Silent Spring, The Children of Men, and Consent

 In 1962, Rachel Carson published her groundbreaking work, Silent Spring. This publication explored the many implications that pesticides have on the environment and the adverse effects on other species. While Silent Spring focused on the effect that DDT had on avian populations, the work proposed thought-provoking research that many individuals took and imagined the larger implications it could present. The ideas presented in Silent Spring can be seen in the film, The Children of Men.

In The Children of Men, the world has become infertile. There have been no new births for over 18 years, which has brought despair and chaos to the globe. While the exact reason for the infertility is not mentioned, the world of 2027 is shown to be smoggy, dirty, and unclean. In one of the very beginning scenes, just before a coffee shop is blown up, one can see a group of motorcyclists with hospital masks on, as is seen in many highly polluted cities. In various other scenes, we see thick smog and evidence of a destroyed environment. This depiction brings many of the issues discussed in Silent Spring home; what if the chemicals we are using cause harm to the human population or make our species infertile?

The idea that environmental destruction could cause infertility is not a novel one to the speculative fiction genre. The Handmaid’s Tale paints a very similar premise to The Children of Men, showing what environmental disaster can do to fertility rates and to human society. In both The Handmaid’s Tale and The Children of Men, those who are able to become pregnant lose much of their autonomy. Their potential progeny are needed to either reinforce the regime in place, or to act as a salvation for the world. Because of this, mothers lose the ability to make decisions over where their bodies go, what happens to their progeny, and many other important decisions. Going along with our discussions of consent, did these mothers consent to this sort of treatment? Did their children? Did the environmental destruction that caused the rarity and importance of their pregnancies remove their rights to be autonomous human beings? These questions are raised in speculative fiction because of the implications that Silent Spring had on how people think about the environment and how humans could potentially impact it, and in turn how it would impact us.


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