50 Years After Silent Spring

On the fiftieth anniversary of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Guardian writer Leo Hickman, opened up discussion about the book’s impact on the world.  The comments that follow the article raise several questions:

  • While synthetic pesticides are manufactured to be more targeted and less harmful to the environment they are also used prolifically and use is growing. So in terms of the chemicals we pump into the environment are we better off now or back then, in 1962 when the book was first published?
  • This leads to a second question: given our knowledge of the harm pesticides and other chemicals can have on the environment and human health, for example the recent evidence of the link between pesticides and declines in bee numbers, and, in some cases, their limited time period of effectiveness on pests, are we even more irresponsible to be continuing to use such products in this day and age?
  • A clear message from the book is that if the human population itself is to be sustainable we must co-exist with nature in the same way that environmentalism and economics must learn to co-exist or combine. But are we any nearer to reaching this and can the two fields find the middle ground?
  • Finally, how can two goals seemingly at odds with one another – feeding the world’s chronically hungry, 98% of which are in developing countries and 80% of which are smallholder farmers often facing pest, disease and soil fertility challenges, and ensuring the planet’s sustainability – be resolved?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions, to continue the discussion and to ensure we make progress within the next 50 years.

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