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The legacy of 'Silent Spring' page 2
Fifty years after "Silent Spring," let's not roll back environmental protections

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Date published: 10/7/2012

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Carson was initially dismissed contemptuously by most in the scientific community as well. Dr. Robert White-Stevens, a former biochemist and spokesman for the chemical industry during the 1960s, called her "a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature." He warned the public, "If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth."

When reputable scientists rose to defend "Silent Spring," President John F. Kennedy ordered his Science Advisory Committee to investigate. Carson's painstaking research on the presence of DDT throughout the food chain and the health risks it posed to humans as well as wildlife was impossible to refute. Shortly before her death from breast cancer in 1964 at age 56, Carson suggested to the Senate Committee on Commerce that a commission be established to deal with pesticide issues. The Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1970, one year after domestic use of DDT was restricted. On June 14, 1972, it formally banned DDT for agricultural use within the United States. The rest of the world followed suit at the Stockholm Convention in 2001.

Today, Carson's emphasis on the interconnectedness of all life is no longer dismissed as feminine sentimentality but accepted as scientific reality. Through her lyrical writing and sound science, Carson made the public aware that the efforts to manipulate and control nature can have ultimately detrimental effects. A Book-of-the-Month-Club selection and New York Times best-seller, "Silent Spring" inspired scientists around the world and played a major role in launching the global environmental movement. Still in print, it remains a powerful testament to what one person, through one book, can do to change the world stands.

"Silent Spring" also serves as a compelling refutation of efforts to undercut the EPA and bring back DDT.


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HAVE THE LESSONS OF RACHEL CARSON'S BOOK TAKEN HOLD?

Nancy C. Unger is associate professor of history at Santa Clara University. Her new book is "Beyond Nature's Housekeepers: American Women in Environmental History" (Oxford University Press, 2012). She wrote this for the History News Service.