Silent Springs

By: Pablo Solón

[Versión en Español]

version française

The birds are gone.
Many people speak of them, confused and worried.
The few birds that are seen are dying:
they tremble and cannot fly.
It is a spring void of voices.

1962: Rachel Carson’s book has just been published and quickly becomes a bestseller. It begins with a “fable for tomorrow” in which a town is imagined where birds have disappeared due to the excessive use of pesticides.

Large agrochemical companies react virulently against the book that bears the title of “Silent Spring.” They accuse Carson of spreading falsehoods because man and technology can control nature. The American marine biologist is 55 years old and is sick with cancer. He has spent the last 6 years gathering evidence about the impact of insecticides he considers poisons.

He eloquently reports that synthetic pesticide residues have been found “in most river systems, and even in underground streams that flow along the land.” Describe how these toxic substances have been found in the body of fish, birds, reptiles and humans. He points out that “scientists who carry out experiments with animals are almost impossible to locate beings free of such contamination.” He warns that pesticides are “in the milk of mothers and in the tissues of unborn children.”

The attack of the big chemical manufacturers gives it great visibility in the press and television. Millions of spectators follow her and thousands of letters flood the White House. President John F. Kennedy appoints a commission to study the use of pesticides. Carson dedicates the last 16 months of his life to spreading the truth about pesticides. The United States Congress hears his testimony.

“How can intelligent beings try to dominate a few annoying species by a method that contaminates everything around them and brings the threat of evil and even the death of their own species?”

Rachel Carson does not live to see the moment in which President Lyndon B. Johnson signs one of the first laws that regulates pesticides by directly referring to the author of Silent Spring.

2019: A delegation of biologists walks through Chiquitania. Even the earth is still hot. They only listen to your steps. Suddenly they stop. It is absolute silence.

The fire has destroyed everything: mammals, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, worms, arachnids, butterflies, bees. The birds are gone or killed in the attempt. Survivors can no longer return to their nests turned to ashes. Woodpecker drilling is a sad memory of past springs.

Pesticides and fire are the great architects of silent springs. Many times they go together. Forests are burned because pesticides kill the earth. Both end life. Some slowly poison in silence while the other expands at the speed of the wind further burning everything.

In the southern hemisphere, spring begins at the end of September. This year it will be one of the quietest springs due to the fires that swept throughout South America and Africa. We may not realize why the noise of cars, machines and television saturates our ears and makes us insensitive to the lost songs of birds.

However, this September spring will remain silent. Millions of children and young people will stop going to class in order to go on strike. The global mobilization for the greatest climate in history is announced between September 20 and 27. In all countries there will be protest actions because fossil fuel consumption is not stopped or forest deforestation stops.

Greta Thunberg who inspires this worldwide mobilization says with extreme forcefulness: “You say that you love your children above all else, and yet they are stealing your future from your own eyes.” Politicians, businessmen, landowners and ourselves have become accustomed to ways of life that must change radically.

Talking about a secure future when our big house burns is a delusional stupidity. Carson said “it is healthy and necessary that we return to contemplate the beauties of the earth, with amazement and humility.” The silent spring of the burnt out forests is feeding this other bustling spring that comes from the child we all carry inside and tells us next to Greta Thunberg “if it is so impossible to find solutions within the system, then maybe we should change the system.”

Originally published in the Skyscraper Magazine of Pagina Siete, September 15, 2019,

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