Alec Perkins Phelan Seminar Weekly Paper 2.19.

2008 Rachel Carson’s critique of land and wildlife management practices of her time is very similar to Lewis Mumford’s criticisms of science, technology, and the mechanical world picture. Carson makes a point to emphasize the diversity in nature, the attempts at simplifying and controlling it, and the consequences, using what could be called the naturalist side to the ‘mechanical world picture’ criticism. However, she is not critical of technology itself, so much as the people’s attitudes toward technology and its applications, specifically imposing technological control on natural systems. Like Mumford, Carson sees science as having broken up into fairly disparate fields. “This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits” (13). Those who spray the chemicals forget that organisms besides the one they are attempting to eliminate exist within the scope of their actions. “Nature has introduced great variety into the landscape, but man has displayed a passion for simplifying it” (10). This simplified view leads to the attitude that if a pesticide works to kill one pest, it should work to kill another. (Using that logic, it should be extrapolated that it will kill pretty much everything and not just the target pest, and the negative impacts on the environment of chemicals like DDT should not be any sort of surprise.) Of course, the “great irony” repeatedly pointed out by Carson is that the pesticide often has little impact on the target pest, but serves to utterly demolish its natural predators, upsetting the environmental resistance.

Graphs of organism populations make the delicate balance within an ecosystem apparent. The population of a given organism typically follows a pattern of relatively quick growth, then leveling off in oscillating equilibrium, never reaching a constant number. The populations grow until the growth is no longer sustainable. Given the chance, the population will explode. The balance can just as easily be tipped in the other direction and likewise, the population will plummet. Because of the complex interactions that the current state is dependent on, disruption of the balance for one species always has an impact on another. Depending on the robustness of the ecosystem, characterized by the diversity present, the disruption may be absorbed, or it may completely upset the entire local ecosystem. Ecologists attempting to reclaim abandoned lots have found that simply reintroducing one species of organism at a time is rather ineffective, but putting a diverse variety of species in at once, and then letting the mini-ecosystem reach its own equilibrium, results in a quickly thriving ecosystem. These new ecosystems typically do not even follow the expected balance, despite the best efforts of ecologists to restore what had been, and instead adopt a new balance based on the new circumstances. The ‘throw a bunch at the wall and see what sticks’ approachseems particularly careless, and incredibly unscientific, but its successes comes from its holistic approach, one that Mumford and Carson criticize science for lacking. It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand the complete workings of the complex relationships within an ecosystem, indicating why it is tempting to compartmentalize and reduce to manageable parts. However, just understanding that the complexity exists already (and for good reason) can be enough to help preserve or restore the ecosystem. Carson, in her final chapter,even suggests taking advantage of the relationships to use natural predators to take care of a pest

problem, however the way she describes it ignores her own message. Importing one organism to take care of another can shift the imbalance to the new organism, as Carson herself pointed out in several earlier chapters, which would then require the importing of that organism’s natural predator, ad infinitum. It is likely that she was calling not for the importing of mountain lions to deal with coyotes to deal with cats to deal with mice, but rather that utilizing the tendency for equilibrium built into nature to handle any imbalances, instead of chemicals which only further the damage.

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