The green movement has more to thank workers in polluting industries than you might expect.
Carson gathered stories from across the US to illuminate the dangers of indiscriminate pesticide use and the threats contaminated land posed to life. She would battle the chemical industry’s accusations of alarmism for the rest of her life. But Silent Spring struck a chord with a public increasingly sceptical of the ethics and efficacy of industrial society.
Carson’s criticism of the cosy relations between businesses and governments echoed the concept of the power elite, popularised by the New Left intellectual C. Wright Mills a few years earlier. In Mills’ assessment, American society was dominated by bureaucracies that included both big business but also organised labour.
Environmentalists who were inspired by Carson railed against these vested interests. They were dropouts and opponents of the established system, or at least outsiders to it. By 1990, Richard White, an American environmental historian, would pose the question “are you an environmentalist or do you work for a living?” White’s essay took aim at the environmental pretensions of white-collar professionals who pitted themselves against manual workers employed in polluting industries.