Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is a once-in-a-century book. Although published in 1962, its message about the sins we humans have committed against our own planet resonate even more strongly today.
Silent Spring weaves the tale of springtimes once alive with the music of birdsong and splashing of leaping fish fallen silent from the use of DDT and other deadly pesticides.
Our attempts to tame nature were dooming the wildlife that depended on environmental balance to survive. Rachel Carson was the first to sound the alarm — but she didn’t limit it to our furred, finned or feathered friends.
Chilling when she wrote them, her words are even more so today– given the ongoing research into fossil fuel-based pesticides’ negative effects.
Silent Spring’s third chapter, “Elixirs of Death,” begins:
“For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death… synthetic pesticides… have been recovered from most… major river systems and even from streams of groundwater… these chemicals linger in soil to which they may have been applied a dozen years before.”
It’s a theme Carson repeats throughout the book: We’re organically connected to our planet, so we also become the victims of the damage we cause it:
“Although today’s poisons are more dangerous than any known before, they have amazingly become something to be showered down… Not only on forests and cultivated fields… but towns and cities as well.”
She backs her claims with government-funded studies of DDT and other fossil fuel-based pesticides and herbicides. Silent Spring draws a clear map of their path from the soil and water into the food chain — and our bodies.
Because they’re fat-soluble chemicals, she explains, the highest amounts of their residues are found in “meats and any products derived from animal fats.”
And milk? As early as the 1960s, the FDA prohibited pesticide residues in milk. Yet their own testing regularly found them in dairy products, especially butter.
As I read Silent Spring, I often wondered what Rachel Carson would write about if she still lived. Planes may no longer be showering our cities and towns with these chemicals in the 2020s. But to what other deadly follies are we turning a blind eye?
I can easily imagine her investigating how we still devastate our planet — and ourselves — with carcinogenic pesticides. Or evaluating the carcinogenic foods we love to eat.
And when it comes to our destruction of the rainforests and oceans? I can even see her titles: Silent Jungles and Silent Seas!