Example #1 – Silent Spring Book Review
Rachel Louise Carson (1907-64), was an American marine biologist, and author of widely read books on ecological themes. Carson was born in Springdale, Pennsylvania, and educated at the former Pennsylvania College for Women and Johns Hopkins University. Rachel Carson taught Zoology at the University of Maryland from 1931 to 1936. She was an aquatic biologist at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and its successor, the Fish, and Wildlife Service, from 1936 to 1952.
Rachel Carson wrote 4 books including The Sea Around Us for which she was awarded the 1952 National Book Award for nonfiction. At the end of Rachel Carson’s career, she wrote Silent Spring, which questioned the use of Chemical Pesticides and was responsible for arousing worldwide concern for the preservation of the environment.
Silent Spring takes a hard look at the effects of the insecticides, weed killers, and other common products as well as the use of sprays in agriculture. By introducing these deadly substances, we have poisoned or lakes and streams, or wild and domestic animals, and even ourselves. The book focuses on the importance of balance within the environment. Rachel Carson wrote…
“Where spraying destroys not only the insects but also their principal enemy, the birds. When later there is a resurgence in the insect population, as almost always happens, the birds are not there to keep their numbers in check.”
Carson examines the way dangerous chemicals have been used without sufficient research or regard for their potential harm to wildlife, water, soil, and humans, creating an evil chain of poisoning and death.
The overuse of DDT, dieldrin, and other pesticides eventually poisoned an entire world of living things. Silent Spring not only recognizes the severity of the chemical usage but recognizes the effect of substance use on a community. It helped people to look at the whole picture, to look into the future instead of the now. Carson helps to change this way of thinking by offering solutions to the existing problems.
She helps to show that nature will take care of nature. Many times the best solutions are the introduction of other plants or animals. For many thousands of years man has been battling nature when if he took a step back, he would see that if he just worked with it his problems could be solved. Rachel Carson helped many people to see this ideal and is partly responsible for starting the environmental movement that has become so apparent in today’s society.
There are many people that do not support Rachel Carson’s findings of DDT. These people challenge her experiments and say that the results would have been worse had the controls not been manipulated. The direct effect of DDT may be different on all types of animals. What the people fail to notice that challenge her statements are the chemical bonds that are produced with DDT and other chemical substances.
The significance of Rachel Carson’s book was not the scientific accuracy but instead the position it took on DDT. Why this book is so recognized has nothing to do with the actual data, it has to do with awareness and the beginning of global consciousness. Suddenly we are not just a species we are a planet. Carson helped us to realize that everything you do has a greater effect on something else.
The arguments of human death due to the banning of DDT are serious ones and need to be addressed. Many critics say that in many ways Silent Spring has caused more death than it has prevented. In no way do i feel that that was Rachel Carson’s intention. This book is merely a tool for awareness and offers solutions to specific agricultural problems. The critics of Carson are looking to this book, as an answer to all environmental questions instead of looking to it as a guide. I don’t feel that in any way Rachel Carson wrote this book for that reason.
There are two issues in which I do not feel have been addressed properly. The first is the relationship with the government and big business and the second the issue of human survival from insect born diseases. There has been little mention of how the legislation would change the thinking. This book was released in the early ’60s and just recently have we been seeing changes with the law and business practice. DDT was shown in Rachel Carson’s book to be the root of all evil. It failed to show the good it had done and the lives that it had actually saved. By avoiding both sides of the story she subjected herself too much criticism.
This book is a must if you are going into any environmental or biological field. I would highly recommend it to anyone with some college education. However, the book does get a little dull here and there. The most useful and interesting part was the alternative solution to previous chemically solved problems. The significance of this book is that it helped to turn around the attitude toward the environment.
It also showed that there is no one single solution that should be applied throughout the world. It is too easy to look for one single answer to all of these problems. By banning DDT in some places we have made a healthier existence, by banning it in others we have lost thousands of lives. If you look at Rachel Carson’s masterpiece in literal terms there is no significance, If you look at it subjectively as a whole you see the significance of global thinking and the importance of awareness.
Life and humans’ ecosystem depend on the environment entirely. The book of Rachel Carson, which is titled as “Silent Spring”, has shed light on what environmental conservation entails. This book describes the threats faced by the environment due to human activities. It is interested in environmental conservation and the threats of its degradation to nature where it elaborates on the details concerning environmental conditions.
In perspective, the author inspects the areas of the environment that have been affected adversely which include the earth’s water sources and atmosphere among others. In this light, she argues that the human race has to pay because of misusing the environment and encourages humanity to conserve it properly.
Furthermore, she identifies and criticizes the strategies that are applied without considering environmental conservation and protection. In this regard, she describes the effects of using DDT when showing how people have neglected other creatures in the ecosystem. This book has assessed most aspects including the positive and the vast negative impacts of human activities on the environment.
The explicit details of societal participation in environmental pollution have pointed out clearly about the effects of human activities and their impacts on the surrounding. She argues that the environment depends entirely on the activities of human beings. Rachel establishes the impacts of man’s socio-economic activities on the environment and society.
Several social factors have been outlined in the book as the possible causes of environmental degradation. These factors include overcrowding that arises in the refugee camps. The strategies initiated to save refugees’ lives have resulted in the pollution of rivers and other water sources. For instance, the government launches plans to boost food production through irrigation projects which use pesticides. Unfortunately, these actions have led to adverse reactions including the pollution of rivers among others.
In this light, a refugee manager attributed the death of birds to pesticide accumulation in the rivers due to agricultural practices (Rachel, 45). These depict how the human population causes environmental degradation. In malaria prevalent areas, the pesticides used to control mosquitoes have led to a decline in the insects’ population due to the use of DDT.
Moreover, Carson also identifies poverty as a major player in the degradation of the environment. The insect disease vectors that carry malaria are very common in places with poor sanitation which arise due to poor social setup and economic imbalances.
Impacts of Degradation
Several impacts of degradation have been identified in the societies and the environment. The pollution of the environment by the pesticides drained into rivers has led to the loss of biodiversity owing to the fact that birds inhabiting the rivers are reported dead. The other result of degradation is the reduced aesthetic value of the environment.
The author has brought up a clear incident of how trees are drying due to the use of pesticides. In areas prone to environmental degradation, reduced fecundity, malnutrition, and pandemic diseases have resulted in a negative change in the human population. There are diseases that reduce the human lifespan and cause many deaths.
The incident elaborated by Carson about two boys who died in Florida is a clear illustration of how death arises from the wastes that people dispose of carelessly in the environment (Rachel, 28). Therefore, “Silent Spring” is the literature that most environmental scientists appreciate as it evaluates most issues concerning; the social causes of environmental degradation, its impacts in the societies, and its effects on the environment as a whole.
In September of 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published directly to alarm the public of the harmfulness of chemical pesticides. Those pesticides include DDT, dieldrin, chlordane, and more that were being used by a way of aerial spraying in an attempt to control insect populations on a very large scale.
She goes on to say that they should not be called ‘insecticides’, but ‘biocides’ because they kill many living things good and bad. Silent Spring is an exposé because it calls out companies and many more to bring a call to action. Carson was a marine biologist which back then the position held very low esteem in the nuclear age, she wasn’t living up to the regular woman image.
Having no affiliation with big institutions meaning she didn’t have a very big voice to be heard. Silent Spring led to a huge global environmental movement that still today is taking place, over 55 years ago think about that. Carson uses plenty of rhetorical strategies throughout Silent Spring such as audience, style, language, tone, message, and more. The following rhetorical analysis will investigate Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and its use of rhetorical strategies and conventions.
Rachel Carson’s audience in Silent Spring is the American people and not just the government and scientists. She needed to reach every person of America and inform them of the harmful effects that pesticides could deal out to the environment. She brings a very strong inquiry throughout the first half of the writing but isn’t afraid to get right into it with the question “What has already silenced the voices of spring in countless towns in America?”(Carson 3).
Carson then uses examples for simple people unlike scientists to understand what these detrimental chemicals were doing to them and the environment they live in. She also lets the people know that what they’re being told isn’t always right, “We are told that the enormous and expanding use of pesticides is necessary to maintain farm production.
Yet is our real problem not one of overproduction?”(Carson 9). She later says that “man” has risked its own future just to control some pests, “How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind? Yet this is precisely what we have done.”(Carson 8). Carson isn’t afraid to go ahead and get straight to the hard-hitting facts and questions.
Silent Spring’s style of writing is informative and demanding but one that is easy for the general reader of the public. It starts off as kind of a story with her zooming in on this town that does not actually exist. She leaves all of her citations for later in the book so therefore the reader won’t get distracted.
During the time after the book, she was really kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place because she got ridiculed for her work so imagine if she didn’t have any scientific facts and citations within Silent Spring. Her writing overall brought a lot of attention to the harmful effects of chemical pesticides and started a movement.
Conventions of Silent Spring meaning which the way it’s done, Carson states what’s happening and then backs it up with facts. And within those facts, she includes real known happenings like how our lakes, soil, and more are being contaminated. She states that “Every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death.”(Carson 15).
In less than 20 years pesticides have been scattered so much that they’re now throughout the whole world. “Residues of these chemicals linger in soil to which they may have been applied a dozen years before.
They have entered and lodged in the bodies of fish, birds, reptiles, and domestic and wild animals so universally that scientists carrying on animal experiments find it almost impossible to locate subjects free from such contamination. They have been found in fish in remote mountain lakes, in earthworms burrowing in the soil, in the eggs of bird and in man himself.”(Carson 16). Now if that doesn’t persuade you to believe that there are some harmful effects on pesticides then I don’t know what will. Carson really does a great job by making you feel emotions while reading Silent Spring.
During the 1920s in the United States, farmers were suffering depression due to the debt caused by the overproduction of many crops during World War I. This depression continued into the 1930s as the Great Depression destroyed America’s economy and was eventually halted by World War II when the agriculture industry was heavily relied on again to supply for the war. It is during this time – in 1939 – that Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane or DDT was found to be an effective pesticide in preventing insect-borne diseases and crop damage. Its use spread rapidly for several decades until it was found to be detrimental to the environment.
Most of this knowledge came to light thanks to Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, released in 1962. Now, 55 years later, many people wonder what direct effects Silent Spring had on the growth of the environmental movement in the United States. It is commonly thought that Silent Spring led to concerns about America’s use of pesticides, especially DDT. It also helped to introduce the environmental movement to America by eliciting policy reform surrounding humans’ interactions with the natural world.
Farmers have used different forms of pesticides to boost plant growth for centuries and they fall into four main categories: insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and rodenticides. With the discovery of DDT as an insecticide in 1939, the use of pesticides in the US grew exponentially. DDT was first synthesized in 1873 but didn’t have a use for almost 70 years until Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller realized that it could be an effective pesticide. For his accomplishments, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine and DDT was available for sale in the United States starting in 1945.
By 1957, 4.9 million acres of land were being sprayed by DDT each year. It became integrated into the lives of Americans and no one suspected that any harm could come of it. Families would set off DDT bombs in their homes, children would run after machines spraying it in the streets and it was well-loved for its effectiveness as well as its relatively low cost. Initially, DDT was used to target gypsy moths but once its versatility was realized, it was commissioned for many other uses. It was especially popular during World War II to rid the Allies soldiers of lice. In its powder form, DDT is credited with saving millions of lives from typhus and other bacterial diseases.
Its power was so widespread that it started becoming known as the “killer of all killers” and during its 30 years of production 1,350,000,000 pounds were used in America alone. The country also began exporting DDT across the world, especially to Africa to combat malaria. The Agency for International Development and the United Nations bought large quantities of DDT from the United States in an attempt to control insect-borne diseases. The exports of DDT rose from 12% in 1950 to 67% in 1969. Initially, the benefits of pesticide use outweighed the problems but the opposite soon came to pass.
When Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was released in 1962, there was immediately an uproar about its implications. 500,000 people read the book and another 10-15 million watched a CBS broadcast of Carson explaining its meaning and connection to society as a whole.
The first chapter, aptly named A Fable for Tomorrow, tells a tale of an American town that is like any other but pesticides have killed all of the people and animals living there. Carson admits that the effects of pesticides may not show up for several generations but emphasizes that the threat still exists.
This silent town described is the namesake of the book and also serves as the ultimate pathos as it taps into the emotions of readers imagining themselves and their children growing up in that world. In Silent Spring Carson references pesticide spraying as a “chain of evil” and explains that when plants are sprayed, anything another organism that eats those plants or the infected insects will also become poisoned.
She expressed the belief that man-made chemicals and radiation were tampering with the natural state of the earth and that this human activity could have deadly consequences. These beliefs were backed by evidence suggesting that few tests had been done to discover the true effects of DDT in the environment despite the claims from the Stauffer Chemical Company (the nation’s largest producer of DDT in 1962).
Despite the strong support of Silent Spring from environmentalists, others worried about the toxicity of pesticides in the human body, the book received national criticism for being very one-sided. Critics argued that Carson was ignoring the benefits of DDT and pesticides in general. The Manufacturing Chemists’ Association called the entire thing a “disappointment” and argued that Carson was misrepresenting their industry.
In defense of her ideas and the environment, Carson testified before Congress in 1963 that pesticides affected the air, soil, water, and vegetation of Earth and that it was humans’ duty to protect it. She acknowledged that pesticides had some benefits to humans but cautioned that they should be used in moderation.
By this point, there were numerous studies emerging that showed the negative effects of DDT and more people were speaking out for the protection of the environment. An especially disheartening discovery was that of DDT-resistant mosquitoes in Greece in 1949, three years after spraying had started there. In 1956 there were five species of mosquito around the world that were resistant to DDT and by 1960 that number had risen to 28 species.
In response to growing public concern, Congress started a plan to phase out the use of DDT in agriculture. The 4.9 million acres sprayed in 1957 became just under 100,000 acres in 1967 and zero acres in 1968. To continue this regulation of pesticides, Congress established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA conducted thorough tests of common American pesticides and began their work of protecting the natural beauty and diversity of the country.
As well as the enactment of the Clean Air Act in 1970 and the Clean Water Act in 1972, they launched an annual Earth Day, garnering the support of 20 million people in the first year alone. The creation and exportation of DDT were banned completely in the US in 1972 due to concern over its environmental impact, the existence of new, safer pesticides, and the increased resistance of insects to the toxins.
More controversy ensued following this ban as many people blamed Carson and Silent Spring for the deaths of millions of African children due to malaria. Without the American exports of DDT, there were increased outbreaks of insect-borne diseases, causing as many as 300 million illnesses and one million deaths each year. Counterarguments were formed citing evidence that pesticides themselves did as much damage, poisoning over a million people each year as well as millions of other species.
New evidence supported these claims, showing a correlation between working with pesticides and the development of acute toxicity or other nervous system damage. It was also discovered that evidence of pesticides could even be found in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies, and environmentalists blamed DDT use for up to 15% of the infant mortality rate during the years it was in use. Along with the discovery of toxic dumps from chemical companies in 1980, the EPA and the country as a whole began to see pesticides in a new, negative light.
The Stockholm Convention treaty was signed by 151 countries – not including the United States – in an attempt to eliminate the creation and use of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), leaving the Hindustan Insecticides Ltd. of India as the sole producer of DDT in the world (MacGillivray 2011, 116). They produce approximately 10,000 tons per year for domestic use and exportation. While there may be efforts in place to limit pesticide use, there are still 17,000 legal pesticide products registered in the US, and 834 billion pounds are released into the environment each year.
Three-fourths of American households still use some type of pesticide and the US spends $11 billion dollars each year on the manufacture and distribution of these products. After a 2003 study in the United Kingdom revealed that 99% of adults still contain traces of DDT or related chemicals in their bodies and that 192 different pesticides are used on 46 different types of fruit and vegetables, many consumers started searching for an alternative to pesticide use.
One popular option is organic farming – with product sales growing at a rate of 22% for ten years – but this method is not nearly as efficient as farming with chemicals. Crop losses due to pests and insects can be as high as 40% of the total production so it is not possible to sustain a country on the food produced organically.
Another option comes in the form of recent scientific advances that have allowed for the development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Scientists have the ability to change the DNA of organisms to promote pest resistance, but many people believe that this method is unethical. This current farming debate will continue as the US population grows and requires higher amounts of produce to sustain it.
From the moment of its release in 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring caused an uproar in society as it shifted the world’s view of pesticides and caused major policy changes in America in response to the growing environmental movement.
While Silent Spring may have initiated changes in the United States’ view of DDT, it did not halt the growth of the pesticide industry. The controversy surrounding pesticides continues to this day as new positive and negative impacts are explored.
One was nature writer Edwin Way Teale, who warned, “A spray as indiscriminate as DDT can upset the economy of nature as much as a revolution upsets social economy. Ninety percent of all insects are good, and if they are killed, things go out of kilter right away.”
“If man were to faithfully follow the teachings of Miss Carson,” complained an executive of the American Cyanamid Company, “we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.”
Edwin Diamond stated, “Thanks to a emotional, alarmist book called ‘Silent Spring,’ Americans mistakenly believe their world is being poisoned”
LaMont Cole, professor of ecology at Cornell, wrote in the Scientific American: “Errors of fact (within ‘Silent Spring’) are so infrequent, trivial, and irrelevant to the main theme that it would be ungallant to dwell on them.”
She was labeled a “bird lover,” “cat lover,” “fish lover,” “nun of nature,” and “priestess of nature” (Graham, 1970).
She was accused of “worrying about the death of cats but not caring about the 10,000 people who die daily from malnutrition and starvation in the world” (Diamond, 1963).
That she was a scientist as well as an author was acknowledged in the citation on the Audubon medal (Vosburgh, 1964):
Distinguished scientist, gifted writer, Sensitive and perceptive interpreter of the ways of nature, Who authored a book called SILENT SPRING; Through it she alerted and aroused the public about needless and dangerous chemical pollution of our environment And sounded a timely warning that technology, run away from science, can be a threat to man.
The New York Times book review stated, “Silent Spring is so one-sided that it encourages argument, although little can be done to refute Miss Carson’s carefully documented statements”
Life magazine said, “there is no doubt that she has overstated her case” (Life, 1962),
Parodies of Silent Spring were written and released in an effect to counter or soften the message. One such parody was entitled “The Desolate Year” and described a bleak future without pesticides. Another called “Quiet Summer” depicted a boy and his grandfather eating acorns-as a result of lack of pesticides they had been forced to “live naturally” (Brooks, 1972). Fact kits were distributed to members of the medical profession (Brooks, 1970; Graham, 1970); one developed by the Nutrition Foundation contained copies of critical book reviews, a defense of chemical pesticides, and a letter from the president of the foundation indicating that the “book was distorted”
Public attitudes and perceptions at that time are reflected in political cartoons that appeared in various newspapers and magazines, and Brooks’ biography of Carson (1972) has an excellent collection. One that appeared in the New Yorker in 1963 depicts a woman standing in front of a display of pesticides in a garden store saying to the salesperson, “Now, don’t sell me anything Rachel Carson wouldn’t buy” (Newsweek, 1963).
CHAPTER 1 Summary
Once there was a town in the United States of America where all living things existed in harmony. Thriving farms surrounded the town and every spring there were fruits and flowers in abundance. When people traveled to the area, they enjoyed a variety of plants.
This was a land that was beautiful in spring and in winter. Suddenly, something happened to make everything start to die. No one could account for the strange kinds of symptoms people, birds, and animals started displaying. Many creatures died. Sometimes children would be outside playing and suddenly they would be stricken with something and die only a few hours later. People wondered what had happened to the birds.
The birds that remained were often so sickly that they couldn’t fly. Chickens still laid eggs, but the eggs didn’t hatch. The apple trees put out blossoms, but no bees came to pollinate them. The countryside that once looked so pretty now looked dry and withered. People noticed a fine, white dust had settled all over the leaves and in the gutters of their houses. The problem with this land didn’t come from witchcraft but from the people themselves.
This is a scene that is only a composite. It never happened all in one place, but each of these events happened somewhere in the United States. This book will try to explain what has silenced the spring of many towns in America.
Rachel Carson begins her book with a scenario of the composite results of chemical poisons in the atmosphere. The tone is a storytelling tone. She begins, “There once was a town . . .” Thus, before Carson begins a non-fictional account of the affects of chemical poisoning on the environment and its creatures, she gives a sort of fictional image of what will happen if things keep going the way they have been. She chooses a small town in the heart of America. She describes the time of spring. She describes what the town was like before the poison and then she describes it after the poison. In this sense, Carson is using a very old narrative framework, the most famous example being the narrative of the fall which is described in the Judeo-Christian Bible.
Before the fall into sin, Adam and Eve enjoyed the garden in complete harmony and bliss. After the fall, they were sent out of the garden and had to work for their food. Rachel Carson uses that very powerful narrative framework to describe the world as it exists in harmony and bliss before the fall into the massive use of poisons in the environment. Before that fall, people came to see the birds, the birds had plenty of various things to eat, children played happily, all the organisms of the earth from plants to insects to people operated in natural harmony. After the fall, things started dying from the bottom up, from insects to plants to people.
CHAPTER 2 – The Obligation to Endure
“The history of life on the earth has been a history of the interaction between living things and their surroundings.” For most of this history, their environment has influenced vegetation and animals. Only recently in history have vegetation and animals influenced the environment. It is primarily people who have caused this change. The change has increased immensely in the past twenty-five years. People have contaminated the environment with dangerous and deadly chemicals.
These poisons can’t be removed once they’ve been put into the earth. For example, Strontium 90 is a chemical that is released when there’s a nuclear explosion. The chemical falls from the sky and lands on the earth where it enters into the chemical make-up of grass, corn, wheat, and other living things. It even enters the bones of human beings and it never leaves.
Other examples are chemicals that are sprayed on crops and forests. They also stay in the soil and enter into living organisms. They pass from one organism to another. They also move in underground streams and then emerge into the air where they kill vegetation and poison animals of all kinds. People don’t know all that they create when they put these chemicals into the atmosphere.
The history of life on the earth is hundreds of millions of years long. Things took that long to get to the balance where they are now. The environment has always contained both harmful and helpful elements. For example, some rocks give out dangerous radiation. Even the sun is dangerous in that it gives out short-wave radiation.
The balance of nature, that which balances the dangerous and the good, happened over many years. In the modern world, though, time is not long like this. Major environmental changes happen in an instant. People have caused this speed up. Now, radiation isn’t just coming from rocks; it’s also coming from scientists tampering with the atom.