“The discovery of agriculture was the first big step toward a civilized life.” (Arthur Keith)
Civilization began with agriculture, and agriculture continues to be an integral part of our lives. Civilization brought knowledge, knowledge brought technology, and technology brought chemicals and pesticides to “improve” our world. “The Obligation to Endure” is an excerpt from Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” a passionate and masterful work on the results of civilization’s efforts to control pests and insects. These effects include destruction of the environment, alteration of gene structures in plants and animals, water contamination, and an upset of nature’s delicate balance. This article ...view middle of the document...
Structure of Major Arguments
Carson’s primary argument is that the ecosystem is unable to adjust and rebalance itself due to the rapidity of the introduction of chemicals into the environment. She points to the common knowledge that it took hundreds of millions of years for life to evolve to its current state. She goes on to explain how, given time (eons), the environment adjusted to natural dangers such as radiation emitted from certain rocks and short-wave radiation from the sun, but that it is impossible for the earth to adjust and rebalance in the face of man-made threats in the relative miniscule timeframe of decades. Her appeal is both logical and emotional. Logically, chemicals sprayed on croplands, forests or gardens will kill not just “pests” but other living organisms, and that some amount of these chemicals will end up in ground water, causing problems for anyone or anything that depends on this water. Emotionally if the possibility of permanent gene damage, which cause deformities, cancers, and early death, is not enough to encourage a second look at this issue then there is no hope for the planet’s future.
Carson’s next argument is that the volume of new chemicals coming on the market each year, the universal use of these chemicals on farms, gardens, forests, and homes, and the lack of information on the short or long-term effect of these chemicals on the beneficial insects as well as the bad, means we are laying the seeds of our own demise. She points to the fact that since the mid-1940s, more than 200 chemicals were created for use in killing “pests” and “weeds.” And her information is current only to the 1950s when she was writing this book (published 1962). She argues that these chemicals should be called “biocides” instead of insecticides. Once again, her arguments are both logical and emotional. If more than 200 chemicals were produced in a ten year span, how many more were developed between the mid-50s and 2011? At an emotional level, the explosive growth of this industry and the widespread acceptance should sound alarms.
A third argument involves the ultimate irony. Carson explains how these “pests” are living proof of Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest.” Indeed all pests, whether insects, worms, or fungus continually evolve in order to survive. Therefore, we are systematically breeding super races of the very things we are attempting to eradicate. Carson’s argument that the chemical war cannot ever be won is powerful although disputable (by the chemical industry of course).
Carson next argues that humans created the problem, and continue to create problems, each time we import fruits, vegetables, and livestock from other parts of the world. She points out that (as of the writing) over 100,000 different species of plants were imported from all over the world, bringing with them over half of the known pest enemies of plants. She quotes British ecologist Charles Elton who asserts...