice was heard and is often credited for the beginning of the environmental movement.

Reflections. I am personally interested in this book as I have run into references to it throughout my study of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. Often research and articles on this topic reference Carson’s work. I wanted to get to the source; to read the first thoughts of a researcher in this area. We learned from Dr. Covrig in Roundtable summer 2007 that we should follow the roots & fruits of research. Carson’s work is definitely a “root” in the environmental movement and referenced in environmental illness studies as well.

From a leadership perspective, Rachel Carson is an inspiring role model. From her own biological research, she was convinced that something was wrong with current policy. In the face of incredible opposition, she published a book that shook the foundations of current agricultural practice. And policies changed as a result; the use of DDT was banned in the United States.

Some Questions Still Remaining

  • We still use pesticides, insecticides, weed killers, etc. How are they different from what Carson described?
  • What convictions do I have that I’m willing to stand up for as Carson did?
  • Why are chemicals still saturated through all of our lives – our bedding, our food, our cosmetics, our clothes, etc?
  • Are those investigating cancer examining potential causes and prevention from our environment?
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