Silent Spring is an environmental awareness book written by Rachel Carson in 1962. This was an earth-shattering book at the time. The book documented the harmful effects on the environment of the haphazard use of pesticides, and brought these issues to the attention of the American masses. Carson blamed the chemical industry for disseminating propaganda, and also accused public officials of turning a complete blind eye to the claims and assumptions purported by the big chemical companies.
Carson was ill with cancer during the book’s release, and was enduring radiation therapy. She predicted that she would have very little vigor to defend her book to critics, mainly the chemical companies. To prepare for such attacks from the big chemical companies, Carson and her agents endeavored to accumulate important and notable supporters before the book’s release date in 1962. Did they know just how important this book would become?
In the weeks before the September 1962 release, Carson’s expectations of opposition came true. The major chemical companies showed a strong opposition to Silent Spring. Household names, that you’ve probably heard of such as DuPont (a major maker of DDT) was among the first to respond. DuPont amassed an widespread report on the book’s press coverage and estimated impact on public opinion. Another chemical company, Velsicol threatened legal action against the book’s publisher Houghton Mifflin, as well as other publications The New Yorker and Audubon Magazine unless they canceled their upcoming articles on Silent Spring.
Carson was confident about her book. Her publishers and their attorneys had vetted Silent Spring extensively. Houghton Mifflin and the magazines proceeded, and the rest was history.
The chemical industry’s campaign to silence the book was extremely counterproductive. The publicity from this controversy only served to increase public awareness of the harmful dangers of using pesticides. Pesticides became a major issue after CBS aired a TV special “The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson”, in early 1963.
After this, Carson’s Silent Spring gained so much traction and publicity that it became a rallying point for the new environmental movement of the 1960s.
Carson’s helped to stop the use of DDT in America. Perhaps her most important contribution was her battle to ban the use of DDT in the United States.
In addition to illustrating the harmful effects of DDT, Carson also called attention to the extreme “handling the money and serving the food” of the USDA. Until 1970 the USDA was responsible for both regulating pesticides and encouraging the concerns of the agriculture industry. Carson rightfully saw this as a huge conflict of interest. Note that even in 2016, in our current times, the WSDA is responsible for pesticide complaints in Washington State. How is this possible in our day and age??
Thankfully, President Nixon established the EPA in 1970, which created a counterbalance to the power held by the USDA prior to that date. Some have described the EPA as the legacy of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring.