Thursday, April 4, 2013

Silent Spring: Unraveling the Web of Life

By Brittany Ryan

Rachel Carson’s revolutionary work identified the dangers tied to the use of insecticides, pesticides, and herbicides, and provided a powerful force behind the environmental movement. Prior to her publication of Silent Spring, environmental policy was largely nonexistent; her research launched ecological awareness nearer to the top of political concern.

Beyond this, a greater message is conveyed through her investigative book. Although specifically about the use of biocides, her common thread of interconnectivity throughout the chapters remains relevant to all environmental issues. This is what I find most enchanting about Silent Spring.

Carson highlighted the trickling effects biocide use has on water resources, soils, vegetation, animal species, air quality, and mankind. In doing so, she revealed the cumulative impacts a chemical application could have. Many trusted and continue to trust the use of biocides as a form of control of a particular species, failing to acknowledge the adverse complications that spraying chemicals could cause.

Soil is the mother of resources; without soil there is no life and without life there is no good soil, she noted. For the next twelve years after an application, chemicals are absorbed by the microorganisms that sustain the fertility of the earth’s crust. Thus, life cycles and natural balances are interrupted. The vegetation that grows from the soil now carries these toxins through their systems, which increase nitrate levels, attracting more pests that feed on the more succulent roots and stems. The worms that help loosen the earth for plant roots to stretch deep into the soil recycle the plant matter that falls from tree branches. Their bodies become tainted with these chemicals and when the birds fly down to feed they, too, ingest concentrated levels of fungicides.

So when man ignorantly believed he could eradicate the Dutch Elm fungus, he failed to consider the descending impacts this would leave further down the food chain. From this, Robin populations died off from ingesting worms that fed on leaves soaked in DDT. In an unsuccessful attempt to eliminate the gypsy moth, aerial spraying of DDT poisoned the grasses on which cows fed, and was passed through their mammary organs that produce the very milk Americans enjoy.

And while many carelessly brush off the detrimental effects to the environment, not realizing the interconnected system we are a part of, they brush off the same consequences mankind is faced with. As Carson states, “Man, however, much he may like to pretend the contrary, is part of nature. Can he escape a pollution that is now so thoroughly distributed throughout our world?”

In the creation of these biocides, man could not have foreseen all the astronomical damages threatening all aspects of life. But he could have carefully analyzed potential hazards prior to expansive use. Instead, these toxins that we learn more about continuously prove their ubiquity and tenacity. Carson thoroughly encompasses the theme of interconnectivity when she declares:
The earth’s vegetation is part of a web of life in which there are intimate and essential relations between plants and the earth, between plants and other plants, between plants and animals. Sometimes we have no choice but to disturb these relationships, but we should do so thoughtfully, with full awareness that what we do may have consequences remote in time and place.

    There is a delicate balance that stabilizes the earth’s processes, and any form of disruption on one element is felt by all the other components. Man and nature are not separate entities, but a united balance requiring equal attention and stewardship. Carson not only opened eyes to the destructive use of biocides, but she also explained the interconnectivity on Earth, regardless if mankind chooses to acknowledge it or not.

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