Rachel Louise Carson was an American marine biologist, author and conservationist, whose best-selling book Silent Spring and other writings, are credited with advancing the global environmental movement. She shattered the paradigm and became the instigator of the environmental war against the earth and mankind.
PBS American Experience featured Ms. Carson recently. Her legacy had been suppressed by the corporate greed she tried to expose. 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.
After her resignation from government service, Carson changed her focus to the profligate use of synthetic chemical pesticides after World War II in order to warn the public about long-term effects of misusing pesticides. In her 1962 published book “Silent Spring,” she challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government. Private tests were being conducted in Maryland and other labs on the long-term effects of these “new pesticides.” They found tainted milk and foods that had direct links to cancer.
Not surprising were the attacks received by the chemical companies, namely Monsanto, and some in government, calling her an alarmist. Also not surprising was a book review in Time Magazine in September 1962, the day after it was released.
“Many scientists sympathize with Miss Carson’s love of wildlife, and even with her mystical attachment to the balance of nature. But they fear that her emotional and inaccurate outburst in Silent Spring may do harm by alarming the nontechnical public, while doing no good for the things that she loves.” Read this again!
However, The New Yorker Magazine had published portions of her previously well-received publications and did the same with Silent Spring prior to the books release. This brought CBS and Eric Severeid a calling to do a feature story on her new book. Eric noted that Rachel didn’t look well and asked his editors to get the story on TV as soon as possible. They did, but not before Monsanto, again, lobbied against it and got 3 sponsors to pull out. CBS ran it anyway and some 17 million people saw it. Her book was a run-away best seller. Bet those “sponsors” that pulled out kicked themselves for their lack of integrity and loss of possible revenues.
Years later, in March, 1999, Time included her in “The 100 Greatest Scientists and Tinkers of the Century.” Her emotional and inaccurate outburst was a “sign of the times” when men labeled the women they feared most. Read this again, 37 years after they dissed her work!
She persisted and testified before congress in 1963, calling for new policies to protect human health and the environment. New Federal policies were created to regulate the industry, even as Monsanto ran counter ads showing them “saving the worlds ills.” Monsanto published 5000 copies of a parody called “The Desolate Year” (1962) which projected a world of famine and disease caused by banning pesticides.
A year later, Rachel quietly died after a long battle from breast cancer, bravely, in spite of her painful cancer, having seen her life’s work succeed. She did not want her illness, in any way, to interfere with her mission that we are not separate from the natural world. Everything is connected.
When the Allies liberated Europe they faced a sick and hungry population full of head lice and typhus. Since the pesticide DDT had helped control agricultural pests, but without any testing on humans, the US Government decided to “de-lice” everything and every single person. They also used it in the South Pacific to rid the malaria ridden mosquitos by spraying all vegetation. It did its job. The DDT Swiss scientist, Paul Hermann Muller, won the Noble Prize in 1948. And the environmental assault continued by way of Monsanto’s Agent Orange in Southeast Asia.
Over fifty years ago the world awoke to the dangers of the pesticide DDT and then Agent Orange, that many feel was the beginning of the worldwide environmental movement. Rachel also wrote a best-seller, The Sea Around Us, and The Edge of the Sea, and was named by Time Magazine as one of the 25 most powerful women of the 20th century. DDT almost wiped out our national symbol, the American eagle and many other species of fish and wildlife. Today, not only have eagles recovered, but they thrive. New dangers still lurk, like lead shot used in bird hunting in some areas, which poisons eagles feeding on scavenged carrion.
Today, also, her legacy has been restored and promoted. Her book Silent Spring continues to inspire, as required reading in many classrooms. A bronze statue sits near her beloved home in Silver Springs, Maryland. The Girl Scouts honored her with an environmental badge. No longer hidden in the history books, she lives on with every single girl who earns her badge of protecting the environment or reads her books.
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