Literature Appetizer: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

In Literature Appetizer, Ben gives you just a taste of a book. Not meant to replace the full meal, this is meant to whet your appetite. Bon appetit!

When I went to the Rally to Restore Sanity a few years back, one of my favorite signs stated "Give me moderation or give me death!" They weren't asking for extremism on any side. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring embodies this sentiment today. Even though it part of the foundation of the environmental movement, she didn't call for mass legislation or radical movements.

To be honest, even though I have been studying environmentalism and how to teach it since college, I had not formally read the book until this month. Each one of my professors would ask "who all have read Silent Spring?" and I would raise my hand, since everyone else was. I knew the gist; Carson was arguing against DDT, but I didn't realize how moderate of a viewpoint this book is in 2017.

Environmental Generational Amnesia describes the phenomenon when one generation accepts the environment how it is now, and thinks that is the new baseline. Usually it is referring to degradation. Forests nowadays might not be as lively as they used to be, but children now just take in the wonder and splendor that they see.

Silent Spring has this phenomenon, but in reverse. So many times while reading this book I would verbally state "How did they let this happen?!" to which my father replied "they didn't know better." From spraying DDT on children at playgrounds or removing essential insects for profit, the most iconic story is best exemplified in the picture below.

Illustration on page 154 of Silent Spring

Illustration on page 154 of Silent Spring

Imagine you are a woman in the late 50's, early 60's. You love your garden and do everything to keep it healthy. You have recently been hearing how the state government is using planes to spray DDT over entire neighborhoods, so each day you keep a watchful eye out to the sky. On the day the plane does come, you rush outside and cover your garden while getting drenched in the process. Your plants might have been somewhat saved, but years later you start to notice serious health problems because you were drenched in DDT.

This book contains countless stories of destruction, but also hope. Using natural plants and insects as pest control is more effective, and less money long term, than any pesticide used. Even though today it reads almost like a fictional horror story, Carson's courage to be so radical and speak truth to power started the very field that I, and many of my peers, are in today.

Through the lens of history we can see that DDT was horrible. What radical things today will our children and grandchildren not be able to imagine that we did. Factory farms? Only feeding honey bees high fructose corn syrup? Everyone owning a car instead of sharing public transport? Only history will tell, but I look forward to being part of the revolution to save all of the living beings on this little blue spaceship.