RACHEL CARSON AND ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM
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Many of the quotes peppered throughout this site come from or were inspired by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. The book, a major landmark for the global environmentalism movement, was written in 1962 but after over half a century of inaction and collective amnesia, and as we continue to destroy nature at an alarmingly accelerated rate, its message is more relevant than ever.
It is only now that ecological public health theorists have started to problematise the medical research community's failure to engage in a timely manner with Carson’s pioneering arguments regarding the negative human and environmental health impact of synthetic biocides and related chemicals, as industry’s quest for profit widens further the dislocation between the human and ‘natural’ worlds . Although it is now widely accepted that synthetic chemicals are impacting on both human health and global climate-change in unprecedented ways as reflected in the United Nations’ Environment Programme, serious thought is needed about why it has taken over 60 years for Carson’s views to be taken on board by mainstream science, so that the remaining obstacles towards effecting remedial action might finally be tackled.
It is important to note that similar concerns in the past about various emerging threats from lead poisoning, to cigarette smoke, to climate change itself, were initially dismissed as conspiracy by both industry and the public alike. Although the emerging ecological paradigm of medicine has demonstrated the environmental basis of various stigmatised and hitherto poorly understood chronic illnesses, many of them directly related to pesticide exposure, translating such findings into clinical, legislative and social contexts is a frustratingly slow process, just as the now-established germ theory was originally met with disbelief and hostility. There are multiple economic and political issues at stake here. And against the marked prioritisation of scientific and technological responses to environmental challenges, we should acknowledge also that modern medicine, like environmentalism, is part of a belief system that by regarding humans as disconnected from nature has allowed for the rejection of well-reasoned warnings about the health risks presented by pesticides.
Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society (LMU Munich).
Carson, R. 1962. Silent Spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Genuis, S.J. 2012. What’s Out There Making Us Sick? Journal of Environmental and Public Health 2012, art. no. 605137.
Morris, G. & Saunders, P. 2017. The Environment in Health and Well-being. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Vol. 2017
Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., et al. 2009. Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity. Ecology and Society 14(2): 32.
Steffen, W., Richardson, K., Rockström, J. et al. 2015. Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet. Science 349: 1286–1287.
United Nations. 2019. United Nations Environment Programme, Global Chemicals Outlook II. From Legacies to Innovative Solutions: Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Synthesis Report.
Williams, K. 2007. Historical and Emerging Themes in Parenteral Manufacturing Contamination Control. In: Williams, K. (ed.). Endotoxins: Pyrogens, LAL Testing and Depyrogenation, pp. 1–22, Boca Raton (FL): Taylor & Francis.
"Human activity, including economic activity, is now directly and indirectly driving changes to the ecosystems and planetary processes on which we rely for health, well-being, and existence. For too long, human beings have lived, moved, consumed, and pursued health and well-being as if humankind is distinct and separate from nature rather than integral to it. The consequences of this disconnect for the natural world were graphically expressed by Rachel Carson in the 1960s …. However, developments in science and technology now reveal the true extent of the crisis, its accelerating nature, and its consequences both now and in the medium and longer term."