Rachel Carson, a scientist with the US Fish and Wildlife service published Silent Spring on April 13th 1962. The book detailed the harmful effects of the pesticide DDT, which had won the nobel prize decades earlier. A native of rural Pennsylvania, Carson held an ecological view of nature, describing the complex web of life this landed her on the best-seller list for previous novels. Even with this status she had a hard time publishing a single article about the harmful effects of DDT through regular channels.
DDT is an extremely powerful pesticide capable of killing many types of life at once. It was first developed for soldiers in the South Pacific to prevent against malaria. Chemicals often have their debut during war linking imperialism with the destruction of our ecological systems. DDT later became available for civilian use.
Silent Spring meticulously described how DDT entered the food chain and accumulated in the fatty tissues of animals, including human beings causing cancer and genetic damage. A single application on a crop, she wrote, killed insects for weeks and months—not only the targeted insects but countless more—and remained toxic in the environment even after it was diluted by rainwater. Carson concluded that DDT and other pesticides had irrevocably harmed animals and had contaminated the world’s food supply.
In response, Monsanto published and distributed 5,000 copies of a brochure parodying Silent Spring entitled “The Desolate Year,” – a propaganda piece showing the devastation and inconvenience of a world without chemical pesticides where famine, disease, and insects ran amok.
However, many prominent scientists rose to Carson’s defense and President JFK ordered a committee to examine the chemical. Carson was vindicated and DDT was banned. Many credit this moment as the start of the modern environmental movement.
Shortly before her death from breast cancer in 1964, she remarked,
“Man’s attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself? [We are] challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.”