When in 1962 Rachel Carson wrote, “Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species — man — acquired significant power to alter the nature of the world,” she was sounding an alarm to the world, a clarion call that rings ever clearer each day, alerting humankind to the grave folly of its tampering ways. We are sliding down a slippery slope, she warned, and there’s no telling where we’ll end up. Her book was titled Silent Spring, and it galvanized a movement: environmentalism.
But it was the book’s allegorical title that stuck with people. Imagine a world in which the singing of birds — that immemorial, irrepressible harbinger of spring — faded year by year into silence, the birds gone and so too the insects, the amphibians, the bats and wolves and whales, all the familiar voices of nature. All muted by human meddling. That world is increasingly becoming our own. Despite Carson’s entreaties, we have continued, by and large, to treat the natural world as if it were for the birds — useless until proven otherwise, until some sort of profit can be derived from it. If nothing else, a bottomless dumping ground. Carson imagined birds, in their taciturnity, as striking a death knell for the planet, mutely signalling the end. Thus it is to birds that we should look if we are to grasp the scale of our profligacy, the categorical errors in our judgment.