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James Jarvis                             HI796Why was the chemical industry so fearful of Rachel Carson?Rachel Carson, aut...
James Jarvis                                                 HI796she soon showed an interest in natural sciences of which...
James Jarvis                                                 HI796first published in a serialized form for the New Yorker ...
James Jarvis                                              HI796conjured the „fear of the end of the world‟ and thus placed...
James Jarvis                                             HI796as to do an outline of the possible symptoms of radiation, a...
James Jarvis                                            HI796potential forty percent loss that the chemical industry faced...
James Jarvis                                              HI796attacks on an industry which she accused of denying any env...
James Jarvis                                                HI796expected.34 Other terms used against Carson was that she ...
James Jarvis                            HI796BIBLIOGRAPHYRachel Carson, Introduction by Linda Lear, Silent Spring (New Yor...
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Silent Spring: Rachel Carson's impact on the chemical industry

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Silent Spring (1962) was on of the defining books of the twentieth century, a title that brought light the dangers that agribusiness placed on the environment through the national use of insecticides a business that generated $300 million. What made Carson's work important, was the fact that it was written with the general public in mind rather than filling the paper with technical jargon. This enabled her voice to reach a wider audience, but in doing so it raised issues of validity, and issues of sexism. One of the tactics used by the pesticide industry was to label Carson as confused 'spinster'. The industry was definitely wary of her affect, as she emerged at a time when environmentalism reached a mainstream level.

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Silent Spring: Rachel Carson's impact on the chemical industry

  1. 1. James Jarvis HI796Why was the chemical industry so fearful of Rachel Carson?Rachel Carson, author of possibly the most influential piece ofenvironmental literature in the twentieth century and a product of its timefrom the 1960s. Through Silent Spring – published in book form in 1962 -Carson not only informed the public about the ills of general insecticides usewithin the environment, she took it upon herself to challenge the big enginesof American infrastructure; the chemical industry, along with agribusiness,academic researchers and governmental agencies. The chemical industrywas right to be fearful, their practices and credentials were under threat. Byaiming her writing style for an audience without strong scientific knowledge,Carson was able to broaden her influence beyond the scientific base, whichin turn enabled her to widen her net of mobilised readers. This thesis will analyse key aspects of Rachel Carson‟s affiliation to thechemical industry. A basic outline of Carson‟s professional background willdisplayed in order to understand what made Carson important, not only asan astute researcher but also her role in a male dominated field. Keyaspects are the push for a “balance” in nature and her gifts as a writerwhich allowed her to become a celebrity author. The document in question, Silent Spring, will be analysed from a literaland cultural perspective to portray why it had so much impact on a massaudience during a time of cultural unrest of the Cold War era. Silent Springwas literally unique through Rachel Carson‟s interweave of comprehensivescientific fact, first-hand accounts, and vivid imagery which is evident insidethe introductory chapter “A Fable for Tomorrow”. The reason as to why the chemical industry was so fearful about RachelCarson is significantly down to what they stood too loose or at least whatthey perceived to loose. The three main subjects at risk were loss of salesrevenue, increased governmental regulation, and, most importantly,credibility of a professional and moral issue. The strategy and insistency of the counterattacks levelled against Carsonwere representative of the apprehension on the part of the chemicalindustry. This was understandable. However, what is of concern was theapparent sexist nature of the antagonism directed at Rachel Carson.Examples of these counterattacks will be explored. To finish, a relevant outline of Silent Spring’s legacy will be defined. Howexactly it helped to bring about changes within the infrastructure of thechemical industry, policy introductions, and its influence over bringing theenvironmentalist movement in to the mainstream. Rachel Carson can essentially be described as an author first and biologistsecond, and that is the formula of her success. Born in Pennsylvania on22nd May, 1907, Carson showed a talent for writing even at a young age and 1
  2. 2. James Jarvis HI796she soon showed an interest in natural sciences of which her career focusedupon.1 Carson graduated from the Pennsylvania College for Women in 1928which is the foundation of her educational credentials. She later achieved amaster‟s degree in zoology and taught at John Hopkins and the University ofMaryland. Finding work with a position with in the U.S. Bureau of Fishers,now named the Fish and Wildlife Service, and brief work in the bureau‟s warinformation office in Chicago, Carson combined her two interests as shewrote articles and short publications for a scientific field. She eventuallyworked herself to the position of editor in chief.2 Being employed for scientific governmental agencies would prove to be themost fundamental part of Carson‟s strength against counterattacks from hertargets. It provided her with a strong base for defending her credentials bydemonstrating knowledge and experience in a respectable workingenvironment. Since it would turn out that the practices of governmentagencies was one of her targets of Silent Spring. Prior to the landmark literature, Rachel Carson published two books thatpropelled her in to the public eye. The first, The Sea Around Us (1951),afforded her the gravitas in the literally field. A book that discussed the seaand its life became an instant best-seller.3 The title won the National BookAward for non-fiction and Carson was received in to the Academy of Artsand letters.4 The revenues from The Sea Around US afforded her thefinancial security to pursue her writing full-time and hence resign from Fishand Wildlife. Carson‟s next book, and second best-seller, The Edge of theSea (1955) secured her position as a celebrity author of the non-fictiongenre.5 Her prior professional successes and prestige have been integral inaffording her the backing of reputable publishers, serialization in the NewYorker and Houghton Mifflin, since her next work provided a controversialstorm that was inevitably going to attack not only the title in question butCarson herself. Silent Spring focuses on Rachel Carson‟s concern for the future of theenvironment under threat by the universal application of insecticides,especially dichloro-dephenyl-trichloro-ethane (DDT). In reading SilentSpring it is apparent that Carson‟s use of prose is extremely skilled. A keyand concurrent aspect of the title is the handling of factual informationwhile at the same time avoiding alienating neither the general readershipnor the scientific association. Accessibility is the big theme of this title, at1 Linda Lear, ‘Introduction’, Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (New York: First Mariner Books, 2002) pp xi-xii2 Priscilla Coit Murphy, What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring (Amherst:University of Massachusetts Press, 2001) p 203 Ibid., p 234 Linda Lear, ‘Introduction’, Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (New York: First Mariner Books, 2002) p xiv5 Priscilla Coit Murphy, What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring, p 23 2
  3. 3. James Jarvis HI796first published in a serialized form for the New Yorker and adding sources inits book form. Ultimately the aim, or „mission‟ as it can otherwise be called, of SilentSpring was to first inform the public of the environmental dangers andhuman costs of insecticide use while at the same time exposing theirresponsible and indiscriminate practices and polices of the chemicalindustry unchecked by government agencies, agribusiness and academicresearchers.6 Rachel Carson also criticised the American capitalism in towhat she saw as the reason behind pointless overproduction.7 Second,Carson looked to bring into question the nature of human behaviour insidethe framework of naturalised environments. The final aspect of Silent Springwas to mobilise the public by influencing their attitudes towards insecticideproducts and therefore strive towards maintaining a “balanced”environment.8 It is these aims that the chemical industry found Rachel Carson to be athreat of the highest magnitude. However, these aims can only have thehighest potential if portrayed in a successful framework of writing skills ofthe highest order while providing accomplished scientific knowledge toeffectively persuader her audience. In referencing Lawrence Buell‟s work about techniques for effectiveenvironmental literature, it is evident that Rachel Carson had used whatBuell described as environmental imagination; an effective method to„reconnect‟ readers to nature through attitudes, feelings, images, andnarratives.9 Silent Spring opens with these elements in her introductiontitled „A Fable for Tomorrow‟. The metaphors used evoked strong imagerythat directly related to those fairy tale stories of old. Starting off by paintingan idyllic scene, “THERE WAS ONCE a town in the heart of America whereall life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings”, Carson then usesterms such as “evil spell” and “witchcraft” before ending with the poignantsentence “The people had done it themselves” when referring to the silenceof nature.10 As Killingsworth and Palmer observed, Rachel Carson explicitly used such„apocalyptic narrative‟ as a form of shock tactic technique in order to elevatethe problem at hand in the readers‟ minds. What Carson did with „A Fablefor Tomorrow‟ was not to paint a picture of the present but a futurescenario, a worse case scenario where agriculture died, human illnesses,and sudden unexplained deaths. Throughout the book the language6 Priscilla Coit Murphy, What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring, pp 1, 297 Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (New York: First Mariner Books, 2002) p 8-98 Priscilla Coit Murphy, What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring, pp 1, 20-329 Lawrence Buell, Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment In the U.S. andBeyond (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001) pp 1-210 Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, pp 1-3 3
  4. 4. James Jarvis HI796conjured the „fear of the end of the world‟ and thus placed urgency to themasses in what could have been a stale and wholly academic writing.11 However, it is wrong to wholly summarise Silent Spring due to theinterpretation of the introducing chapter. Rachel Carson reigned in hercreative ability and focused on the matter at hand: to develop a persuadingcase study of the highest quality while at the same time maintainingcredibility. Not blighted with an exclusive scientific discourse, Silent Springexplained, with accessibility, the problems relating to DDT throughnumerous principle sources. Priscilla Coit Murphy considered the fifty-fivepages of reference material provided Carson the legitimating needed for herargument.12 It made it much harder for to centre counterattacks on acollective than an individual. Among the sources, however, was the efficient use of personal accounts inorder to maintain a human connection to the reader was used liberallythroughout Silent Spring. For instance in the chapter „And No Birds Sing‟ ahousewife‟s letter was quoted in order to illustrate the despair of thesituation, as “After several years of DDT spray, the town is almost devoid of[prior abundance of] robins and starlings”.13 Personal accounts helped toprovide an „environmental awakening‟ for readers in a physical environmentthat has increasingly been composed by geopolitics, technology, andcapital.14 It is clear that Silent Spring had a rhythm of an investigative, journalisticstyle.15 The framework seemed to set a pattern starting with anecdotes anddramatic themes such as “[man] has written a depressing record ofdestruction”. Then it is supported in the middle through a charge of sourcematerial and accuracy before concluding with some form of philosophicalcommentary, “Confusion, delusions, loss of memory, mania – a heavy priceto pay”.16 Each chapter in this book followed the format of drama, fact, andphilosophy.17 Rachel Carson indeed used contemporary topics in order to arousesignificant and relating attitudes. In part with the „apocalyptic narrative‟ theconstant reference to the Cold War was used, in particularly the radioactivecompound Strontium 90 that was an integral part of the controversialatomic bomb tests in Nevada and New Mexico. In fact, Carson went so far11 Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline S. Palmer, ‘Millennial Ecology: The Apocalyptic Narrative from SilentSpring to Global Warming’, Carl G. Herndl and Stuart C. Brown (eds.), Green Culture: Environmental Rhetoric inContemporary America (Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1996) pp 4912 Priscilla Coit Murphy, What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring, pp 1, 2913 Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, p 10314 Lawrence Buell, Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment In the U.S. andBeyond, pp 5, 1815 Priscilla Coit Murphy, What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring, p 1016 Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, pp 85, 19817 Priscilla Coit Murphy, What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring, p 10 4
  5. 5. James Jarvis HI796as to do an outline of the possible symptoms of radiation, a “cell uncoupler”for one and off course cancer. Another Cold War theme found in SilentSpring is the sense of “escalation”. It directly relates to the Arms Race thatsaw the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. trying to best each other with weapons ofdangerous potential. The escalation of DDT to combat evolving pests isdeemed by Carson as “a central problem equal to nuclear extinction”.18 Inassociating the anxious consciousness towards atomic energy, the bookeffectively translated those concerns to the emerging world of chemicals. Through a meticulous writing style Carson had managed to bring aboutthe message of insecticide as a dangerous agent in nature‟s environment.However, Silent Spring was somewhat fortuitous since it had the advantageof emerging during a tumultuous time in American history, namely theCultural Revolution. The notion that humanity would be better served livingin “simpler circumstances” emerged. For the first time, a universal concernfor the consequences of human activity found itself in scholarly discourseand popular culture during the 1960s. Environmentalism as a movementamassed momentum that eventually took form in cultural protests.Environmental costs had succeeded in entering mainstream politics.19Other noted works that was published during this decade were PaulEhrlich‟s Population Bomb and The Tragedy of the Commons by GarrettHarding, both published in 1968. It would be foolish to suggest that Silent Spring started the EnvironmentalMovement of the 1960s, however it is not a stretch to propose that the bookdid accentuate it or at the very least helped bring it into the limelight. Afterall, like Rachel Carson‟s The Sea Around Us, Silent Spring created a “nationalsensation” and made cemented her place as a literally celebrity.20 Nationalsuccess coupled with her aims, the accessibility of her writing, numeroussources to highlight her credentials, and the fact it arrived on the cusp ofthe Cultural Revolution that saw many changes that fractured theconservative order in America, the chemical industry had much to fear andloose. The first risk for the chemical industry, and the least, was the potentialloss in sales revenues from the often-quoted “$300-million pesticidebusiness”. The fact of the matter was, that there were no good alternativefrom the established commercial agricultural pesticides. Over sixty percentof retails sales went to famers, an established base for which the industryhad secure revenue from and on a mass stock, even if individual homeowners decided to avoid purchasing the pesticides. However, there is still a18 Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, pp 8, 203, 23419 Hal k. Rothman, The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States Since 1945 (New York:Harcourt Brace & Company, 1988) pp 83-520 Ibid., p 88 5
  6. 6. James Jarvis HI796potential forty percent loss that the chemical industry faced when SilentSpring still appeared.21 A second risk that the chemical industry faced was the possible loss ofmillions in revenue from government programs. The amount of governmentpurchases was never stated due to the unpredictability of the programs thatwere subject to bids. Nevertheless, government expenses would haverepresented a fair portion of the estimated chemical use which was with inthe region of $700 million and $1 billion per year. 22 The third risk was worries over the loss of prestige and credibility sincethe chemical industry portrayed itself as the parties which were concernedwith public welfare. If pesticides were to be banned then the high regard ofan established sector would be at endangered.23 This is in turn related tothe era of the 1960s antiestablishment and therefore brought a sense ofreality to these beliefs among the hierarchy of the chemical industry. However, the greatest risk to the industry was the presumption ofincreased oversight, control, and regulation from outside the borders of thechemical industry and its friendly governmental agencies. The potential fornew regulations was forecasted to be more costly than the decline ofrevenues and loss of public relation legitimacy. The concern was thatlegislation could become so restrictive that it would take the profit out ofresearch efforts into new products.24 These four risks that concerned the chemical industry justified thereefforts in counterattack Silent Spring through costly public-relationexpenditures in order to preserve there commercial standing in Americanagriculture. The campaign can essentially be split into two camps; first, tocriticise the book in terms of content and research and, second, to discreditRachel Carson‟s character. The industry spent over a quarter of a milliondollars in order to win the fight against Silent Spring, thus representing theirfears in their actions. A logical assessment of Silent Spring was that it was wholly biased andpresented only one case rather than formulating the apparent advantages ofsynthetic pesticides.25 The chemical industry‟s official approach was toproceed in the „positive offensive‟ avenue by lauding the benefits andnecessity of pesticide use, proclaiming its safety, and reassuring the publicthat research was thorough.26 This is a direct challenge to one of Carson‟s21 Priscilla Coit Murphy, What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring, p 9622 Ibid., p 96-723 Ibid., p 9724 Ibid., p 9825 Hal k. Rothman, The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States Since 1945, p 8826 Priscilla Coit Murphy, What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring, p 99 6
  7. 7. James Jarvis HI796attacks on an industry which she accused of denying any environmentallosses and only dealing with half-truths.27 The booklet, Fact and Fancy, by the National Agricultural ChemicalsAssociation (NACA) claimed that Silent Spring was grounded only inaccusations without fact.28 A parody of the chapter „A Fable for Tomorrow‟was released by Monsanto, titled The Desolate Year used the „apocalypticnarrative‟ technique in its favour to give disturbing imagery of a worldwithout insecticides.29 The method of Carson‟s approach to scientific material was also inquestion with criticisms that a book about science should be targeted to anaudience of the scientific field. Federick Stare put forward the idea that“Miss Carson writes with passion and with beauty, but with very littlescientific detachment”.30 Essentially Silent Spring could be deemed to littlemore than propaganda. Another criticism levelled at Rachel Carson was thequestionable use of numerous sources. Her critics provided the idea thatshe was „name-dropping‟ in order to divert attention away from her lack ofscientific validity.31 The book seemed to depend too much on informantsrather than Carson‟s own research.32 Yet when sources were checked a newclaim emerged, the sources were out-of-date and did not represent themodifications that have developed since publication. Another counter attack approach by the chemical industry, as mentioned,was to discredit Rachel Carson as a person, yet such criticisms were sexistin nature. The gendered language used represented the times where womenwere seen to be „innately more connected to the natural world‟. All attacks,from trade journals to popular news magazines such as Chemical andEngineering and Time, respectively, were almost all written by men. Theywere suspicious of Carson who was an independent scholar who approachedthe scientific field in an unaccustomed way, namely targeting a massaudience.33 Michael B. Smith highlighted the most sexist review of Silent Springappeared in the Chemical and Engineering News magazine in October 1962.William Darby‟s, “Silence Miss Carson!” said that Rachel Carson “was auniformed woman was speaking of that which she knew not”, she wasvoicing her opinions in a „man‟s world‟ and that female silence was27 Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, pp 8628 Priscilla Coit Murphy, What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring, p 9929 ‘The Desolate Year’, Monsanto Magazine (October 1962) pp 4-930 Frederick J. Stare, ‘Some Comments on Silent Spring’, Nutrition Reviews (January 1963) p 131 Priscilla Coit Murphy, What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring, p 10432 Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline S. Palmer, ‘Millennial Ecology: The Apocalyptic Narrative from SilentSpring to Global Warming’, Carl G. Herndl and Stuart C. Brown (eds.), Green Culture: Environmental Rhetoric inContemporary America, p 3133 Michael B. Smith, ‘“Silence Miss Carson” Science, Gender, and the reception of “Silent Spring”’, FeministStudies, Vol.27, No.3 (Autumn, 2001) p 735 7
  8. 8. James Jarvis HI796expected.34 Other terms used against Carson was that she was a womanout of control, a “spinster”, and hysterical.35 Despite her detractors, Silent Spring and Rachel Carson had anachievement and a legacy that will be associated, despite how brief theinfluence was. President John F. Kennedy investigated Carson‟s claims assoon as he read her thesis, in particularly the subjected residents of aerialspraying, which in turn cumulated in the eventual domestic ban of DDTproduction six years after Carson‟s death in 1964.36 Readers werecompelled to write letters in their numbers, Carson had succeeded in heraim to mobilise the public.37 Initially environmentalism experienced a boomin mainstream politics at the turn of the 1970s with numerous legislations;such as the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act, the 1972 WaterPollution Control Act, and the 1976 Toxic Substances Act. However, by theend of the 1970s, environmentalists faced a hostile mainstream culture andwere labelled as pathological crisis-mongers, apocalypse abusers, and falseprophets.38 Fundamentally, despite decades of awareness and environmental proteststhe reduction of the use of pesticides has still yet to take effect. Therefore,in the bigger picture it could be deemed that the appropriate fears towardsRachel Carson by the chemical industry were ultimately a false one.Nonetheless, it is integral to recognise the enormity that one person hadsucceeded an individual who dared to face the corporate world and createdenough leeway to influence initial changes.34 Michael B. Smith, ‘“Silence Miss Carson” Science, Gender, and the reception of “Silent Spring”’, FeministStudies, p 73835 Linda Lear, ‘Introduction’, Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (New York: First Mariner Books, 2002) p xiv, xvii36 Ibid., xvii-iii37 Priscilla Coit Murphy, What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring, p 9938 Federick Buell, From Apocalypse to Way of Life: Environmental Crisis in the American Century (New York:Routledge, 2004) p 10, 34 8
  9. 9. James Jarvis HI796BIBLIOGRAPHYRachel Carson, Introduction by Linda Lear, Silent Spring (New York: First Mariner Books, 2002).Priscilla Coit Murphy, What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001).Lawrence Buell, Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment In the U.S. and Beyond (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001).Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline S. Palmer, „Millennial Ecology: The Apocalyptic Narrative from Silent Spring to Global Warming‟, Carl G. Herndl and Stuart C. Brown (eds.), Green Culture: Environmental Rhetoric in Contemporary America (Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1996).John M. Steadman, „Chaucer‟s Eagle: A Contemplative Symbol‟, PMLA, Vol. 75, No.3 (June 1960) pp 153-59.Hal k. Rothman, The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States Since 1945 (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1988).„The Desolate Year‟, Monsanto Magazine (October 1962).Frederick J. Stare, „Some Comments on Silent Spring‟, Nutrition Reviews (January 1963) 1-4Michael B. Smith, „“Silence Miss Carson” Science, Gender, and the reception of “Silent Spring”‟, Feminist Studies, Vol.27, No.3 (Autumn, 2001) 733- 752.Federick Buell, From Apocalypse to Way of Life: Environmental Crisis in the American Century (New York: Routledge, 2004). 9

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