Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads

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#StevesLibrary: Silent Spring

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, especially being a conservationist. Thankfully, I finally have and I’m glad I did. Despite the fact that Silent Spring was published 60 years ago, it is extremely relevant to today. I first heard about Silent Spring in secondary school, when learning about the environmental impacts of human activity, about the same time I learned about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. I finally got a copy just shy of two years ago, thanks to my friend Arik Hartmann, as a birthday present. After the crazy couple of years we’ve all had, I finally had the mental energy to give it a read. If I’m honest I wish I’d read it sooner. Aside from the warnings about DDT, there are a number of other herbicides and pesticides that caused similar effects in wildlife that I was not previously aware of. Although it was first published so long ago, Silent Spring is still extremely relevant especially regarding noenicitinoid pesticides and the potential impacts on insects, and the wider ecosystem.

In 1962 when Silent Spring was published, the author Rachel Carson was unfortunately losing her battle with cancer. Reading the book, you wouldn’t know. I had to research Carson after finishing the book, and noticed she died a couple of years after publication. What a swan song! Silent Spring is one of those books like On The Origin of Species or The Selfish Gene, that changed the perception and attitudes of everyone within the relevant scientific disciplines. Personally, I would choose Silent Spring was being the most important piece of literature, that acted as a catalyst for the modern conservation movement. Carson’s ability to describe the horrors of the chemical industry in post-war America (and the world), meant that anyone was able to educate themselves on the matter. Carson has a very witty and smooth writing style, which makes delivery perfect, as well as ensuring that all of the information is perfectly accessible. You don’t need a degree in biochemistry or chemical engineering in order to face the reality that Carson described.

It isn’t just the wildlife that suffered as a result of chemical spillover into the environment. As certain chemicals filtered up the food chain and bioaccumulated, people started to feel the effects. A number of cancers were linked to the exposure to these chemicals, such as leukemia. As with many of them, there is no safe limit as they’re all carcinogenic and they bioaccumulate within the body. If you’re being repeatedly exposed to a ‘safe’ level, it just leads to that pesticide building up inside you, until it’s no longer at the safe level. Some people were also accumulating multiple chemical pesticides which then interacted with one another, causing illness and death. While the topic is extremely depressing, Carson has produced a book with wonderful imagery, while also maintaining a level of calm and collectiveness that I would find impossible (especially when innocent children are involved).

Thankfully, most of the organochlorines and organophosphates mentioned within have long since been banned, although they can still be found in the environment. They don’t readily break down, which is one of the properties that made them so dangerous when they were produced in immense quantities. If you work in conservation, this is another one of those books which is a must-read, due to it’s enormous positive impact on the world.

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