Rachel Carson

Environmentalist (1907-1964)
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The publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring created a sensation. Her title was inspired by the absence of birdsong, an effect of the widespread use of pesticides like DDT. (At the highpoint of its use in 1959, 40,000 tons of DDT were used in the U.S.) While selling two million copies, Carson’s book was fiercely attacked by the chemical industry. She was denounced as a fraud and even a communist. Yet many credit her book with the awakening of modern environmental consciousness.  

Raised on her family farm in Springdale, Pennsylvania, Carson trained as a marine biologist and published several acclaimed books on the life of oceans. But with Silent Spring she spelled out the destructive impact of human actions on the earth and the threat they posed to our own health and welfare. Testifying in 1963 before a Senate committee, she noted the carcinogenic properties of many chemicals (without noting that she herself was suffering from the cancer that would claim her life on April 14, 1964).  

Though Carson made no explicit reference to faith, she was moved by a deep sense of wonder and respect for the earth and its creatures—and a conviction that humans must not ignore their own fragile bonds with nature. How differently might we see, she wondered, if we asked ourselves: “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”  

In 1980 Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2001 the use of DDT was banned throughout the world.  

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race.” —Rachel Carson 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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