Happy 2022! We hope the month of January has been a restful and recharging start to your year!
Toward the end of 2021 we released a survey asking you, the readers of ClimateRoots, what you wanted to learn about in 2022. We got some great answers, ranging from how to live a low waste life to interest in endangered species. Based on the majority of responses, for the remainder of 2022 the education section of ClimateRoots will be focused on… U.S Federal Environmental Policy!
Starting with the 1960s, every month we will take you through the biggest and most consequential policies of each decade to give you an overview of the evolution of environmental policy in the United States. However, as a primer for what is to come, in today's issue we will be discussing the impact of Rachel Carson's seminal book, Silent Spring, and the impact it had on American culture and subsequently, domestic environmental policy.
While the environmental movement started before the 1960s, the publication and popularization of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring serves as an ideal starting point to evaluate the cultural mindset of Americans right before the rise of modern domestic environmental policy. Silent Spring, published in 1962, was an exposé on the adverse effects of agricultural pesticides (like DDT) on the American public and the environment. While there were many important works of environmental literature before it, like Walden or Sand County Almanac, scholars argue that, “The publication and reception of Silent Spring have been seen as among the most crucial events that introduced the central issues of environmentalism to the American public—an introduction that achieved the consensus requisite for making environmentalism a subject of national debate.”(Kroll)
Silent Spring is seen as a “galvanizing event” in the environmental movement, pushing people out of their hyper local activism and into a national, scientific environmental narrative. Through the 1950s and 60s, “activists pushed for more environmentally sensitive policies that would preserve the beauty and health of the spaces they inhabited,”(Kroll), but these efforts were disjointed and often focused on predominantly white, upper class suburbs. The publication of Silent Spring, which tackled the issue of agricultural pesticides from a scientific, yet impassioned perspective, applied to all Americans, and created a narrative of nation wide environmental struggle.
Carson’s use of TV and radio coverage in the 1960s brought conversation around urgent federal policy change right into the living room of average Americans. Appearing on popular programs like CBS, Carson created a heightened sense of trust in her research (and scientific research in general) since many Americans relied on TV for factual reporting. (Kroll) By particularly appealing to the ethos of wives and mothers, she was able to educate a demographic of Americans who otherwise might not have learned about the harm of pesticides and the impact of the environment on public health.
The immediate effects that Carson’s appearance on CBS had on environmental activism cannot be overstated. Following the release of the program, citizens began demanding tighter controls on pesticide use and for more research into the short and long term effects of exposure to pesticides (Kroll). All of the major federal environmental policies that we think of today, like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and even the Superfund Act, came as a result of the newly environmentally empowered American populous and an increased interest in the environment as a reflection of public health. Though Silent Spring was specifically focused on the impacts of pesticides, Carson's work ignited our popular environmental consciousness, and ushered in a new era of federal policy. In our next issue, we will be covering the major environmental policies from the years 1970-1974.
US EPA, OA. Milestones in EPA and Environmental History. 20 May 2020, https://www.epa.gov/history/milestones-epa-and-environmental-history.