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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Would Rachel Carson Say?

Rachel Carson 1907-64 was a famous author 
and her name has become synonymous with environmental advocacy. 
Rachel Carson 1940
US F + W Serv
March is known as Women's History Month and it seems like an excellent time to consider the
contribution of environmental champion, Rachel Carson during this nuclear crisis.

As we watch helplessly as a terrible drama plays out in Japan, with Nuclear Reactors seemingly disintegrating before our eyes and deadly radiation escaping, I am drawn to the words of this incredible
author who inspired the environmental movement in the 1960's. It was her book which led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the first Earth Day.

She was a biologist by training who had worked for the US Fish & Wildlife Service and was the author a famous book published in 1962 called Silent Spring. She had also written several other award winning books on Sea Life.

Silent Spring posed the question of what had humans done to undermine the very basic natural functions.
Scientists had determined that DDT was a serious threat to bird life. And Ms Carson's book Silent Spring had an enormous impact on the public understanding about what was happening to our environment from the impacts of chemicals and elements such as radiation from all the nuclear testing that the Cold War had brought about.

She posed the question "And what if no birds sing?"  And the world listened....

From Silent Spring  (Houghton-Mifflin, 1962):
"No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves....... 
The rapidity of change and the speed with which new situations are created follow the impetuous and heedless pace of man rather than the deliberate pace of nature. Radiation is no longer merely the background radiation of rocks, the bombardment of cosmic rays, the ultraviolet of the sun that have existed before there was any life on earth; radiation is now the unnatural creation of man's tampering with the atom. The chemicals to which life is asked to make its adjustment are no longer merely the calcium and silica and copper and all the rest of the minerals washed out of the rocks and carried in rivers to the sea; they are the synthetic creations of man's inventive mind, brewed in his laboratories, and having no counterparts in nature."

A website called Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by Linda Lear says:

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.

Now, the world is watching breathlessly at the drama in Japan, a place that has known the horrors of radiation like no other.  Today the news has not gotten any better, and more radiation, more fires and more nightmares continue in Fukushima.  The latest news is that the "situation is deteriorating" according to NPR tonite.

We hope that the world will once again look to Rachel Carson's words and heed them once again.


  1. Thanks so much for posting this thoughtful compilation about Rachel Carson and her words of warning. All the radiation released will now be entering our shared environment, be by air, water or soil we will be breathing and eating it. When will humankind learn that our able to control the forces of nature are limited. We need to respect the limits and save ourselves while we still can.

  2. I so appreciate this posting today. Thank you.

    We were warned, and it seemed for a while Rachel Carson's words were heard, positive actions taken. But now, it seems we've lost our way, and the people of Japan are paying an enormous price. If we don't change course dramatically, they won't be the last.