"Silent Spring" was my wakeup call those many years ago. Lost my copy
at school and scarce remember the content, but she was the one who
started it for me....she and John & Jane with TMEN.
"One of the most important resources that a garden makes available for
use, is the gardener's own body. A garden gives the body the dignity of
working in its own support. It is a way of rejoining the human race."
Rachel Carson’s Alarm Still Echoes
by Rebecca Clarren
Today marks Rachel Carson’s 100th birthday.
She has been dead for more than 40 years, but the environmental
movement she gave life to with her seminal book “Silent Spring” has
evolved from the grass-roots movement to a politically expedient force
embraced by mainstream Americans.
More than a movement, though, Carson inspired real change.
In my own backyard in Northeast Portland, I wonder how my narrow slice
of the ecosystem would be different if not for Carson. Here, as late
afternoon sunlight threads the tall grass and spring flowers, bugs dive
and weave, bird songs pierce the din of a distant lawnmower. Without
Carson, the world in my own backyard would look and sound far
Carson, concerned about indiscriminate use of the pesticide DDT,
worried about a silent world. In the first chapter of “Silent Spring,”
published in 1962, she imagined an entire community destroyed by “a
white granular powder.” Her best-selling book challenged the
mid-century assumption that pesticide use was for the greater good. A
shy biologist, unmarried and in her mid-50s, Carson created a public
outcry with her thorough research and lyrical prose.
Change happened fast. President Kennedy appointed a science advisory
committee to examine the book’s conclusions. Congress debated
legislation to require pesticide labels on how to avoid damage to fish
and wildlife. In less than a decade, we celebrated the first Earth Day,
Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency and passed the
National Environmental Policy Act as well as a host of the nation’s
bulwark environmental laws.
Here in Oregon, where the economy has forever been intertwined with the
health of natural resources, the environmental movement quickly flared.
We passed the nation’s first bottle bill in 1971. Looking south to
California’s suburban sprawl, former Gov. Tom McCall created landmark
land-use planning laws. The fight about the spotted owl and logging in
the late 1980s and early ’90s made Oregon a flash point for a national
tension that pitted urban environmentalists against the rural working
Clearly, debate about environmental issues isn’t done: We’re still
grappling with land development and Measure 37, and how to protect
endangered species without hurting local economies. There are fringe
eco-saboteurs, some convicted just this past week in Eugene, who
committed arson to raise public awareness about threats to animals and
Yet on a larger scale, caring about the environment has become the
Wal-Mart stocks organic produce and uses compact fluorescent lights.
Energy companies accept the science about global warming and hawk green
energies. Last month at least four glossy magazines, including Vanity
Fair, Fortune and Elle, had “Green Issues.” Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient
Truth” about global warming is the third-highest-grossing documentary
film ever in the United States. The City of Portland’s Water Bureau
trucks run on biodiesel. Recycling bins are as ubiquitous as rain
puddles. Hunters, farmers, corporations, schoolkids and simplicity
advocates all say they care about nature.
That’s a good thing because critical environmental concerns remain.
When “Silent Spring” was published, Carson reported that 200 basic
chemicals were created for use in killing pests, insects and weeds,
sold under thousands of brand names. Today, in Oregon alone, there are
10,480 registered pesticide products with more than 500 pesticide
ingredients. When we use these pesticides on our agricultural land and
urban lawns and golf courses, rain and runoff carries them into our
rivers. Twenty-seven pesticides have been detected in the Clackamas
River Basin, and 36 pesticides appear in the Willamette River Basin, a
recent U.S. Geological Survey reports. However, the USGS only tested
for the presence of 86 pesticides, meaning that far more could exist in
the rivers. Furthermore, the EPA hasn’t established maximum contaminant
standards for the vast majority of chemicals to protect fish and other
aquatic life or humans who drink the water.
This failure to know all the effects of chemicals on our environment
before their application is exactly what troubled Carson nearly a
half-century ago. Her birthday should inspire us to question the status
quo. We can begin with issues right here in our Oregon backyards. It
was, of course, such a close-to-home concern that motivated Carson.
While Carson was visiting two friends, Stuart and Olga Huckins, at
their two-acre private bird sanctuary in coastal Massachusetts, a plane
spraying DDT to control mosquitoes flew overhead. The next morning she
and her friends paddled through the estuary and saw dead and dying fish
everywhere. Crayfish and crabs staggered, their nervous systems
destroyed. This captured Carson’s curiosity and sparked more than four
years of research, which resulted in “Silent Spring.”
Only two years after her book’s publication, Carson died of breast
cancer at age 56. But her voice continues to inspire. To date, “Silent
Spring” has sold more than 250,000 copies in at least 59 countries. Her
birthday reminds us of what one individual can accomplish, if she only
pays close attention to places she cares about and asks critical
questions with a calm clear voice.