Silent Spring | Study Guide

Rachel Carson

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Silent Spring | Chapter 12 : The Human Price | Summary



Rather than the threat of disease, humanity now lives with a threat we ourselves have created: environmental hazards to human health. Carson explains the effects of chemical exposure may be delayed many years, the result of accumulation over time. Because humankind is interconnected with nature, we cannot escape the pollution that poisons the earth's resources.

Carson explains the interrelatedness of life is not only at the macro level of nature but also at the micro level of the human body. Just as she has shown the causes and effects that take place in nature when chemicals are introduced, the same is true within the body. However, the effects may be separated from the causes in both space and time.

Carson shifts her focus from the macro level of the impact of pesticides on nature to the micro level of the impact on the human body. She argues an assumption of safety is made because no immediate effects are visible. She provides a clear explanation of why effects may be invisible. First, exposure occurs over time. Second, storage takes place within the cells of the body, invisible to the naked eye. Third, unlike laboratory conditions, people are unique individuals with unique sets of circumstances. Fourth, the chemicals interact in "mysterious" ways as they are distributed.


In the previous chapter Carson hinted consumers are complicit, albeit unknowingly, in the pollution of the environment. As she opens this chapter, she leaves no doubt humans bear responsibility for the mess they are in: "Today we are concerned with a different kind of hazard that lurks in our environment—a hazard we ourselves have introduced into our modern world." She reviews the case she has built thus far, and makes an explicit link between chemicals and the known hazard of radiation.

Carson contrasts the sense of well-being assumed as humankind introduces chemicals to control nature's "pests" with a "haunting fear." A U.S. Public Health Service expert fears that "something may corrupt the environment to the point where man joins the dinosaurs as an obsolete form of life." Carson has taken her time, slowly building her case in the previous chapters, arguing humans are in danger of destroying themselves as they destroy nature. She asks readers directly, "Can he escape a pollution that is now so thoroughly distributed throughout the world?" Given humanity is part of the interconnected web of life, it cannot act upon nature without an impact on itself. In other words, the survival of humankind depends on how readers act upon what they are learning in this book.

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