The Citizen Scientist Who Spawned a Revolution

Posted by M ws On Saturday, September 29, 2012 0 comments
Unbeknownst to many, books may not be in the limelight or celebrated on a grand scale such as in commemoration of wars or campaigns of any sort but in their quiet and subtle ways, have triggered social change in many parts of the world. "Common Sense" by Thomas Paine stirred racial sentiments in the pre-American revolution period whilst Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" awakened anti-slavery feelings that was the pre-cursor to the American Civil War. Well, "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring is another one of those impactful books that set the scene for the environmental movement. Known only as a natural history writer, Carson's book eventually led to the banning of DDT in the US ten years down the road.

When 'Silent Spring' was released on September 27th, 1962, it exposed the hazards of the pesticide DDT - particularly on birds. Very bravely, Rachel Carson argued that the uncontrolled and questionable use of DDT not only killed animals and birds but man as well. She also questioned how people could just simply accept the claims of the industry without studying its deadly and far-reaching effects.

Wikipedia tells us that Silent Spring has been featured in many lists of the best nonfiction books of the twentieth century. In the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Nonfiction it was at #5, and it was at No.78 in the conservative National Review. Most recently, Silent Spring was named one of the 25 greatest science books of all time by the editors of Discover Magazine.

Carson, a renowned nature author and a former marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was uniquely equipped to create so startling and inflammatory a book. A native of rural Pennsylvania, she had grown up with an enthusiasm for nature matched only by her love of writing and poetry.

Hailing from Pennsylvania, Rachel Carson, formerly a marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, she loved nature, writing and poetry. Carson wrote other bestsellers such as " Under the Sea Wind", "The Sea Around Us"), and "The Edge of The Sea" glorified and poetically explained the complexity and inter-connectivity of the web of life.

I am writing about this because almost three decades ago in my first job in an environmental organization, I had to read extensively about DDT and its horrible effects hence Carson's book has always had a place in my heart. The most unforgettable chapter in this book is  "A Fable for Tomorrow" where Carson skilfully expounds on a fictitious (?) American town where all forms of life forms from marine life to the birds of the air to the four/two-legged creatures that walk this earth (including man) had been "silenced" once and for all  by the insidious and devastating effects of DDT.

According to Wikipedia 

DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) is an organochlorine insecticide which is a white, crystalline solid, tasteless, and almost odorless. Technical DDT has been formulated in almost every conceivable form including solutions in xylene or petroleum distillates, emulsifiable concentrates, water-wettable powders, granules, aerosols, smoke candles, and charges for vaporisers and lotions.

First synthesized in 1874, DDT's insecticidal properties were not discovered until 1939, and it was used with great success in the second half of World War II to control malaria and typhus among civilians and troops. The Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1948 "for his discovery of the high efficiency of DDT as a contact poison against several arthropods." After the war, DDT was made available for use as an agricultural insecticide, and soon its production and use skyrocketed.

In 1962, Silent Spring by American biologist Rachel Carson was published. The book catalogued the environmental impacts of the indiscriminate spraying of DDT in the US and questioned the logic of releasing large amounts of chemicals into the environment without fully understanding their effects on ecology or human health. The book suggested that DDT and other pesticides may cause cancer and that their agricultural use was a threat to wildlife, particularly birds. Its publication was one of the signature events in the birth of the environmental movement, and resulted in a large public outcry that eventually led to DDT being banned in the US in 1972. DDT was subsequently banned for agricultural use worldwide under the Stockholm Convention, but its limited use in disease vector control continues to this day and remains controversial. CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

Last week,The New York Times featured an excellent article by Eliza Griswold on How ‘Silent Spring’ Ignited the Environmental Movement where she wrote:

On June 4, 1963, less than a year after the controversial environmental classic “Silent Spring” was published, its author, Rachel Carson, testified before a Senate subcommittee on pesticides. She was 56 and dying of breast cancer. She told almost no one. She’d already survived a radical mastectomy. Her pelvis was so riddled with fractures that it was nearly impossible for her to walk to her seat at the wooden table before the Congressional panel. To hide her baldness, she wore a dark brown wig.

“Every once in a while in the history of mankind, a book has appeared which has substantially altered the course of history,” Senator Ernest Gruen­ing, a Democrat from Alaska, told Carson at the time.

“Silent Spring” was published 50 years ago this month. Though she did not set out to do so, Carson influenced the environmental movement as no one had since the 19th century’s most celebrated hermit, Henry David Thoreau, wrote about Walden Pond. “Silent Spring” presents a view of nature compromised by synthetic pesticides, especially DDT. Once these pesticides entered the biosphere, Carson argued, they not only killed bugs but also made their way up the food chain to threaten bird and fish populations and could eventually sicken children. Much of the data and case studies that Carson drew from weren’t new; the scientific community had known of these findings for some time, but Carson was the first to put them all together for the general public and to draw stark and far-reaching conclusions. In doing so, Carson, the citizen-scientist, spawned a revolution.  PLEASE CLICK HERE to read the rest of this fantastic article.

Please read the entry on DDT listed in Wikipedia as it explains in great detail the deadly effects of DDT.

Click here if you want to see the shocking list of the many chemicals used (including amount used)  in the Vietnam War.

Today, we remember Rachel Carson and her 'Silent Spring'. We may not be facing the devastating effects of DDT but there are other threats that we face such as GMF foods, dangerous chemicals in certain medicines and all kinds of questionable practices. May there be more brave and enlightened/informed people who can blaze the trail for a better society, better life. I salute and remember Rachel Carson - for all the passion and love she displayed in her life for the environment and the betterment of mankind. May she rest in peace always.

Please CLICK HERE if you want to visit Rachel Carson's official website.

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