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International Environmental Law 101: How the “Silent Spring” Ignited the Environmental Movement


International Environmental Law 101 is a series that will dive into the manifold dimensions of preserving the environment from human destruction and economic development. The main objective of these articles is to provide a comprehensible grasp of the institutions, agreements, and principles which fight against climate change, wildlife extinction, and contamination, and fight for sustainable practices.

International Environmental Law 101 will be predominantly divided into the following chapters:

1. International Environmental Law 101: How the Silent Spring Ignited the Environmental Movement

2. International Environmental Law 101: A Regime of Principle

3. International Environmental Law 101: The Decision Makers

4. International Environmental Law 101: A Map of Environmental Agreements

5. International Environmental Law 101: The Case of Temperature

6. International Environmental Law 101: The Transition to Sustainable Development

7. International Environmental Law 101: Healing the Ocean

8. International Environmental Law 101: What will the Future Bring

Exhibit 1. A picture of famous conservationist Rachel Carson testifying before a Senate Subcommittee. (AP Photo,1963)

The Environmental Conservation Movement is a fairly recent concept, dating back to the 1960s. At the time, the scientific background for environmental protection was not as developed as it is today. The majority of the world was not concerned about the damage inflicted on our planet nor were they aware that one day we would have to literally pay for it.

Fortunately, a brilliant marine biologist and ecologist, by the name of Rachel Carson, put a halt in the accelerated course of bottomless development. Carson wrote a book titled “Silent Spring” discussing how the use of pesticides and fertilizers in agriculture wrecked the environment. She described the way producer practices and the excessive spraying of these substances to the fields were harming farm animals, dogs, and poultry. For the first time, the world opened their eyes to the damage that human practice and living was doing to the environment.

It was the start of a race with no finish line. Chemical companies in the US fought back, attempting to discredit the claims and protect their bank accounts. The notion that economic development, industrial production, or agricultural practices should operate within the margin of environmentally neutral actions was considered radical. It was simply unheard of. How could it be, when back then people were marveling that chemicals were the gift of cultivation? Her book was dismissed by many as propaganda, for not only was it radical for the 1960s, but she was also a woman. However, there were people that listened carefully and intensely.

Exhibit 2. Environmental Protesters. (The Watershed Project, 2021)

Environmental activism sprouted around the world. Lobbies, political groups that seek to persuade the governments to act according to their interests, were created advocating for environmental issues. Green political parties endorsed that all national policies and especially those linked to the economy should be environmentally considerate. Carson’s desperate attempts touched the general public and the media and protesters marched for the environment. The movement had started to flesh out and as the voices of those advocating were becoming louder, the need to legislate and regulate flourished.

The US, headed by President Nixon, was forced to act. In 1970, Nixon signed an executive order that confirmed the formulation of the US Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA, still in place, contributes to incorporating environmental policy to all other US policies, provides access to dependable environmental information and statistics, and monitors current conditions to assess and mitigate environmental risk.

Two years later, the United Nations hosted the 1st Conference for the Human Environment in Stockholm. It was the first time that terms such as exhaustive resources, renewable energy sources, and the development of international law on environmental issues were uttered in a global governance setting. The Convention produced a manifesto containing 21 principles for preserving the environment and an action plan with recommendations to the 114 nations that participated. Those were not in any way binding but in the years to come, they guided the direction of environmental law. They globalized it.

The UN realized that environmental law needed to be international. 7.9 billion people currently live on Earth, a number we are expected to surpass by two billion before 2050. As a social human species, we need food to survive, energy to perform basic functions, materials to use for clothing, housing and anything that comes to mind. All those commodities have one basic characteristic in common. They do not materialize out of thin air.

The environment is a utopia consisting of everything we need at our disposal, a fact heavily endorsed by the economy. 9.9 billion people will look to it to maintain a decent standard of living - at least those of them that were fortunate enough to be born in countries or under the economic circumstances that support a standard quality of life. It is important to note that, in 2021, quality of life is not perceived as maintaining stable sourcing of food, water and housing anymore. We have become an immensely consuming and demanding species who constantly need more entertainment, more materials, more luxury cars, and real animal furs. Those needs will keep on rising along with the population as more tempting luxuries with be manufactured and supplied. Heedless economic development is why we need laws to be set in place to regulate it. Or else, supply and demand will be the end of us.

Not surprisingly, during the 2001 Stockholm Convention, participators were still not ready to counterweight economic development with environmental protection. The concept of making the economy sustainable came into the picture much later. Nevertheless, there was one thing that was done right. This was the United Nations Environmental Protection Programme, which would later become the largest platform for researching, monitoring and producing environmental policy for environmental conservation and sustainability. It is the number one authority that advocates and implements environmental law. Its headquarters are based in Nairobi, Kenya to illustrate the need to include, assist and collaborate between both developed and developing nations in the fight for the environment.

The UN went on to make tremendous changes in their processes, legislature and the way the environment was perceived. More Conventions were had, Declarations were made, Action Plans were designed and International Treaties were signed. Whilst many nations have ratified these treaties, not all of them have.

Rachel Carson did not live to see any of these achievements, achievements which she made possible. She passed away only two years after her book had been published. She had written it while battling cancer but she was insurmountable in her efforts to communicate her message to the world. Her book was limited to the harmful effects of the use of pesticides on flora and fauna but her research covered perfectly the human reflex to put economic and personal benefit above all else. It is the perfect analogy of how we are still using exhaustive resources to fulfil all our inexhaustible needs. What we do not need is for the planet to turn into a silent spring. What do not want is silence. This is why the environmental movement should be louder than ever.


Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). History of the Environmental Movement. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from

Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). United Nations Conference on the human environment. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from

Environment, U. N. (n.d.). About UN environment programme. UNEP - UN Environment Programme. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from

Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). EPA. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from

Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). EPA. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from

Guardian News and Media. (2021, October 27). What the world can learn from Rachel Carson as we fight for our planet | Kim Heacox. The Guardian. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from

Hub, I. I. S. D. S. D. G. K. (n.d.). World population to reach 9.9 billion by 2050: News: SDG knowledge hub: IISD. SDG Knowledge Hub. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from

The movement. Rachel Carson & the Environmental Movement. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2021, from

Stoll. (2021, August 18). Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a Book that Changed the World. Environment & Society Portal. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from

Techera, E. J., Lindley, J., Scott, K., & Telesetsky, A. (2021). Routledge Handbook of International Environmental Law. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Image Sources

Exhibit 1. Rachel Carson. AP Images. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2021, from

Exhibit 2. Notes on the environmental movement and Environmental Education. The Watershed Project. (2021, February 18). Retrieved November 19, 2021, from

Author Photo

Konstantina Manta

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