Literature: Silent Spring

A book by Rachel Carson, her Magnum Opus, written in 1963. It helped launch the environmental movement as we know it.

The first chapter is a short story parable about a little town that was losing everything good it had — its wildlife, its birds and birdsong, its beauty, its scenery, the health of its people — and had no idea why. It ends with the notice of little white crystals of a herbicide that had just been dropped from a plane over the town...

The most memorable parts of this book are about the horrors of modern chemicals — well, modern for 1963, but some of them are still on the market, and many of them have long half-lives. She describes what they do to nature, what they do to people, and how they are in the end not as effective at what they're supposed to do as the methods used before the chemicals were invented. Other environmental issues also come up — invasive species, for instance.

Highlights include the die-off of robins in the American Midwest, as chronicled in a study on migration and population that started right when the change happened, because chemicals got into the worms that the robins ate; birds and DDT; the tendency for pesticides to kill off the natural predators to the pests more effectively than the pests, which ultimately results in more pests; the extinction of Dutch elms; using herbicides that kill flowers to clear the view for roads when all that would be needed is to cut down trees and scrub; the ease of using, and dying of, dangerous chemicals by accident; and new chemicals spontaneously forming where chemicals have leaked into the water supply.

The final chapter is about how to fix things — though, given the tone of the previous chapters, it's more on how to keep them from getting even worse.

In short, this book is the 1960s literary version of An Inconvenient Truth.

The banning of DDT and its relatives is probably related to this book.