Celebrating "Silent Spring"
This week, we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Rachel Carson's pivotal work, "Silent Spring."
Often cited as the catalyst for the modern environmental conservation movement, "Silent Spring" focused on the unintended negative impacts of DDT and other pesticides on the environment. Her argument was that the effect of these chemicals was never limited just to their intended targets. She elucidated the links between pesticides and deadly diseases, like cancer, while also excoriating the chemical industry for malfeasance. "Silent Spring" was wildly successful, selling over 2 million copies in a number of languages. Scholar Patricia Hynes notes “…'Silent Spring' altered the balance of power in the world. No one since would be able to sell pollution as the necessary underside of progress so easily or uncritically.”
Hynes was right. Around the world, people embraced this need for a new way forward. It was during this period, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where we saw the formation of frameworks, organizations, and events still tied to the movement today. We can link the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States to Carson’s work as an author and activist. Grassroots organizations that would come to dominate the conservation narrative also started to emerge. These included, among others, the Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, and the National Resources Defense Council. Globally, groups like The Club of Rome, the World Conservation Union, and the United Nations Environment Programme brought issues to the international stage. Of course, we also had the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.
Thanks to Carson, a whole world opened up to sustainability professionals like myself. We continue her work today.