There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example where had they gone? Many people spoke of them, puzzled and disturbed. The feeding stations in the backyards were deserted. The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.
The above is an excerpt from the opening page of Rachel Carson’s world-altering publication, “Silent Spring.”
A marine biologist and conservationist born on a Pennsylvania farm in 1907, Rachel wrote “Silent Spring” in 1962 as a major shout out to the world about the damage being done to the planet. She urged her readers to band together and convince the government to ban DDT.
DDT is an insecticide used in the United States from 1874 to 1972. It was primarily used by farmers to keep insects from destroying crops. It was also used by the U.S. government during WW2 to control outbreaks of malaria, typhus, body lice and the bubonic plague. DDT did a great job of pest and disease control, but at a huge cost. Much of its victims were vital links in the food chain. Fewer insects meant fewer nourished birds.
Rachel foresaw the damage caused by the missing link. Fewer birds meant quieter springs. No birds meant Silent Spring.
Rachel could not stay silent.
Her advocacy led to a grassroots environmental effort that eventually evolved into the United States Environmental Protection Agency. It also led to the ban of DDT, a move in 1972 that angered farmers at first, but one we’ve all learned to adjust quite well to, especially the birds.
Attend any conservation and/or natural resource meeting in the United States and I promise you will hear Rachel Carson’s work being cited. She singlehandedly changed national policy and made the world aware of how delicate our natural surroundings are. It is because of Rachel Carson that we celebrate Earth Day every April 22.
BTW, DDT is still manufactured in the United States and it is sold to other countries in Asia. Africa and South America, where spraying crops is still a regular practice. It can only be used in the U.S. for public health emergencies. We are not sure how its use elsewhere will impact us here, but we do not think it will be beneficial.
As Rachel Carson’s work gained momentum, she became physically weaker. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sadly, she suffered a fatal heart attack in April 1964. President Jimmy Carter awarded her posthumously the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Being an indoor cat, I do not get to celebrate Earth Day in the great outdoors, but I hope you get outside today and enjoy the Earth.