On the latest episode of The Last Archive, Jill Lepore talks about Rachel Carson and her book, Silent Spring. That book helped ban DDT, saved countless birds, and started the modern environmental movement. Jill then asks whether a book like that can change the world today. Since 1970, three billion birds have died in North America. If that’s not heartbreaking, then I don’t know what is. Oh wait.
I read Silent Spring a few years ago, and what I remember most about it was this feeling that little had changed since the time she wrote it. I went back through my notes and found this passage talking about the effects of pesticides that remains heartbreaking:
Scientific observers at Sheldon described the symptoms of a meadowlark found near death: “Although it lacked muscular coordination and could not fly or stand, it continued to beat its wings and clutch with its toes while lying on its side. Its beak was held open and breathing was labored.” Even more pitiful was the mute testimony of the dead ground squirrels, which “exhibited a characteristic attitude in death. The back was bowed, and the forelegs with the toes of the feet tightly clenched were drawn close to the thorax…The head and neck were outstretched and the mouth often contained dirt, suggesting that the dying animal had been biting at the ground.” By acquiescing in an act that can cause such suffering to a living creature, who among us is not diminished as a human being?
COVID-19 has killed 137,000 Americans. Many of us think this virus is a hoax or a government conspiracy. Meanwhile, Americans will continue to die while we refuse to wear a fucking mask. “By acquiescing in an act that can cause such suffering to a living creature, who among us is not diminished as a human being?”