“In this now universal contamination of the environment, chemicals are the sinister and little-recognized partners of radiation in changing the very nature of the world—the very nature of its life” (Chpt. 2, p. 16)Carson connects what most people consider benign—chemicals—to what everyone knows is a dangerous killer and mutant—radiation. Both have been humanly created by tampering with atomic structures, something unknown before the twentieth century.
“It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged” (Chpt. 2, p. 23).Carson is challenging that right of industry to make money without responsibility to sustain life on earth. No individual or company overrides the well-being of life as a whole. These values are backward
“It is an extraordinary fact that the deliberate introduction of poisons into a reservoir is becoming a fairly common practice . . . The procedure has a strange, Alice-in-Wonderland quality” (Chpt. 4, p. 54).Carson often expresses her amazement that obviously illogical practices are accepted as scientific sense by officials and the public.
“This soil community, then, consists of a web of interwoven lives, each in some way related to the others—the living creatures depending on the soil, but the soil in turn a vital element of the earth only so long as this community within it flourishes” ( Chpt. 5, p. 59).This is one of Carson’s many references to the web of life that gets destroyed when poison is introduced to one part of it. We treat the soil as if it can absorb an infinite amount of pesticides, but the chemicals stay in the soil and continue to poison the creatures there, such as the earthworm that has to build up the next layer of soil.
“. . .the development of resistance to insecticides is changing the genetic factors of insects and perhaps other organisms . . . Some experts warn of subtle but far-reaching vegetational shifts” (Chpt. 6, p. 78).Carson warns that with chemicals, humans are introducing changes in genetics and natural cycles they do not understand, and that frequently backfire on them.
“The fact that every meal we eat carries its load of chlorinated hydrocarbons is the inevitable consequence of the almost universal spraying or dusting of agricultural crops with these poisons” (Chpt. 11, p. 163).The author shows it is not only birds and insects that are affected by spraying. Somehow we forget that we are obliged to eat the food that has been sprayed and that the chemical residues are cumulative in our bodies.
“The transformation of matter into energy in the cell is an ever-flowing process, one of nature’s cycles of renewal, like a wheel endlessly turning . . . one of the wonders of the living world” (Chpt. 13, p. 180).Carson is noted for her ability to express the beauty and wonder of nature. She wants the reader to consider this invisible miracle of how the cell makes energy for us. By contrast, she details how chemicals destroy cell oxidation and respiration by making the cell produce energy through fermentation, leading to disease.
“For mankind as a whole, a possession infinitely more valuable than individual life is our genetic heritage. . . Yet genetic deterioration through man-made agents is the menace of our time . . .” (Chpt. 13, p. 186).The author brings up the long-range effects of pesticides. It is not simply that they bring death to individuals in the current time, but also alteration and deterioration to entire species and the human race into the future.
“By their very nature chemical controls are self-defeating, for they have been devised and applied without taking into account the complex biological systems against which they have been blindly hurled” (Chpt. 15, p. 218).This statement comes from the chapter called “Nature Fights Back,” showing that insecticides are ineffective because insects build up immunities, and the natural resistance of the environment is broken down, allowing more pests in. She refers to the science of ecology when she speaks of the knowledge of biological systems.
“The balance of nature is not a status quo; it is fluid, ever shifting, in a constant state of adjustment. Man, too, is part of this balance” (Chpt. 15, p. 218).The author answers those who do not really believe in or care about the balance of nature. She points out that natural systems are dynamic. The balance of nature in the Pleistocene Age is not the balance of today. Humans have to approach this ongoing dynamic balancing act with wonder and humility, doing their part.