Death and Taxes
The Ides of March and tax day are both suitably grim holidays to lead us into this week’s readings. Chapters 12-14 in Silent Spring explore (some would claim speculate upon) the impacts of pesticides on human health. In these three chapters Carson walks the reader through the various physiological pathways through which our bodies might be poisoned by chemical contaminants. A rich and chilling section of the book, it almost certainly helped open up the modern age of chemical contaminant research and, at least indirectly, led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
In rereading this section two elements and questions arise in my mind.
1) Is it necessary to draw the reader back to the “human impact” of pesticides to arouse interest? That is, if Silent Spring had only been about dead robins and poisoned fish would it have aroused the same level of popular interest? Are we an inherently narcissistic species whose attention can only be sustained when the consequences are personal? I would suggest the answer to this question may have serious implications for the environmental movement.
2) How much of our interest in Silent Spring derives from Carson’s poignant biography? Most readers know that by the time Silent Spring was published Carson was already seriously ill with the cancer that would eventually kill her. It is this melding of the biographical and ecological that makes these three chapters especially moving and grave. I doubt only the most cold-hearted reader could finish Carson’s chapter “One in Four” without being moved by her mortality:
“For those in whom cancer is already a hidden or visible presence, efforts to find cures must of course continue. But for those not yet touched by the disease and certainly for the generation as yet unborn, prevention is the imperative need.”
To look to the future while her own lifespan was in eclipse was a testament to Carson’s persistence and humanity.
April Reading Schedule
April 16, 2007
Death and Taxes