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Revisiting Rachel: The Legacy of Silent Spring Fifty Years On Noel Nelson – The Institution of Environmental Sciences.

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Presentation on theme: "Revisiting Rachel: The Legacy of Silent Spring Fifty Years On Noel Nelson – The Institution of Environmental Sciences."— Presentation transcript:

1 Revisiting Rachel: The Legacy of Silent Spring Fifty Years On Noel Nelson – The Institution of Environmental Sciences


3 Early Life Born in May 27 th 1907 on farm in Springdale Pennsylvania; Developed interest in the natural world and the ocean; Started writing and had first published work at age 11; Attended Pennsylvania College for Women and changed from English to Biology.

4 Studies Graduated in 1929; After summer course enrolled to study Zoology and Genetics at the John Hopkins University; June 1932 – Masters in Zoology Family concerns coupled with financial burden prevented her furthering her studies.

5 U.S. Bureau of Fisheries Hired to write radio scripts; 1936 became only the 2 nd woman to be hired for a full time professional post – Junior Aquatic Biologist; Analysis and reporting of field data on fish populations; Continued writing for public; Publishing House approaches Carson for book; 1941 Under the Sea-Wind published.

6 Synthetic Pesticides Develops an interest in Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) – the Insect Bomb USDA 1957 Fire Ant Eradication Program; – The Great Cranberry Scandal High levels of aminotriozole in cranberries Predicted increased consequences due to build up in resistance of targeted pests; Carson called for alternative methods – biological pest control.

7 Silent Spring Published in September 1962; Received much publicity – Serialised in The New Yorker; – Book of the Month; – Similar timing to the thalidomide story; Book commented on pesticide impact on ecosystem and humans.

8 Objections The Manhattan Project deemed a great success; Atomic Energy - heralding a new age; Science – bringing in new beneficial changes; Synthetic pesticides developed with military funding after WWII; Most scientists were male; Biology not a technical science. Objections: DuPont and Velsicol Chem.Co.

9 What the Critics Said If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth – Robert White-Stevens Labelled as a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature. – Robert White-Stevens In a letter to Eisenhower the Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson concluded that because she was an unmarried despite being physically attractive, she was probably a Communist. Darby (1962) advised responsible scientists to read the book to understand the ignorance of those writing on the subject and the educational task which lies ahead. Stare (1963) criticised Carson for writing with passion and with beauty, but with very little scientific detachment He saw no evidence in Silent Spring which justifies calling Miss Carson a scientist.

10 Supporters If Silent Spring is not a scientific book, then one may fairly ask of what interest it is to ecologists and why it is being reviewed in Ecology – F.R. Fosberg Environmental Concerns – Economic entomologists => insects that affect crops, – Medical entomologists => insects that affect man, – Agricultural scientists => anything that affect agric. production, – All making decisions about use of poisonous chemicals, – Where were the ecologists => affect on the environment we live??

11 Criticism Blamed for ban on pesticides - DDT – DDT responsible for saving tens of Millions of lives - Millions of people around the world suffer the painful and often deadly effects of malaria because one person sounded a false alarm. That person is Rachel Carson R. Dunn, Nature (2012) – Restrictions hampered agriculture Silent Spring never called for an outright ban. Rather that their indiscriminate use was counter-productive The U.S. ban on DDT in 1972 was for agricultural use and not for anti- malarial applications. The ban did not apply outside the U.S. In the 1970s and 80s mass outdoor spraying of DDT was banned in Sri Lanka because it was no longer effective against mosquitoes – as Rachel Carson had predicted. cf – overuse of antibiotics and rise of the superbug.

12 Legacy Inspired by the book, many people wrote to their representative in Congress; Senators organised a committee to review the claims and invited Rachel Carson to address them; President Kennedy asked his Scientific Advisory Committee to research the claims; May 1963 - Their publication Use Of Pesticides was published and broadly supported the claims made in Silent Spring; 1964 - changes to the Federal Law required companies to first prove that their products were not harmful before they could be sold; 1970 – The Environmental Protection Agency was formed in response to the growing public demand for cleaner water, air and land.


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