Peter Dykstra On The 5 Best Environmental Books Of All Time - Your Nominees? [View all]
Already a best-selling author of volumes on the wonders of the oceans, Carson turned her attention to the increasing reports of damage from “miracle” pesticides being sprayed, spread and air-dropped on 1950s America. She doggedly followed studies and lawsuits documenting the human and wildlife toll from DDT, chlordane, dieldrin, and many other now-banned substances. When the book was serialized and published in 1962, "Silent Spring" caused an uproar that helped spawn the modern American environmental movement. Ten years later, DDT was fast losing its potency against mosquitoes, but birds were still dropping like flies. It was outlawed in the U.S., and the mortal threat to bald eagles, ruby-throated hummingbirds and a thousand other species abated.
Along the way, ideologues and industry hacks mounted a campaign to vilify Carson, labeling her, in coded 1960s language, a “spinster” and less ambiguously charging that she was an agent of the Kremlin. (Call me crazy, but I don’t think that the Commies would have dispatched an agent to save America’s bald eagle.) Astonishingly, those attacks survive a half-century later, with the tinfoil-hat community going as far as to liken this mild-mannered meticulous scientist to mass murderers because malaria still kills people and DDT was once effective in battling malaria. That’s what you get for saving the bald eagle.
Aldo Leopold’s "A Sand County Almanac" manages to unintentionally replicate nature itself. It’s a series of essays that are superficially unconnected, but together they function like the web of life. Leopold showed a midcentury audience that conservation is essentially our success or failure at getting along with the natural world. Back then, “conservation” and “conservative” were not necessarily polar opposites.
Those who toil as environmental PR flacks, or those who dispense money for journalists’ fellowships, have a role model in Marc Reisner. A former communications guy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Reisner wrote "Cadillac Desert" fueled by fellowship money. It rates words you typically see for a Hollywood epic, like “sweeping” and “sprawling.” The book spins the tale of corruption, brutality, deceit and wealth as the major influences on western water rights. Published in 1986, "Cadillac Desert" also foretold that water can float the arid West only so far.