Our generation is unique. The generations preceding us did not face the challenge of saving the environment, primarily because they did not know it needed saving. From the dawn of the Industrial Revolution until the mid twentieth century, most people believed that we had the capability to control nature. Even after World War II, this trend continued due to inventions including the atomic bomb, insecticides, and space travel. No one seemed to understand that man is part of nature, not above it. However, this mentality shifted after the publication of Silent Spring. The revolutionary book, penned by Rachel Carson in 1962, warned of the negative consequences of the pesticide DDT.
“It is ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray” (8).
Although today the use of DDT is banned in the United States and several other countries, Carson’s book is still relevant for its timeless lessons regarding the unintended consequences of advancements in technology. Unintended consequences narrate the historic relationship between humans and the environment; we are just now starting to understand that there is a price to progress that had not been anticipated. Our generation must combat climate change because earlier generations did not foresee how rapid industrialization would leave a carbon footprint on the environment.
The problem with unintended consequences is that they are unintended. This sounds obvious, but it also emphasizes an important point. How can you prevent the problems when you don’t see them coming? The answer is that you can’t. Scary, I know.
However, just because choices we make can have negative repercussions does not mean we should not make decisions. Rather, we must be more conscious of the potential effects of our choices. Humans are part of the natural world; we not only have to deal with how we affect one another, but also how we affect other species and the environment. Rachel Carson was principally concerned with making people aware of how DDT affects more than just the targeted insects, but her notion of unintended consequences applies to more than that. In the following quote, she exemplifies that we have to first consider the importance of the interconnectedness of the world.
“The predator and the preyed upon exist not alone, but as a part of a vast web of life, all of which needs to be taken into account” (293).
It is easy to forget we are part of a larger picture, but this forgetful attitude is incredibly dangerous. Carson’s Silent Spring launched the environmental movement by calling our attention to the problems, but it is our responsibility to rethink how we interact with the natural world if we wish to endure.