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AnimalsEndangered SpeciesFoodGreen Your LifeNatureScience

Silent Spring Was Published Back In 1962 — Flying-Insect & Bird Populations Have Still Fallen Precipitously Since Then

Rachel Carson’s influential book Silent Spring, which documented the effects of the indiscriminate widespread use of pesticides on the environment, was published back in 1962, nearly 60 years ago now. Since that time, the book has often been cited as one of the drivers behind environmental action and regulation of various kinds.

Following the release, there was a fairly widespread opposition PR campaign launched by some of those involved in the chemicals industries. This was followed later on by the apparently far more effective approach of simply co-opting those involved in the “environmental” and “green” movements, bringing them into the corporate/industrial sphere. A watering-down of the goals, integrity, and accomplishments of such groups followed.

While it’s perhaps easy to consider that book to have been a large-scale driver of “good,” the reality is that over recent decades, insect and bird populations have been in free fall throughout much of the world.

The goals of Rachel Carson, then, have effectively failed (partially, at least). While the inevitability of environmental collapse (with extant spraying practices) was brought to the public’s attention, most of what was pursued in response has amounted to half-measures — which make people feel like something is being done, while the underlying structures that created the problems remain in place.

Worried about what’s happening to the world? Don’t worry, just buy this bag of “organic” corn chips packaged in plastic and made from crops grown on an industrial-scale, and dependent upon industrial systems, and forget about everything else. You did your part!

At any rate, the public consciousness forgets rather quickly anyways, so before too long, the implications of Silent Spring were shoved back into the unconscious, and most people began to focus once again on the important things in life. Such as swinging.

Fast forward to the present and here we are in the year 2018, and Europe has seen its flying-insect populations decline by around 80% (in wild areas) over just the last few decades. Its bird populations have declined by around 66%. The insects in question are of course largely those that are responsible for pollinating the plants and crops that humans ultimately rely upon for survival (bees, butterflies, moths, etc.).

And, to say that again, the figures listed just above relate to declines in “protected” areas — the overall declines are of course much more substantial due to habitat loss, greater losses in unprotected areas, etc.

These declines have largely been due to the widespread spraying of pesticides, herbicides, etc., on agricultural fields — a situation that has been “necessary” partly due to the fact the as the soil quality (nutrient content and necessary microbial life) has declined in recent decades that crop resistance to disease has plummeted. The only way to keep crop yields up, in other words, is to spray more and more essentially every year.

As explained last year by researcher Dave Goulson of Sussex University, humans are making very large tracts of the world essentially uninhabitable for wildlife. These areas were previously the most biologically productive parts of the world (in most cases), which makes the situation even more notable.

It’s currently estimated that flying-insect biomass levels in Europe are falling by around 6% a year. If that rate continues unimpeded then agricultural yields in the region will begin crashing at some point over the next few decades.

Since I always hear a comment referencing hot houses or vertical agriculture, or what not, when speaking about such things — to be clear here, such systems are only an option when it comes to high-value produce items. You absolutely can not grow on the large-scale the crops on which the world ultimately relies upon using such methods — that is: the high-yield grain crops (wheat, etc.); maize/corn; rice; potatoes. Not only can you not get the same sort of yields (not even close to it), but it can’t be done economically.

So here we are, in a situation whereby the environmental “services” that we had taken for granted, and upon which everything humans do are dependent, are being undermined in a vast number of different ways. We were warned, but what did we do?

We changed some of the most offensive surface-level features and left the underlying structures the same.

To use the slander directed at Carson following the publication of Silent Spring as an example — there were intentional misrepresentations of her motives and suggestions; there were slanders about her character and attempts to associate her with maligned ideologies; references to her being a fanatic with blood on her hands who wanted to return the world to the “dark ages;” and there were/are vast misrepresentations of the effects of her work.

That should all sound familiar. It’s the same playbook used to discredit those that speak about the grimy undersides supporting the glitzy modern world in any other field as well.

To further highlight this I’ll provide a couple of money quotes below.

The Cyanamid biochemist Robert White-Stevens stated: “If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.”

The US Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson noted that she was “probably a communist,” because she was attractive but unmarried, and that should be kept in mind.

There were of course numerous attacks on her credentials (if you can’t attack the message, then slander the messenger).

There were numerous misrepresentations, the most notable of which perhaps being the claim that she was advocating for the wholesale ban of all pesticides — when she was simply noting that they were being used in dangerous and self-defeating ways (seemingly for profit motives and nothing else). Carson actually noted numerous times herself that widespread use would lead quickly to ineffectiveness (due to resistance amongst the pests in question).

Those misrepresentations persist to this day, with many smears blaming her for the cause of “tens of millions” of people’s deaths.

A particular good line comes to us from the “think tank” the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Which stated on its website: “Millions of people around the world suffer the painful and often deadly effects of malaria because one person sounded a false alarm. That person is Rachel Carson.”

That line is supposed to reference the fact that many poor tropical countries ceased large-scale spraying of DDT in the 1970s and 1980s. In truth, the countries in question — mostly in South Asia — did so because DDT-resistance had become widespread amongst mosquitos. That being the case, why keep spraying? But then smears have never had much to do with truth, have they?

That situation regarding the development of resistance is perhaps the most interesting thing here — as the reality is pesticide-resistance is now widespread amongst the pests that target common agricultural crops but very rare amongst beneficial insects, including pollinators.

So the world of tomorrow will apparently be one of flies and mosquitoes, rather than of bees, birds, and butterflies

“The sedge is wither’d from the lake, And no birds sing.” — John Keats




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