Free Study Guide for Silent Spring by Rachel Carson - Book Summary
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The worst case is that of Sheldon, Illinois. The campaign against the Japanese beetle began there in 1954. First, they sprayed Dieldrin on 1400 acres. Later, they sprayed anther 2600 acres a year later. They thought they were finished, but found out that the treatments hadnít worked, so they sprayed even more. They sprayed 131,000 acres by the end of 1961 even though they kept getting reports of heavy losses among populations of wildlife. They never consulted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Illinois Game Management Division. They testified in Congress that the Congress shouldnít pass a bill requiring such consultation because they already did it.
Funding was biased in favor of the chemical control methods. Funds for biologists at the Illinois Natural History Survey to survey the damage dried up. Despite the lack of funds, biologists managed to study the damage and reported unparalleled wildlife destruction. Biologists found that the conditions for killing insect-eating birds were present at every phase of the treatment. In the early stages, Dieldrin was applied at a rate of three pounds per acre. In laboratory experiments, Dieldrin was found to be 50 times as poisonous to birds as DDT. When the poison sunk into the ground, the grubs of the beetles and other insects came out of the soil where birds could eat them. All kinds of birds were almost annihilated. Dead earthworms poisoned robins and other birds that ate them. Birds that drank or bathed in water puddles were doomed. Surviving birds were sterilized. Mammals were also affected. Squirrels almost disappeared completely. They were found dead in attitudes showing they had suffered the horribly violent death of poison victims. Rabbits and muskrats were also found in high numbers. Domestic cats were wiped out. Domestic livestock were also harmed by the spraying. Sheep died and the ones that survived behaved as if they were disoriented from the poison.
From 1955 to 1960 funds for the study of the affects of insecticides were almost completely cut off. In the meantime, the control agencies had switched to the more deadly Aldrin, 100 to 300 times as toxic as DDT. By 1960 every species of wild mammal had suffered heavy losses in population. Despite the losses, the treatment of more than 100,000 acres only temporarily stopped the growth of Japanese beetles. The government had spent $375,000 on the control project and only one percent of that amount on research projects that would have studied the affects of the program.
These Midwest programs were conducted as if the Japanese beetle represented a crisis. If they had done any reading, they would have learned from the example of eastern states which encountered the Japanese beetle before synthetic insecticides had been invented. In the first twelve years after people discovered the beetle in eastern states, they recognized that it had increased in population very much, but had caused minimal harm. States imported parasitic insects from the Far East that would fight the Japanese beetle and they also imported disease organisms that would attack the beetles. They found 34 species of predatory or parasitic insects that would attack the beetle. Both methods limited the Japanese beetle population. The most effective of these was the disease called milky disease.
The insect control officials of the Midwestern states said the importation of the milky disease was too expensive. In this assessment, they didnít take into account the high costs of the affects of their use of insecticides on the human and animal populations. They also said the milky disease could only be effective where the beetles had established a large population. This claim is also unfounded. The bacterium kills more than just the Japanese beetle; it infects at least 40 other species of beetles. Therefore, the disease could thrive even where the Japanese beetle is relatively rare. These officials are looking for immediate results. They are working with chemical companies that operate on a principle of built-in obsolesce: their product isnít effective once and for all. It has to be reused again and again, hence giving them continued profits.
The Illinois case raises not only scientific but moral questions. Can civilization wage war on life without killing itself? Insecticides arenít selective poisons. They kill more than insects. They kill cattle, rabbits, domestic animals, birds, and people. If people allow the act of such destruction to happen, their own humanity will be diminished.
In chapter 7, Carson dwells longest on a particular case of needless destruction by chemical insecticides. The case of the state of Michiganís attack on the Japanese beetle in the late 1950s demonstrates all of Carsonís earlier points: that following the advice of chemical companies results in widespread and needless destruction, that the alternative course of using natural enemies of particular insects is a cheaper and longer-lasting solution, which is also entirely safe to other forms of life, and that the mass destruction of life hurts the dignity of humanity.
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. 09 May 2017