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Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring Is As Relevant As Ever

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2019

In light of the recent news of almost 30% of America’s birds disappearing in the past 50 years and the ongoing news of the climate crisis, it’s worth reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a serialized version of which was published by the New Yorker in 1962 in three parts (one, two, three). From the opening of the first NYer piece:

Then, one spring, a strange blight crept over the area, and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community; mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens, and the cattle and sheep sickened and died. Everywhere was the shadow of death. The farmers told of much illness among their families. In the town, the doctors were becoming more and more puzzled by new kinds of sickness that had appeared among their patients. There had been several sudden and unexplained deaths, not only among the adults but also among the children, who would be stricken while they were at play, and would die within a few hours.

And there was a strange stillness. The birds, for example — where had they gone? Many people, baffled and disturbed, spoke of them. The feeding stations in the back yards were deserted. The few birds to be seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices. In the mornings, which had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, and wrens, and scores of other bird voices, there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marshes.

On the farms, the hens brooded but no chicks hatched. The farmers complained that they were unable to raise any pigs; the litters were small, and the young survived only a few days. The apple trees were coming into bloom, but no bees droned among the blossoms, so there was no pollination and there would be no fruit.

The roadsides were lined with brown and withered vegetation, and were silent, too, deserted by all living things. Even the streams were lifeless. Anglers no longer visited them, for all the fish had died.

In the gutters under the eaves, and between the shingles of the roofs, a few patches of white granular powder could be seen; some weeks earlier this powder had been dropped, like snow, upon the roofs and the lawns, the fields and the streams.

No witchcraft, no enemy action had snuffed out life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.

To call Carson’s words prescient would be a huge understatement. “The people had done it themselves” indeed.