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A Silent Spring by Rachel Carson Essay

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Updated: Jan 5th, 2022


Louise Rachel Carson is widely remembered as a nature writer and a biologist for the United States of America. She is nowadays known as the major credit towards a global movement for the environment. This book; Silent Spring, was as a result her turning attention towards problems to the environment attributed due to synthetic pesticides and also just as a result of being attentive to the environment. The book resulted into bringing to attention concerns about the environment to many Americans. Being first issued in 1962, Silent Spring has been accredited with spurring reversal in the policy of pesticides in America to extend that many pesticides including DDT had been banned from usage. The publication of this book also led to the formation of EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). By the time of her death from cancer of the breast only 18 months after publication of this book, she had been awarded a freedom medal by the president and indeed a revolution to fight against use of pesticides had been created.

Summary of the Book

This book by Carson is started with a small fictional tale of a town in America which has suffered plagues in series. At the end of the first chapter the write does acknowledge that she was writing of an imaginary town but on the contrary, each catastrophe that had been cataloged had already occurred somewhere. Therefore it is fact that communities that are real had suffered already a good number of these catastrophes.

In chapter two, the writer identifies the sources of the ills in the first chapter. These ills are proliferating averagely at about 500 per year. Unfortunately, their massive quantities are virtually applied everywhere. They most importantly had both long and short-term consequences on wildlife, animals and plants. The high danger represented by these substances through an analogy that surface over severally. She equates pesticides to radiations of atomic nature. This is because there are invisible although they bear deadly effects they are known to only manifest after a delayed period if time.

Chapter 3 of this book further tells us of how destructive the new pesticides are. With slower decomposition rate and greater potency, these new pesticides are actually more dangerous than the ones before them. The new pesticides have actually a tendency of being fatty tissue concentrated the write clarifies to us that a danger might be constituted by toxins through their small doses accumulation in bodies. Also the propensity carried by such substances tends to concentrate on moving up along food chains.

The high life interconnectedness of the 3 systems of biology is stressed up to the 6th chapter from 4th and 5th chapters. These 3 biological systems are plants, water systems and lastly those found on soil. The difficulty of containing water due to its interconnectivity and fluidity is vividly discussed by the writer. She clearly points out the fact that though it may be unintended, runoffs that are as a result of spraying on agriculture in conjunction with other poisons are introduced into the supply of water. This occurs directly on ground water almost everywhere thus making this water intoxicated. Since there was no conventional method or screen new chemicals that were constantly being pumped into water sources, the writer worries about the problems full extent.

The reactions taking place among the contaminant individually sometimes seems to pause the greater danger and threat to biological life. The real danger is however the fact that the newly formed substances being new to the people caring out tests on the water might go un-noticed for a long time and might only be noticed on reaction by some biological life.

Life cycle of ecosystems based in the soil is explained in chapter 5. This process as it ought to be is that of soil producing healthy plant life. The process of the plant withering and dying later on that is so natural is followed by the plants’ decay. After this plant has been thoroughly broken down, the vitality of the soil is naturally restored. However, the “evil” pesticides produced by man seem to threaten this dynamic which ultimately supports even organisms higher up especially those that depend on plants for food. Fundamentally, an applied insecticide would do more than just kill a particular insect that seems to be damaging a crop; it in fact kills everything in the long run. This is so from the fact that soil microbial life is also depleted due to insecticides actions hence cutting short the cycle of enrichment. This has lead to the need of producing more chemical fertilizers year after year.

Shifting focus to herbicides from insecticides, the writer is amazed by the deception of industries that produce chemicals. It seems to be heartbreaking to the writer to note that ill-informed authorities who manage the spending of huge amounts of hard earned taxpayers’ money are doing so to the later regret of everyone. The ecosystem is seemed to be undermined as they try to ultimately eradicate species that are considered a nuisance without the slightest conviction that they are creating an imbalance.

Up to chapter 17, this book seems to have urged the unexamined and uncontrolled use of pesticides that were very detrimental. Their effects were being felt through the death of animals, birds and sadly even humans. This title “Silent Spring” seems to have been used to evoke a season of spring whereby there would be no birds left to sing their beautiful songs since they would have been killed due to the abuse in use of pesticides. This title seems to have been inspired by Keats poem “La Belle Dame sans Merci” in which he speaks of a withered sedge that had no singing birds.


One of the major themes discussed in this book is the science behind the pesticides and their ultimate effects. The dangers that are portrayed by these chemicals are so great to extend that they can disrupt the processes that undergo biologically. The write must have had a lot of passion on these matters that she was writing about from the understanding that she portrayed from here writing. Evidently, so as to have any kind of know how of the effects by substances like dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) or malathion, one needs to examine their effects up closely and do thorough research on them. This seems to have been done by the writer right from reading her book.

Effects of Chemicals

Carson believed that insecticides were destroying a lot more than just weeds and bugs. These indiscriminate killer abilities were able to destroy both humans other animals and plants. DDT for example had majorly affected birds. In her book she gives an example in the state University of Michigan. While they were attempting to fight the disease of Dutch elm, the campus sprayed DDT. Unknown to the respective authorities in charge was the fact that the poison that settled on leaves found its way to the ground. DDT concentration found its way into the earthworms once they ate the leaves. Robins on the other hand that used to flock the campus ate the earthworms which now had a more concentrated dosage of DDT. The repercussions were that they all either died or became impotence hence drastically reducing their numbers.

Her dislike use of insecticides is shown in an example where instead of killing the intended bugs, their population tends to achieve the exact opposite. An effort of eradicating gypsy moth through aerial spraying in 1957 in Long Island is shown to have produces drastic deprecations. There was wide spread death of birds, fish, plants, some useful insects and bees. This was more disappointing to the people from the fact that the targeted moths later repapered in huge numbers. Carson therefore tries to let us know that chemicals can also work against us i.e. instead of killing the intended species; they can instead kill off their predators allowing them a chance to quickly and without much effort rebuild their numbers.

Alternatives to Use of Chemicals

The writes of this book offers alternative means of killing off the unwanted species naturally. One such way was the use of predators to control the population of unwanted species. Gypsy moths for example after being established in England, there was importation of 13 predators which managed to keep their population checked. She also offered the use of natural disease. One such example was the discovery of a disease that seemed to only affect a species of a Japanese beetle. When this disease; milky disease was introduced, it worked very well i.e. up to 94 % in the Eastern United States. Most importantly however was the fact that no control whatsoever was needed since its viability remained in the soil yearly thus becoming established permanently. It became effective and was continuously being spread effortlessly through natural means.

The writer offered a last alternative to use of chemicals through sterilization. This was to be done through mass sterilization of males of the unwanted insects or any given species. These sterile males would then be released to compete against the other males. This would eventually lead to a dying out of the species. Though this method was still in the testing stage at the time of writing her book, it is documented to have produced amazingly positive outcomes with the screw worms.

Generally, the writer is not advocating for the allowance to life of insects that are known to cause disease, rather just like everybody else, the advocates for their elimination. However she prefers the use of non chemical procedures to perform their eradication so as to avoid doing harm to other innocent species in the ecosystem. She indeed points out the fact that by use of DDT, more harm than good is done.

Relevance to the Now Society

Generally, if Carson had not written about the harms being done to the environment by use of DDT, it might have been still in the use up to today. This would have rendered many insects to be resistant to DDT and thus completely making it ineffective. The writers’ message about the effects of pesticides to humans is still being felt especially in places with continued use of pesticides. It is no surprise that research nowadays links the prolonged usage of pesticides with the development of cancer of the breast in women.

It is in my view that this book was well written and came just at the right time to save man from destroying himself. As much as the ecosystem gives dominance to humans to control all that dwells in it, we ought to sincerely find methods that are friendlier to the ecosystem for the better of generations who are going to come after us. Let us find better methods as discussed by this writer so that we may not end up perishing due to lack of knowledge and due to creed. It is of my view that this book indeed contains fundamental truths about the human race which are truly timeless.


This book was more of a humanitarian plea not to destroy oneself and it does so through comprehensive examples. It is a good book in which the writer did her research well and caused the world to take as top and think of where it was going. Although evidently the crisis pertaining to the environment has only grown worse with industrialized nations producing and exporting massive amounts of chemicals to other nations, we ought to realize that as explained in the “Silent Spring”, science has no boundaries and eventually ecological imbalance anywhere will affect everywhere sooner or later.

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