Silent Spring, written by Rachel Carson and published on 27 September 1962, is widely credited with helping launch the environmental movement.
Silent Spring, written in 1962 by Rachel Carson (1907–1964), brought to the public’s attention the results of indiscriminate use of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and other pesticides. Carson also criticized industrial society for abusing the natural environment and failing to recognize the threat to industry’s own existence when natural processes are seriously disturbed. Far more than earlier calls to use modern technology responsibly, Silent Spring launched a revolution in attitudes at all levels of society, from schoolchildren to government and industrial leaders. Carson’s power did not stem from a charismatic personality, but lay in her scientific knowledge and poetic writing.
In writing Silent Spring, Carson was transformed from a beloved nature writer into a crusader, battling in her quiet way with powerful political and economic interests. Although DDT was popularly viewed as a miracle of modern technology—especially because it had been successfully used in World War II to kill fleas, mosquitoes, and other insects that can spread deadly diseases like malaria—biologists had begun to compile evidence of the rise of DDT-resistant strains of insect pests and of the harmful side effects of DDT on other species. Nonetheless, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the manufacturers of DDT and similar pesticides continued to support the use of these substances.
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Excerpted with permission, Chemical Heritage Foundation