Sept. 27 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication by Houghton Mifflin of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” surely one of the most influential books of the 20th century. It raised the alarm about the harmful effects of pesticides on a wide variety of life forms, including insects, birds and humans, and was the impetus that created the environmental protection movement.
First serialized in the “New Yorker” in the spring and summer of 1962, the book shocked the nation and was an instant best-seller. The chemical industry spent a huge amount of money and time vilifying Carson and trying to stop her warnings from spreading. She was portrayed as an “hysterical woman,” even a Communist. But Rachel Carson was simply a brilliant, concerned biologist who could both see the big picture of what was happening and put it into words that everyone could understand.
Anyway, both Carson and her book weathered the storm. Millions of people worldwide rallied to the cause. The Kennedy administration ordered an investigation into the book’s claims, and that investigation led to the banning of DDT in the United States and to the eventual creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Pesticides remain a threat to birds, humans and other life forms. The fact that her words, written half a century ago, still resonate shows the power of “Silent Spring,” and how it helped to improve our lives and ensure healthier lives for future generations.
Here’s how we can all help maintain the legacy of “Silent Spring”:
* Avoid using chemical pesticides, and then only in the smallest amounts needed;
* Dispose of chemical pesticides as instructed on their original containers, and never throw unused pesticides down a drain or a storm sewer.
* Donate to the Nature Conservancy, the Xerces Society or the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference to support their habitat creation and advocacy work;
* Keep Rachel Carson’s memory alive by reading or re-reading “Silent Spring” and recommending it to everyone you know.