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Silent Spring Audio, Cassette – Abridged, March 20, 1999
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Carson's analysis of DDT and other synthetic chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides resulted in a deeply ominous conclusion-pesticides destroy the environment and threaten everything within the ecological system. Carson examined the composition of pesticides, revealing that synthetic pesticides have the ability to not only kill their intended targets, but they also move right up the food chain, eventually reaching the human population. The pesticides then build up in the tissues of the body, rarely breaking down but often building in intensity through continued exposure or changing into forms that are even more toxic by interacting with other ingested chemicals. Even worse, these chemicals cause tremors, paralysis, cancer, and a host of other unpleasant ailments. Carson cites numerous stories about exposed people falling ill and dying shortly after spraying these toxic chemicals. Carson also shows the biological process these poisons take when they enter the body, when they cut off oxygen to the cells and raise the metabolic rate to unhealthy levels. Carson proves these chemicals move on to succeeding generations of offspring through mother's milk and other biological processes.
Most of the book deals with the effects of chemical spraying on wildlife in the environment. Separate chapters deal with birds, insects, fish, and plant life. Needless to say, the picture painted here is not pretty. Too often, spraying chemicals in the 1950's and 1960's brought into play the full ignorance of the human race. Carson's book shows how farmers applied pounds of poisons to their land, far exceeding the recommended application levels. Spray trucks moved through neighborhoods, hosing down the community with poison while the kiddies played outside in the yard. On several occasions, planes sprayed poison on cities. This reckless disregard for life in any form ruined landscapes, created mounds of animal corpses, and gave us tasty water that can melt your teeth.
What is surprising about Carson's book is that people knew all about the effects of these poisons. "Silent Spring" made a difference because it puts it all together, showing how a series of localized incidents is, in fact, a national problem. Carson also wrote her book in a style where even the densest yokels in the herd could figure out the dangers of the problem. Since I am a science idiot, I appreciated Carson's clear articulation of the problem without sacrificing the hard data behind the examples.
Carson delivers a stinging rebuke to our conception of mankind as the dominant force in the universe. If humanity truly rules the roost, so to speak, why are we such idiots about sustaining the very environment that feeds us? The ignorance of man in this book is astounding. Repeatedly, we destroy and destroy again even in the face of overwhelming evidence of the damage we are causing. Local governments kept spraying even when evidence showed it was a failure. Birds literally fell out of the sky while the trucks went out for another pass through the neighborhood. Dumb, dumb, dumb!
"Silent Spring" concludes with a call for sanity. Carson's answer to the insane escalation of chemical spraying is to seek out biological control methods. Many insects have natural enemies that, if introduced into a problem area, will keep down pest populations. Even localized spraying will work better than mass, indiscriminate spraying. Carson argues that biological control methods are increasingly important because insects are building up resistance to pesticides, requiring the creation of even more virulent poisons in a never-ending cycle where nobody wins.
"Silent Spring" is required reading for anyone concerned about the environment. Carson's book led to significant changes in environmental law (some would say not enough change) and resulted in the outright ban of DDT. My only problem with the book is the introduction written by Al Gore, as the publisher marketed the book with that fact in mind. Gore's name seems to merit equal billing with Carson's on the cover. One must remember Al Gore is a politician and is in league with the destroyers because he needs their money to run his expensive campaigns. Carson would be appalled.