A friend of mine recently mailed me a copy of the book, “Living Downstream” which makes repeated mention of Rachel Carson and her fascinating work in trying to expose the dangers of the toxins we release into the environment by way of pesticides. I must admit that other than occasional short, almost abstract, mentions (even by other bloggers here; see links below) that popped up in my peripheral vision the past few years, nothing fully caught my attention so I had no knowledge of Rachel Carson or just how groundbreaking and important her work really was. I cannot believe I have managed to overlook her for so long…and am even more amazed that Ms. Carson is not a more nationally recognized hero…for a heroic life is most certainly what she lead!
And tho I find myself cringing (again) at just how lousy and lacking my public edumucashion really was and how little I still really know about…everything!…I am also looking forward to delving deeper, exploring more and discovering a whole new piece of history that until now, somehow never made it into my field of vision…
“The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized.”
From RachelCarson.org – “Rachel Carson, writer, scientist, and ecologist, grew up simply in the rural river town of Springdale, Pennsylvania. Her mother bequeathed to her a life-long love of nature and the living world that Rachel expressed first as a writer and later as a student of marine biology. Carson graduated from Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College) in 1929, studied at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, and received her MA in zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932.
She was hired by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries to write radio scripts during the Depression and supplemented her income writing feature articles on natural history for the Baltimore Sun. She began a fifteen-year career in the federal service as a scientist and editor in 1936 and rose to become Editor-in-Chief of all publications for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
She wrote pamphlets on conservation and natural resources and edited scientific articles, but in her free time turned her government research into lyric prose, first as an article “Undersea” (1937, for the Atlantic Monthly), and then in a book,Under the Sea-wind (1941). In 1952 she published her prize-winning study of the ocean, The Sea Around Us, which was followed by The Edge of the Sea in 1955. These books constituted a biography of the ocean and made Carson famous as a naturalist and science writer for the public. Carson resigned from government service in 1952 to devote herself to her writing.
She wrote several other articles designed to teach people about the wonder and beauty of the living world, including “Help Your Child to Wonder,” (1956) and “Our Ever-Changing Shore” (1957), and planned another book on the ecology of life. Embedded within all of Carson’s writing was the view that human beings were but one part of nature distinguished primarily by their power to alter it, in some cases irreversibly.
Disturbed by the profligate use of synthetic chemical pesticides after World War II, Carson reluctantly changed her focus in order to warn the public about the long term effects of misusing pesticides. In Silent Spring (1962) she challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, and called for a change in the way humankind viewed the natural world.
Carson was attacked by the chemical industry and some in government as an alarmist, but courageously spoke out to remind us that we are a vulnerable part of the natural world subject to the same damage as the rest of the ecosystem. Testifying before Congress in 1963, Carson called for new policies to protect human health and the environment. Rachel Carson died in 1964 after a long battle against breast cancer. Her witness for the beauty and integrity of life continues to inspire new generations to protect the living world and all its creatures.
Biographical entry courtesy of Carson biographer © Linda Lear, 1998, author of Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature (1997).
“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”
“Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”
Excerpt, Living Spoonful – “…It was in 1945 that Carson first encountered DDT, which the scientific community had dubbed the “insect bomb” in reference to the atomic bombs recently dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, such was the utter destructiveness of the chemical spray.
Deeply troubled by the use of DDT without further research on its long term effects, Carson was one of only a few voices looking ahead to the “downstream” effects of pesticide use on land, and she was unable to find a publisher willing to take on the issue…
…In 1957, Carson became a champion in the fight against the “fire ant eradication program” – the USDA’s aerial spraying of DDT mixed with other pesticides and fuel oil, which included spraying private as well as public lands. When landowners on Long Island lost a suit to stop the USDA from aerial spraying on their own private lands, Carson was recruited by the Audubon Society to bring public attention to the issue.
It was through the research and connections she made during her work on the “fire ant” campaign that Rachel began to write Silent Spring. Evidence she gathered from her field work and from research at the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute, as well as from confidential information passed on to her by colleagues and friends still working as government scientists, all painted a picture of ecological damage and human sickness resulting from widespread pesticide use.
It’s a tragic irony that Carson, like so many scientists, suffered personally from her dedicated research. In 1960, Carson was diagnosed with breast cancer, which many have attributed to exposure to the very chemicals she fought to restrict. Although fighting cancer and its complications, Carson found the strength to finish writing her most impactful work.
Silent Spring was published on 27 September 1962, and immediately sparked a controversy among chemical manufacturers, the scientific community, and even the general public. Although much energy was invested into debunking Carson’s research, she was ultimately successful in defending her conclusions. As one of her last acts as a conservationist, Carson testified before President Kennedy’s Science Advisory Committee, which, in 1963, issued a report largely supporting the claims she made in Silent Spring.
In January 1964, Rachel Carson died of complications from breast cancer. The legacy of her work, especially the work she completed in her last years, cannot be understated. Her biographer, Mark Hamilton Lytle, credits Carson with “calling into question the paradigm of scientific progress that defined postwar American culture.” Many believe her work is largely responsible for inspiring the grassroots environmental and ecofeminist movements that took hold throughout the 1960s.” Full Article Here
“Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species — man — acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world.”
Acknowledging Critics of Carson’s Work –
I am not sure I agree with the above video but wanted to include it to show differing points of view about Carson’s work. I want to read and learn more before I decide what to fully make of her studies…no matter whether or not I end up agreeing with her assessments, I still admire those who stand up & fight for what they believe in!
Women’s History Month Spotlight: Rachel Carson (947thewave.cbslocal.com)
ASU Professor Sees Rachel Carson´s Early Careers As A Model For Today´s Science Journalism Crisis (spiritandanimal.wordpress.com)
On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson (feministtexicanreads.wordpress.com)
Repeated Refrains of Nature, Quote by Rachel Carson (silverbirchpress.wordpress.com)
Girl History Month – Rachel Carson, Quiet Voice For The Environment (romancingthebee.com)