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Silent Spring presentation.

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        Silent Spring is a novel written by a woman named Rachel Carson, which was published in 1962.  With advance sales of 40 000 copies the book went on to be recognised in 1992 as the most influential book of the last 50 years, and was held in much the same respect and admiration as great works such as Karl Marx’s ‘Das Capital and Charles Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’.

About the book

        The book takes an in depth look at the hazardous and detrimental consequences of the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in not only agriculture, but in other activities particularly leisure.  It looks in detail at the effects on soil, rivers, wildlife and humans.  As well as providing information on research into such effects, a brief philosophy on the solution to cancer and suggestions for less toxic means of pest control, Carson also questions the role of science.  The author queries humanity’s faith in scientific and technological progress, and for the first time looked at the responsibility of industrial society in the initiation of large scale environmental suffering.  Setting the stage for the environmental protection movement.  

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        A lot of the terminology used is science based.  Indeed a lot of the analysis consists of chemical formulas and reactions.  In addition the book describes ecological process in detail alongside the main argument about chemicals.  Carson takes a scientific approach in describing the inter-relationships between plants and animals and the environment.  Indeed many believe that Carson was the first to use and describe the term ‘ecosystem’.

Context and Background

        At the time the book was written chemical fertilisers and pesticides were in heavy and common use both privately and commercially. In 1958 200 million dollars worth of pesticides were sold, in 1962 when the book was published nearly half a billion dollars worth were sold.  In writing the book Carson was aware that she was not only confronting an enormous industry but confronting the government too.  In this cold war period any criticism of government policy, whether legitimate or not, was risky, with the US government’s rigid anti-communist policies.  Despite this Carson bravely continued to reveal that the government had not done its homework in this field, that it hadn’t considered the long-term effects of chemical pesticides.  This was also a time when the public were just starting to hear about the dangers of chemicals and chemical warfare.

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        Many of Carson’s supporters believe that the publication of Silent Spring instigated the Environmental Movement of the late 60s ad 70s.  This movement saw humanity taking greater responsibility and taking more consideration of the consequences of their actions.  It also sparked off the formation of Environmental Pressure groups and ‘earth warriors’, things that are common to us today.


        In conclusion I would like to draw your attention to some of the main points broached in this presentation.

        Silent Spring was a controversial book.  It challenged people, business and governments that others had been too scared to question.

        The book was an important eye-opener.  It is difficult to say how long the negative effects of chemical fertilisers and pesticides would have gone unnoticed and ignored had it not been for the research and writing of Rachel Carson.  It was also an ecological eye-opener for the general public, in that many realised that fertilisers and pesticides could affect them even if they didn’t use them themselves.

        The impact of Silent Spring was powerful because the writing itself was powerful.  The reaction of the government and the start of the Environmental Movement signify this power.

        What is interesting is that Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is still an incredibly relevant book today, 40years after the research was carried out and the book was published.

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