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Silent Spring still pertains to modern sustainable living

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring
Rachel Carson's Silent Spring
Sterling College @ Flickr

I didn’t read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in High School. I was told that it was a monumental piece of writing but then the only other thing I remember being told about it was that it helped people form the connection that DDT was causing the thinning of the egg shells of Peregrine Falcons, damaging their population. I’m sure there was a discussion about how the DDT was getting into the Peregrine Falcons in the first place, demonstrating the interconnectedness of the food chain, but that was essentially all I took away from the brief mention of Rachel Carson’s revolutionary 1962 publication.
Over a decade and several environmental science classes and acts of civil disobedience later, I found Silent Spring on sale and decided that since it seemed to be such a referenced book in the environmental activism world, I should own it and possibly even read it. The difference between what I read and what I understood about this book was astounding.
First off- the book never mentions peregrine falcons, so simply from that my New England High School education felt inadequate. Secondly, the book is not only about the perils of widespread reckless use of DDT, but of all insecticides (from organic compounds to chlorinated hydrocarbons) pouring out of the chemical industry at the time much more deadly that DDT (and not just in the United States, but all over the world). Thirdly, the book is about the grand interconnectedness of human and environmental health; it’s about the corruption and absurdity of the government, the irresponsibility of chemical industries, the lack of public knowledge, the apathy towards nature and the ignorant desire to conquer it, the lack of research, the lack of care, and the abundant possibilities to understand natural systems better that will protect the health of people and the environment. The astounding discussion and scientific research presented about the ties between these chemicals and cancer was unbelievable to me.
What was most unbelievable and disturbing was the fact that the book read as if it was written yesterday. I continuously had to recheck the copyright date because I could swear Silent Spring was written in my lifetime, in the past decade. I was frightened at how little seemed to have changed, despite the fact that this book potentially prompted the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Endangered Species Act, and many new laws to protect our air, soil, water, and food. I found a great many parallels to the mentality towards chemicals then and the mentality now. We’re still worried about pesticide residues on food. Cancer’s still a very big deal. And the hope for a ‘magic bullet’ solution, this search of a cure instead of ridding ourselves of the cause, has so many tremendous overlaps in the global warming climate movement that I found myself underlining whole paragraphs that could be quoted directly and applied to the climate movement.
Anyone who desires to live sustainably and desires to encourage others to do the same without being too pushy should read and recommend this book. It strikes home the fact that in 50 years of environmental awareness and activism; the problems that persists and plagues our society are still very much the same: that economic growth will save us; the obsession with creating something new prevents us from analyzing what we have and what we have already created.
I have said that living sustainably is not enough because it is stopping ourselves in time and what we need is not to remain here, but to recover. Living sustainably is using what you already have to the fullest, and then using what you already have to make the world a better, healthier place for the next generation.