Silent Spring | Study Guide

Rachel Carson

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Silent Spring | Chapter 15 : Nature Fights Back | Summary



According to Carson, nature fights back in response to the chemical attacks by humans. First, as only the strong insects survive chemical attack, a resistant strain emerges. Second, nature's own defenses against imbalance are weakened. Chemicals upset the delicate balance of nature, a fact that humankind has failed to adequately explore prior to the use of environmental chemicals. Carson argues nature has its own insect control system, and when this is upset, reproductive powers are "truly explosive."

Chemical spraying can have unpredictable results. This may be increased numbers of the target insect or the emergence of pests previously unknown, which had been kept in check by the targeted insect. Carson laments humanity has been slow to recognize such problems and too little attention has been given to developing natural controls.

Carson explicitly links this imbalance in attention to the massive imbalance in funding between chemical controls and biological ones. Shockingly, 98% of funding for entomologists went to studies of chemical controls, leaving only 2% for more effective and less dangerous options. Given this disparity in funding, Carson connects the dots between prominent scientists who endorse the use of pesticides and their funders in the chemical industry.


In previous chapters Carson alluded to nature's response to humankind's assault; here she discusses the response directly. Humanity in its arrogance fails to see the proverbial writing on the wall. Not only are the efforts failing to achieve the intended results, but nature, a force to be reckoned with, is responding in unforeseen ways.

Carson explains this in ways that showcase the arrogance and ignorance of humans, in contrast to the humble "wisdom" of nature. First, the targeted insects are living out Darwin's "survival of the fittest." With only the strongest of the species left to reproduce, the inevitable effect is the development of "super-bugs." Second, nature's own defenses designed to maintain balance are disrupted, leaving imbalance, which is often devastating and destructive both to nature and to humanity. She concludes, "we have turned our artillery against our friends ... we have grossly underestimated their value in keeping at bay a dark tide of enemies."

As in previous chapters, Carson anticipates her reader's questions and addresses them with evidence. In response to the question of whether the information is merely theoretical, she counters with, "But it is happening, here and now." She cites evidence from scientific journals to support her claim and provides numerous examples to support her argument. Carson closes the chapter by citing the work of Dr. Pickett, a "pioneer in the field of working out sane methods of insect control." According to Carson, his results prove his alternative methods are worth considering.

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