Rachel Carson’s ”Silent Spring,” published September 27, 1962 (Houghton Mifflin), became a New York Times bestseller, and turned the modern scientific world view inside out. New and untested tools for war, vis-a-vis, man against man, and man against nature were being naively utilized. At this time, scientific models suggested that nuclear fallout had little effect on outlying ecosystems, and that “widespread” use of DDT and other synthetic pesticides only harmed lice, mosquitoes, fire ants, and other targeted insects. These were false assumptions. “Silent Spring” initiated a quantum leap forward in understanding the “true nature of Nature.” Carson’s vision brought Americans out of darkness and into the “light” (truth) to avoid the inevitable “Silent Spring” (referring to the absence of birds and bird songs).
What did scientists discover? Collateral damage from insecticides was occurring in fish, birds, amphibians, other wildlife, and in humans. Carson read, analyzed, and synthesized the findings of expert biologists. The results: Radioactive fallout and DDT were distributed through the food chain by nature’s flux forces—wind, rain, snow, and fresh or salt water currents. Vast global ecosystems, as well as holiday foods such as cranberries, and basic grocery items (like milk), were contaminated by synthetic pesticides and radioactive particles. The effects were immediate for insects. Humans occasionally experienced spontaneous reactions. Slow and subtle reactions were the most dangerous and life threatening; poisons bio-accumulated (over time) in human tissues and organs.
Roger Tory Peterson (environmentalist/naturalist) predicted that pesticide use constituted the greatest threat to wildlife since the beginning of time and thought that Carson’s “Silent Spring” could do more than anything else to apprise the public of that fact.— LINDA LEAR, author of “Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature.”
What prompted Carson's shift from a lyrical nature author to an environmental activist and “witness for nature?” For decades, Main Street Americans, farmers, outdoorsmen, horticulturists, and naturalists from across the nation were aware that something was tainting wildlife and harming humanity. Hunting, fishing, and birding enthusiasts were outraged by the devastation of wildlife. Many Americans sought doctors and hospitals for relief and cures from mysterious ailments, and cancers. Complaints poured in from across America and piled up on the desks of government bureaucrats.
Through histories, hypotheses, systematic observations, experimentation, and measurement, scientific findings were published and questioned through peer review. In the end, theories were repeated and verified. Carson was very familiar with most of the DDT and synthetic pesticide research. Because of this, Carson dedicated the final years of her life to “Silent Spring” in order to increase citizen awareness, and to advocate for changes in public policy.
It was soon verified that all biospheric life is interconnected and interdependent, even across vast oceans and continents. Carson’s neo-scientific battle against DDT and other synthetic pesticides became a populist movement of the right, center, and left. This reflected a political unity, a trait unrecognized in today’s world. Today, scientists, Evangelical environmentalists, philosophers (East & West), indigenous peoples, and Gaia Hypothesis proponents believe in the oneness of life; they all advocate “tending and keeping” Planet Earth.
This planet is not terra firma. It is a delicate flower, and it must be cared for. It's lonely. It's small. It's isolated, and there is no resupply. And we are mistreating it. Clearly, the highest loyalty we should have is not to our own country … our own religion … our hometown or even to ourselves. It should be to, number two, the family of man, and number one, the planet at large. This is our home, and this is all we've got. — SCOTT CARPENTER, Astronaut, NASA's project Mercury.
News reporters and scientific authors have referred to Earth Day as “Us Day.” We breathe one air. We drink one water. We tread one soil. We encounter identical flux forces of rain, snow, wind, lunar tides, and fresh and salt water currents. We ingest the same poisons interspersed in the ever-fluid and fragile biosphere. The Earth’s biosphere is a “vital external organ” shared by all humanity, and all life energies, stretching from the ocean’s deep abysses to the highest atmospheres still bound by our planet’s gravity.
What was the source of Carson’s brilliance? As a child, she was a precocious and published nature writer, who adored Pennsylvania’s flora and fauna and cherished excursions into the woods. As a young adult, Carson quickly emerged as a gifted author, naturalist, biologist, editor, and citizen dedicated to explaining and preserving the spirit, unity, and “oneness of life.” Roger Tory Peterson shared her passions for nature—only he explored the surrounds of Chautauqua County and became an extraordinary artist/naturalist.
In 1936, Carson accepted a position as an aquatic biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, that later became U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Late in her career, Carson became editor-in-chief. In her years with the FWS she read, edited, and absorbed hundreds of papers written by a host of cutting-edge scientists. She distilled and condensed their findings so that non-scientists, government officials, politicians, and the general public could read and understand the wonders and science of the natural world. In1952, she resigned to become a full-time nature writer and Earth advocate.
Carson explained her research and evidence like this: “I have a comforting feeling that what I shall now be able to do is achieve a synthesis of widely scattered facts that have not heretofore been considered in relation to each other.” Authored in collaboration with the world’s scientific dream team, Carson’s “Silent Spring” prompted Congressional hearings. Washington to the message, and the democratic processes served citizens well. In the end, Carson sparked the environmental movement, Earth Day, The Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Roger Tory Peterson and Carson were kindred spirits; they served together on the District of Columbia Audubon Board. “Birds… are sensitive indicators of the environment, a sort of ‘ecological litmus paper.’ The observation and recording of bird populations over the time lead inevitably into environmental awareness and can signal impending changes,” wrote Peterson.
This is how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service summarized Carson’s career: “Rachel Carson was a world-renowned marine biologist, author, and environmentalist who served as an aquatic biologist and editor-in-chief for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. She has been credited with launching the contemporary environmental movement and awakening the concern of Americans for the environment.”
Edward O. Wilson (Harvard University Professor, radical biologist, and two-time Pulitzer Prize winning non-fiction author) categorized Carson’s legacy like this: “One of the most important Americans of the twentieth century.” Wilson rejected the survival of the fittest theory; he believes that humanity has survived through the ages because of their compassionate and egalitarian spirit, and their ability to collaborate and cooperate in an unselfish manner. If this is true, humanity must soon manifest unity among all planet Earth citizens, and see the light of another paradigm shift—one that commits to global sustainability.
More than ever, citizens must GreenUp locally, nationally, and internationally. Churches, corporations, politicians (left and right) and states have echoed moral calls for compassionate care and action to regenerate a healthy biosphere. The Environmental Protection Agency and Creation Care believers reflect “two sides of the same coin.” Unity of purpose and solidarity are essential to solving global warming and climate change challenges.
Climate change will have a bigger impact on your family and friends and all humanity than the Internet has had.—JOSEPH ROMM, author of “Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know.”