Silent Spring is a book that makes just about everyone think, except for the major chemical companies that it was attacking. This is definitely one book that help shaped how we look at the environment today and also how we approach it. Rachel Carson aimed for a book that was going to open peoples eyes to what really was happening and who and what was doing it. She nailed this right on the head, while the book was very technical when it came to talking about the details of DDT, it was written at a level that everyone could understand and relate too.
Easily this could be one of the most important books written in American history, where would we be without it and how would our future have turned out. While this book was aimed for the public to be able to understand, it also directly attacked the companies who were manufacturing the chemicals that people were using, especially DDT. If one were to try to explain how DDT worked at the chemistry level, most people would think your insane, but Carson is able to explain the devastating effects of this chemical in a way that everyone can understand.
She does this by explaining the process chemically first, but then switches gears into how it is hitting people at home. This starts in the first chapter where she begins with “There once was a town…”. This is the beginning of the account that shaped Americans way of looking at the environment, especially when it came to using chemicals and other harmful substances to keep our life pest free. The way that she opens up with this story about a small town in the heart of the United States is a good way to get peoples attention, rather than scaring them off with a bunch of scientific terms and things people in chemistry would only understand.
Taking the story right to the peoples level in the beginning was the best thing she probably could’ve done for this book. While the book wasn’t a novel or narrative, it still had that kind of feeling, rather than like your reading a science book. In doing so, she opened the floodgates for everyone to be able to relate to what was really going on in their own backyards. Along with laying the groundwork for the entire book in the first chapter, Carson also gives a grim scene of what was happening to people’s yards and farms.
With the scene set for the readers, Carson gives some grim examples of what was going on, of which, people were able to look out their own window and see the results of these chemicals. The title of the book fits perfectly with the ugly scene she paints of birds not signing, eggs not hatching and trees not producing fruit like they had the spring before. The biggest point she seemed to make right away was how sudden these events took place without anyone really knowing what was going on. “Many creatures died. Sometimes children would be outside playing and suddenly they would be stricken with something and die only a few hours later.
People wondered what had happened to the birds. The birds that remained were often so sickly that they couldn’t fly. Chickens still laid eggs, but the eggs didn’t hatch. The apple trees put out blossoms, but no bees came to pollinate them. The countryside that once looked so pretty now looked dry and withered. People noticed a fine, white dust had settled all over the leaves and in the gutters of their houses. The problem with this land didn’t come from witchcraft, but from the people themselves. ” (Carson). This quote really hits home her entire point of the book.
At the time of the book, people hadn’t really even thought of the downside of these kinds of chemicals, they only thought that they were making the world a better place to live in, rather than completely killing it. After the first few chapters I was hooked on the book. Even now in 2011, it makes a point that people can still understand and relate too. I believe if this book were not written the way it was, people would have just brushed it off as another “hippy” attempt to save the environment, but it was a science report written in a way that everyone could understand and relate with.
If people were not able to open their own backdoor and see the results Carson was describing, this book would have probably never been what it is today. In the second chapter, she compares the use of these chemicals to nuclear war, which at the time was a threat that people seemed to understand. “People are very worried about the threat of a nuclear war destroying the planet. They should think about the use of these chemicals that are being poured into the environment. These chemicals get into the tissues of plants and animals. ” (Carson). This at the time would’ve been a good way to get into the minds of people.
Also in this chapter she gets into explaining the history of insects and how they even become a “problem” to people in the United States. This relates well to some of the discussions we had in class about people’s views on the environment. As humans, we have always been trying to gain control over nature, chemicals being one of the ways we have attempted this. Carson also explains that most of the problems we try to control with chemicals is caused by our own doing, an example being living in unsanitary conditions or accidentally bringing over new insects when we are shipping things from place to place.
Then as we all know, when this book was written the solve-all solution to this problem was to spray DDT all over everything. People believed that this stuff was going to make their lives better and insect free. She even gives an example of kids playing behind the sprayer trucks in the white cloud of DDT. No one knew the real affects of this chemical and no one was ever told until Carson wrote this book. People also never seemed to notice what was going on in their own backyards till Carson explained it to them.
This is how the chemical companies wanted it to be so they could keep selling their product to anyone and everyone to use in their own yards to the farms, because it made your life “better”. This book was the steppingstone for many people. Another thing that we discussed in class is the affects of this book in the long run. Ultimately this book was aimed at getting rid of pesticides, specifically DDT, which it did, but it also help open peoples eyes to the destruction that was going on in the environment in many areas.
One quote I found that proved that some people still didn’t want to believe Carson’s book, “if man were to faithfully follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth. ” An executive of a major chemical company as one would imagine said this at the time, American Cyanamid Company. After the release of the book, chemical companies were down the throat of Carson, threatening her and trying to prove that her points were false, but when tested by the government, she won every time.
One of the many ways they attacked her was by putting out a parody called, “The Desolate Year”. This brochure attacked Carson’s book by saying that pesticides were sole responsible for eradicating disease and allowing for the massive scale agriculture that we have in the United States. They also claimed that crop yields would be drastically reduced without the use of DDT. While some of this might be true, one could still argue that there are other ways of preventing this stuff without the use of DDT and other deadly pesticides. This was a major event in the United States.
There were many new groups formed as a result of this book, Natural Resource Defense Council, the Wilderness Society, and the Environmental Defense Fund, just to name a few. While these were just interest groups formed by concerned citizens, there were many changes on the government level also. While the book was published in 1962, it took about eight years for the government to really start looking in a new direction. Many people believe that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed as a result of Carson’s book. With this new government agency came some new legislation.
Clean Air Act, the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act were a result of the Environmental Protection Agency. Most could safely say that Silent Spring was a turning point in American environmental history without much opposition. While looking through some critic reviews from when it first was published, I found someone that compared the book to Upton Sinclair’s Jungle. The comparison was that Silent Spring was going to have the same effect on pollution control as the Jungle had on the food industry, which was the creation of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
This is bold claim that has held up, especially since the EPA was created. In conclusion, Silent Spring was a turning point for most Americans when it came to their view on the environment. This book opened many doors for us to progress away from harmful chemicals, along with pollution as a whole. After reading this and knowing the history of what happened afterwards, one must think about what would have happened if she had never written this book. I believe that we would be living in a very different place right now.
Yes, someone else might have written a similar book, but what if he or she didn’t? Another thing to consider is if this book wasn’t accepted by the general public, but looked at as more of threat to their bug free living standards or if the major chemical companies were able to shut down the publishing of the book somehow. There are many things that could have gone wrong with this book, but for our own sake it didn’t. As a result we are able to have birds singing in the backyard, eggs that’s hatch, and don’t have to consider playing in the DDT fog as a good afternoon.