Commentary: As Silent Spring's 50th anniversary nears, what would Rachel Carson be saying now?

Many people have the impression that climate disruption is the worst environmental problem humanity faces, and indeed, its consequences may be catastrophic. But the spread of toxic chemicals from pole to pole may be the dark horse in the race. We could just pursue business as usual and count on luck to save civilization. Maybe no truly lethal synergies will turn up, or no new chemical will become global before it is discovered to cause cancer. Maybe the poisonings will not collapse ecological systems and bring down civilization. Perhaps advances in molecular biology will neutralize any dangerous new chemicals or cure any serious diseases that appear. And perhaps they won’t. Is it wise to sit by and not take substantial measures? In democracies, the decision rests ultimately with the citizens; I think it is crystal clear what Rachel Carson, author of the 1962 book Silent Spring, would have recommended.



Re-Reading Silent Spring Earth Island Journal

Reading Silent Spring today, it is disquieting to realize how much was already known in 1962 about the environmental health impacts of petrochemicals.

Injection wells: The poison beneath us. Over the past several decades, U.S. industries have injected more than 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid deep into the earth, using broad expanses of the nation's geology as an invisible dumping ground. ProPublica


Rio+50: the long viewBlue & Green Tomorrow

Rio+20 marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, or UNCED) which was staged in the same city.

The event billed as 20 years of global work on sustainable development has, in fact, five decades of heritage from the 1962 book Silent Spring, the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment (the Stockholm Conference), the Club of Rome’s seminal book, The Limits to Growth, of the same year, through to the 1987 Brundtland report. Here, we look at key events that have led to Rio+20...

Fifty Years After Silent Spring, Assault on Science Continues Yale Environment 360

When Silent Spring was published in 1962, author Rachel Carson was subjected to vicious personal assaults that had nothing do with the science or the merits of pesticide use. Those attacks find a troubling parallel today in the campaigns against climate scientists who point to evidence of a rapidly warming world.

by Frank Graham Jr.

Yale Environment 360


Silent Spring -- 50th anniversay - Uncommon Ground 
Fifty years ago today, the New Yorker began a three issue series entitled "Silent Spring" written by Rachel Carson. I don't think I need to introduce Rachel Carson or "Silent Spring" to anyone who reads this blog, but there's a very nice historical perspective on the history of "Silent Spring" at The Pop History Dig. If you're at all interested in Rachel Carson, you owe it to yourself to click through and read it.


If you haven’t read Silent Spring, the 50th anniversary is as good a time as any. Rachel Carson’s message that human health and environmental health are inextricably linked continues to resonate today, and still carries the same urgency that it did in 1962. 
Silent Spring at 50: Connecting human, environmental health Harvard Health Publications (blog)
2010 oil spill in Michigan far larger than official estimates, evidence shows. Almost two years after the spill, oil is still being removed from the Kalamazoo River. The cleanup has been difficult because the line that ruptured was carrying diluted bitumen, a form of oil derived from Canada's oil sands that has defied traditional oil recovery methods. Inside Climate News


Winner of "Get the Lead Out" video competition at www.safecosmetics.org


Scientists consider transgenerational response to toxic chemicals. A series of papers being rolled out this year by Washington State University’s Michael Skinner and researchers from other universities is strengthening findings that toxic exposures and other events have the ability to alter the genes of future generations. Spokane Spokesman-Review, Washington.


Make your yard pesticide-free, bee-friendly habitat. Sign the pledge and map your Pesticide Free Zone.

Actions and Alerts: Bees are still dying. Urge Congress to step up! 

Read more @ Beyondpesticides.org


Rachel Carson's Silent Spring
Rachel Carson's Silent Spring / writer and producer, Neil Goodwin ; a Peace River Films production for The American Experience ; WGBH Educational Foundation, WNET/Thirteen and Peace River Films.
Boston, Mass. : WGBH Boston Video, 2007.
1 DVD ideodisc (56 min.) : sd., col. with b&w sequences ; 4 3/4 in.  

Part of the PBS American Experience collection. American marine biologist Rachel Carson's 1962 book "Silent Spring" caused a firestorm when it exposed the harmful effects of pesticides such as DDT on the animal population and the environment. Not only did the landmark effort remake national policy, it helped launch environmental activism around the world. This fascinating documentary chronicles Carson's life and writings, with Meryl Streep as the voice of Carson.


Happy Birthday Rachel Carson | Ecology Global NetworkRachel Carson: Giving Nature a Voice. Carson's rare ability to combine scientific fact with poetic language reached the hearts and minds of a lay audience.


Epigenetics: Gambling with our future

The "obesity epidemic" is constantly in the news. This year's CDC figures show that 1 in 88 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum. Childhood cancers and neurodevelopmental delays are on the rise.

Scientific studies show that many of these health conditions can be linked to exposures to environmental contaminants such as pesticides, and new research is finding that exposures occurring as far back as three generations can cause adverse health conditions today.

In this latest study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers exposed mice to a single dose of a commonly used fungicide, vinclozolin. The exposure altered the way certain genes were activated, and this change was passed on to future generations of mice — causing many of them to develop mental disorders and obesity.
Study author David Crews explains:
It's as if the exposure three generations before has reprogrammed the brain so it responds in a different way to a life challenge.

Growing evidence, range of effects

This study comes on the heels of earlier research indicating that exposures to toxins found in commonly used pesticides, household chemicals and plastics can cause reproductive damage in successive generations. The field of epigenetics, which studies heritable changes in gene expression, is shining a light on more such examples of diseases which are a result of chemical exposures occurring generations ago.
A recent article in Environmental Health Perspectives states:
Today, a wide variety of illnesses, behaviors and other health indicators already have some level of evidence linking them with epigenetic mechanisms, including cancers of almost all types, cognitive dysfunction, and respiratory, cardiovascular, reproductive, autoimmune and neurobehavioral illnesses.
The known and suspected drivers behind epigenetic processes listed include pesticides, heavy metals and tobacco, among other substances.

Putting future generations at risk

This growing body of evidence is particularly resonant in the case of pesticides and chemicals that persist for decades in the environment. Known as "persistent organic pollutants" or POPs, long-lasting pesticides like DDT and endosulfan have been harming communities across the globe for decades.

Now we understand that the health impacts of these POPs pesticides may be passed on through epigenetic changes to future generations even after these pesticides have degraded and are no longer persistent in the environment. PAN Campaign Coordinator Medha Chandra sees this as yet another reason to shift away from reliance on dangerous pesticides:
This profoundly disturbing knowledge is a call to action. When we protect today's children and communities from pesticide exposure, we are also protecting the health of future generations.


Advocates Continue Battle Against Flame-Retardant Chemicals

After years of failed attempts to regulate flame-retardant chemicals linked to mounting evidence of harm, state legislators and consumer advocates are gearing up to take another look at the risks and benefits. The chemicals have been measured at high levels in some Californians’ bloodstreams and research links some of the firefighting compounds to lower IQ scores among children. While state Sen. Mark Leno, (D-San Francisco), has carried bills that would limit the chemicals’ use in consumer products since 2007, heavily funded chemical companies repeatedly have lobbied against them. Now, a four-part investigation by the Chicago Tribune has exposed disingenuous testimony delivered to California lawmakers and found that the chemicals cause more harm than good.
California Watch Exit NIEHS Website [Author Christina Jewett]
June 1, 2012
Beyond Pesticides is pleased to announce the release of videos from Healthy Communities, the 30th National Pesticide Forum. The forum was held March 30-31, 2012 at Yale University School of Froestry and Environmental Studies in New Haven, CT and included leaders in the fields of pesticide reform, public health, organic agriculture, and alternative pest control as well as many community leaders, local activists, and students. The videos span the range of topics that were discussed at the Forum and include keynote speeches, panel discussions, and workshops. You can access the playlist, which includes all of the available videos of the 2012 forum, on Beyond Pesticides' YouTube page.

Kristi Marsh, CHE Alaska 

Little Changes: How to Avoid Chemicals in Food and Everyday Products, May 30, 2012

Kristi Marsh beat cancer and now inspires others to live cleaner, greener lives. Diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer at age thirty-six, and with three young children at home, Kristi started on a quest to eliminate harmful chemicals from her life and environment. The more she learned and made changes the more she wanted to share that knowledge. She describes her journey and her philosophy in her first book Little Changes: Tales from a Reluctant Home Eco-Momics Pioneer. 

She says “by learning about the products we smother on our skin, foods we devour, and surroundings in which we immerse ourselves, we can find peace, joy, and pride in a healthier home.” Kristi is founder of Choose Wiser, an organization dedicated to educating people about the interaction between environmental toxins and their health, and empowering and encouraging them to raise the bar on the products they purchase and bring into their homes by becoming, savvy, aware consumers. Whether you are new to this journey or well on your way to avoiding contaminants, Kristi's suggestions will inspire you to make little changes that can make a big difference.

Silent Spring

Courtesy Sterling College via Flickr

New Hampshire Public Radio
Fifty years ago, Rachel Carson's book, "Silent Spring", woke the world up to the perils of chemicals that promised food crops free of disease and insects, and time outdoors free of mosquitoes. The book is credited with starting the modern environmental movement. It was the birdwatchers that first alerted the scientists about robins literally falling from the sky soon after DDT was sprayed, as well as longer-term declines in birds higher on the food chain. Rachel Carson cautioned that words like “insecticide,” "herbicide" and "fungicide" suggest that poisons can be targeted precisely at one type of pest. She proposed the word "biocide" instead, to make the point that poisons have a much broader reach and cumulative impacts. Her book stirred up a storm of criticism and personal attack—and became a best seller. 

Rachel Carson combined the discipline of a biologist, sound in her science, with a writing style that inspired many. Her message prevailed. DDT was banned in this country; recovery of peregrine falcons and brown pelicans eventually followed. "Silent Spring" was written at the dawn of the chemical age and chemicals permeate our world far more today, for example, in pharmaceuticals, household cleaners and processed foods.

Anniversaries help us remember events and people who shaped history. This 50th anniversary year for "Silent Spring" has already seen tributes as well as sober assessments of where we are today. The book's title, "Silent Spring", referred to a future without birdsong. In the 50 years since the book was published, birdsong has diminished, so we need to keep paying attention.