Written by Ashley Johnson, '13
Writing Intern for the Office of Communications

CSUSM, along with universities and colleges countywide, invites students and the community to delve into Rachel Carson’s influential and highly controversial novel, Silent Spring, for this year’s annual Common Read. Silent Spring is credited as the spark that ignited the environmental movement, which continues to resonate with readers 50 years after its publication.

Common Read programs have gained in popularity nationwide, engaging students and the community in reading and discussing the prevailing themes and significance of one book for an entire year. Students from CSUSM, SDSU, UCSD, USD, Grossmont College and Point Loma Nazarene will join together for the annual series of events that will be held to invigorate student participation and encourage discussion about the major topics of conservation and environmentalism within Silent Spring.

“It's been 50 years since Silent Spring first stirred up environmental awareness and activism, and the book is even more relevant today with the public consciousness moving toward sustainability, local organic foods and alternatives to fossil fuels,” said Melanie Chu, outreach librarian and coordinator for the Common Read at CSUSM. “Readers can connect the themes in Silent Spring to contemporary issues in economics, politics, health care and conservation, among other topics.”

First published in 1962, Silent Spring unearths the dangerous and previously untold truths about pesticides and the damage they cause to wildlife that oftentimes devastates more species than intended, setting off a chain reaction that eventually leads to harming humans as well.

Carson, a celebrated writer and scientist, witnessed firsthand the detrimental effects of the widely used pesticide DDT on nature. Intended to wipe out certain insects that harmed crops, DDT not only wiped out destructive insects but the good ones as well. Nature writer Edwin Way Teale warned that, “Ninety percent of all insects are good, and if they are killed things go out of kilter right away.” DDT remains in the environment long after it has been sprayed, and Carson noted, “it entered the food chain and accumulated in the fatty tissues of animals, including human beings, and caused cancer and genetic damage.”

These observations, once public, immediately put Carson under fire from critics as well as the chemical industry, many declaring that she was “insane” and a “hysterical woman” to make these claims. One formal chemical industry spokesman, Robert White-Stevens, raged that if Carson’s ideas and teachings were to be followed, society would return to the Dark Ages and disease would be widespread across the globe once again.

These contrasting perspectives still spur debate in a society increasingly concerned with the impact humankind has on nature. The struggle between capitalism and conservation continues to raise questions about the sustainability of the environment and whether or not more needs to be done to protect it.

To further engage readers in dialogue about the book, each participating campus will host special events throughout the academic year. CSUSM kicks off its events with Sustainability Week, Oct. 8-12. A special film screening of A Village Called Versailles will be held at CSUSM for the San Diego Asian Film Festival on Oct.16, followed by an environment & ethics faculty panel on Oct. 24 with professors Pamela Stricker, Greigh Guthey and Jessica Mayock discussing the issues inherent in Silent Spring. One of the highlights for this year’s Common Read events will be a hands-on, family-friendly Earth & Science Day festival, held on campus on Saturday, Mar. 16.

Countywide events are also planned. The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and the San Diego-based Center for Ethics in Science Technology will host a monthly seminar series throughout the year.

Among activities for the Common Read is a student essay contest. Each university will host its own 1500-word essay competition with the first-place essay from each campus advancing to the regional level. Finalist essays will be judged by a multi-institutional panel and the top three writers will receive cash prizes and be prominently featured in the Library’s Institutional Repository.

To learn more about upcoming events hosted on and off campus, visit CSUSM’s Common Read. Paperback copies of the book are available at the Kellogg Library for a seven-day checkout.

“It's been 50 years since Silent Spring first stirred up environmental awareness and activism, and the book is even more relevant today with the public consciousness moving toward sustainability, local organic foods and alternatives to fossil fuels,” said Melanie Chu, outreach librarian and coordinator for the Common Read at CSUSM.