Remembering Rachel Carson: her lessons, her warnings

Here are links to four important articles by women on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of "Silent Spring":

  • Biologist-writer Sandra Steingraber, now a leading force in her community and state (New York) against hydraulic fracturing (see:, has penned this superb article:

The Fracking of Rachel Carson: Silent Spring’s lost legacy, told in fifty parts
Published in the September/October 2012 issue of Orion magazine

1. Rachel Carson, the ecologist who kicked the hornet’s nest, wrote a book that needed no subtitle. Published fifty years ago this September, Silent Spring rocketed to the top of the bestseller list, prompted a meeting with the president’s science advisers, occasioned congressional hearings, and circled her neck with medals of honor. It also let loose swarms of invective from the pesticide industry. Throughout it all, Carson remained calm. Friends and foes alike praised her graceful comportment and gentle voice. Also, her stylish suits and trim figure. Nevertheless, her various publicity photos (with microscope; in the woods; outside her summer cottage in Maine; at home in Maryland) look as if the same thought bubble hovers above them all: I hate this.
Read full piece here

  • Heather Pilatic, PhD, Co-Director of Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), writes in the Huffington Post, Sept. 21, 2012:

What Would Rachel Write: The Top 4 Untold Pesticide Stories

(It starts:) "Silent Spring turns 50 next week, giving occasion for all manner of reflection on Rachel Carson's legacy as the author who catalyzed the U.S. environmental movement. The small, but vocal rightwing fringe continues in its campaign to paint Carson as the devil "responsible for more deaths than Hitler." But most mainstream reflections thus far have sought to contemporize Carson by drawing links between the issues she outlined in Silent Spring and the concerns we still face today. 

Claiming no special insight other than working daily in Carson's wake, I speculate that she'd be reporting in her way on one of these still-untold and/or under-reported pesticide stories: 

1. Genetically engineered (GE) crops are the present-day growth engine of the global pesticide industry; and we know about as much about their health and environmental impacts as we did about DDT in 1962. Working title: "GMOs are DDT 2.0".....
Read full article here

  • In the North Carolina State Bulletin, an interview with Carson biographer and expert Linda Lear:

5 Questions with Linda Lear

"Q: What was compelling about the book?

A: Carson uses apocalyptic rhetoric to suggest that unless we change our arrogant attitudes toward the natural world, humankind and nature will be destroyed. She intended to disturb and alarm us, and to make us think about tomorrow and not just today. She was prophetic. DDT spray was ubiquitous in my own childhood neighborhood outside of Pittsburgh, close to where Carson grew up. One of her profound ideas is that nature is not static, humankind can poison nature, but that ultimately means we are poisoning ourselves. She was committed to changing attitudes in order to save lives.

Q: What was the basis of the industry attacks on Carson’s credibility?

A: Industry and government both understood that Carson’s critique challenged their power and authority. She made human exposure to toxic chemicals about human rights. She protested the power of the elite to keep citizens oblivious to what was happening to their environment. Carson’s book was viewed as a new democratic manifesto. They attacked that she had no Ph.D. in science, that she was a former government bureaucrat, without any organizational ties, and a lowly nature writer. They charged that she was a hysterical woman who had overstepped her bounds and a communist sympathizer who wanted to aid Soviet agriculture. Their goal was to silence Miss Carson. They failed.

Q: Does “Silent Spring” still have the impact that it did 50 years ago?

A: That depends upon each reader. Times have changed along with attitudes towards our environment and health. “Silent Spring” was a product of the Cold War and the post-Atomic Age. Yet, the problems that Carson underscores – human arrogance and lack of moral care for the interdependent systems of life – remain our biggest challenges. Carson’s work reminds us that human lust for control and the almighty dollar can destroy all of us."

  • ELIZA GRISWOLD, New York Times, September 21, 2012

How ‘Silent Spring’ Ignited the Environmental Movement

Excerpt: “Silent Spring,” which has sold more than two million copies, made a powerful case for the idea that if humankind poisoned nature, nature would in turn poison humankind. “Our heedless and destructive acts enter into the vast cycles of the earth and in time return to bring hazard to ourselves,” she told the subcommittee. We still see the effects of unfettered human intervention through Carson’s eyes: she popularized modern ecology.

If anything, environmental issues have grown larger — and more urgent — since Carson’s day. Yet no single work has had the impact of “Silent Spring.”..."