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Retrospect

Forty springs afterwards

The book that launched the modern environmental movement was published in 1962

In 1939, the Swiss chemist Paul Müller presented to the world a practical use for the substance dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), synthesized in 1874 by a German student of chemistry. Müller realized that the product was efficient in combating insects and transformed it into an insecticide. In a short time, DDT started to be used in agriculture in an intensive and indiscriminate manner in the United States and then spread throughout the world. The piece of work ended up gaining Müller the Nobel Prize of 1948.

Everything seemed to be going well until the North American marine biologist Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, published in 1962. In summary, Rachel stated that DDT and other synthetic insecticides were dangerous not only to insects but also to human through their power of accumulation in the organism, and that for sure they would cause irreversible damages to people’s health. In clear language and with numerous real examples, the biologist demonstrated that the life of a good part of human beings would be jeopardized in the future unless stopped poisoning the environment.

Silent Spring turned itself into the fuse for the modern environmental movement. “Rachel Carson’s work was the reply of the scientific community to the serious environmental situation”, explains José Roberto Postali Parra, head of the Entomology, Phytopathology and Agricultural Zoology Department of the Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture (Esalq).

“One of the most important consequences of the book was the use of integrated management of pests”, says the retired professor of Esalq Gilberto Casadei Baptista, a reader of the first edition of the work, a sell-out in Brazil. Rachel Carson did not live to see the effects of her alert – dangerous insecticides being banned, new methods of insect control, the coming forth of a real environmental conscience. She died in 1964 as a consequence of cancer.

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