Remembering Rachel Carson (repost)

To mark Rachel Carson Day today, I am reposting the following which I wrote a couple of years ago to mark her centenary. I guess some of that middle paragraph doesn’t quite hold the same sting anymore given the political sea-change this country has experienced in the past two years, but I’ll leave it in as a reminder that there are those still out there who would deny Carson’s legacy and sully her memory. I’ll have another post shortly with more positive recent elements celebrating her life and work.

Rachel Carson would have been a 100 years old today, had she not lost her battle to breast cancer in 1964, 18 months after publishing her seminal work, Silent Spring, which many consider the birthpoint of the modern environmental movement in the US. I remember reading it and being affected quite powerfully while I was in college in Bombay some 20+ years ago, and wondering why DDT had not yet been banned in India (it was banned, for agricultural use, in 1989, but not for malarial mosquito control). Silent Spring (like Barry Commoner’s The Closing Circle), was one of the first books I had read which showed not only that science had a role in helping us understand how the world worked, and how we humans interact with it (for better or worse), but also that scientists could (and indeed should) play an active role in shaping the public discourse on the relationship between humans and nature.

And that role is even more urgent now, especially here in the US, where science and reason have been taking quite a beating lately. It shouldn’t be surprising therefore, to note that the US Senate failed to take up a measure to honor Rachel Carson in time for her birth centenary! The resolution was blocked, using senate rules, by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla) who likened Silent Spring to “junk science”, no less!! These guys know all about junk science don’t they?! Anyway, I don’t want to sully my (and your) remembrance of Carson by linking to any more of these sad stories of wingnut ravings.

Instead, consider the following for your sunday morning, this May 27, 2007, and may they inspire you to more positive action, to inherit and further her legacy, follow her model as a scientist, citizen, and activist.

Let me leave you with the following quote:

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 destruction.

— Rachel Carson, 1954.

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