Exactly fifty years ago, in the summer of 1962, the New Yorker magazine ran a series of articles written by one of their regular science writers. In September of that year the articles were published as a book. During those few months, articles and book touched off a firestorm.
The author was Rachel Carson and the book was Silent Spring.
Both author and book are revered today. Silent Spring is now regarded as one of the founding documents of the environmental movement, which in 1962 was in its early days. Rachel Carson now has several conservation areas and wild-life refuges named for her, as well as a bridge in Pittsburg, and book and dissertation prizes. Other honours include a posthumous President’s Medal of Freedom, and a Great American series postage stamp .
But that’s not the way it was 50 years ago. Not at all. When Silent Spring was published, reaction to Rachel Carson and her book was deeply divided, to put it politely.
On the one side was the chemical industry, supported by countless other businesses which were profiting greatly from the production, sale and wide-scale spraying of insecticides and herbicides. DDT might immediately come to mind, but it was only one of many lethal pesticides. These immensely powerful lobbies set out to ridicule and diminish Rachel Carson in every possible way, and destroy her reputation as a scientist. She was vulnerable, a woman in a male domain, one of only a handful of female scientists.
On the other side, many scientists agreed with Carson and supported her, as did millions of people who had observed the same death and destruction of plants and wild-life, and harm to humans, that she described. She already had credibility with them. She was widely known and loved for her previous books, especially The Sea Around The World and The Edge Of The Sea. And Silent Spring is beautifully written, easy to read and easy to understand.
So – did you recognize Rachel Carson?
If you want to learn more about her, Wikipedia has a good biography, or go to www.rachelcarson.org.
Celebrate the 50-year anniversary of Silent Spring by reading it again. Or for the first time. The book’s a good read, and sadly, the information in it is as pertinent today as it was then. But let’s read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in honour of a quiet, thoughtful woman who had the courage to speak out, because it was right. She would have made a marvellous Raging Granny.