By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
After dinner, she was having one of those terrible moments that five year olds have when they miss their mother. I decided to whisk my granddaughter off to the pier for an “I spy nature” diversion.
We sat there quietly listening to birds singing as they looked for a place to spend the night and watching water bugs surface on the glassy river. I told her about the dove’s call, the whippoorwill’s song, and the wren’s chirping. Her mind was calm now, but the sight and buzz of a pesky yellow fly chased us back into the house.
What if the birds’ songs were silenced?
Last month, Rachel Louise Carson was the subject of a Google doodle. Maybe you looked at it as I did and asked, “Who is that?” The sketch was of a woman standing beside a body of water with a notebook, binoculars, and backpack as she observed the swarm of wildlife around her.
The doodle commemorated the 107th birthday of the eminent scientist, author, and activist. Her book Silent Spring was published in 1962 and led to the global environmental movement and in 1972 the banning of the pesticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane). A global ban soon followed.
Carson was born in 1907 on a small farm in Springdale, PA and grew-up as a keen observer of nature who developed an early talent for writing. Among her favorite authors were Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote novels about the sea. She became a marine scientist and published a trilogy (Under the Sea, The Sea around US, and The Edge of the Sea,) of books about the sea. ‘
Then she turned her attention to conservation and the widespread use of synthetic pesticides and their effects on birds and wildlife. Silent Spring’s publication in 1962 caused a public outcry for control of all pesticides and chemicals.
She was viciously attacked by the chemical industry, and the New Yorker Magazine called her “an alarmist” and accused her of “overstepping her place as a woman.” After a year, the protests from citizens overcame the detractors. When the American Bald Eagle was found to be a victim of the chemicals, the tide turned.
One million copies of the landmark book were sold before her death of cancer in 1964. President John F. Kennedy was an avid supporter and had her claims investigated for further proof.
The furor that began in the sixties gave rise to the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1980. President Jimmy Carter posthumously awarded Carson the Medal of Freedom. Recently, TIME magazine named her one of the most influential people of the 20th Century.
Protests of the ban continue today in third world countries where the mosquito population which carries malaria has continued to rise. Today, researchers work to find ways to control the insect population without harming wildlife and people.
As Carson said in her landmark work, “Chemical war is never won, and all life is caught in its crossfire.”