Editor’s note: On this 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s death, we wanted to post this piece from one of our sister organizations to the north, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York. Click here to read Executive Director Alice Rolls’ take on the importance of Carson’s legacy for the organic agriculture movement. And if you’re interested in learning more about ways to boost pollinator populations in Georgia, Monarchs Across Georgia is a committee of the Environmental Education Alliance, that works with farmers, teachers, students, families, communities, businesses and others to study Monarch butterflies and restore butterfly habitat across the state.
On this 50 anniversary of the death of Rachel Carson, let us take a few moments to celebrate the life and writings of this extraordinary woman whose book Silent Spring awakened the movement in this country to save our environment from the excessive use of toxic chemicals in agriculture. Rachel herself died of cancer; each of us has friends and relatives who have been stricken by this plague. We have also just gone through a winter when the population of Monarch butterflies, one of nature’s marvels, is the smallest recorded since the monarch colonies came to the attention of scientists in 1975. Let us remember Rachel and redouble our dedication to heed her warnings and take them as a call to action.
Born in Springdale, Pennsylvania in 1907, Rachel Carson graduated from Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College) in 1929, studied at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, and received her MA in zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932. During the ‘30s, she worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, rising to the position of Editor-in-Chief of all publications. In her spare time, she wrote lyric prose – first an article, “Undersea,” and then books, Under the Sea-wind (1941), followed by The Sea Around Us and The Edge of the Sea (1955), which made her famous as a naturalist.
Close observation of nature led her to the disturbing discovery that the increasing use of chemical pesticides in food production was a dangerous path. In her most famous book, Silent Spring (1962), she wrote:
“As crude a weapon as the cave man’s club, the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life – a fabric on the one hand delicate and destructible, on the other miraculously tough and resilient, and capable of striking back in unexpected ways. These extraordinary capacities of life have been ignored by the practitioners of chemical control who have brought to their task no “high-minded orientation,” no humility before the vast forces with which they tamper.”
Rachel passed away on April 14, 1964, from cancer. Were she still with us today, she would be speaking out against the profligate use of Round-up on millions of acres of Genetically Engineered corn and soybeans (81% of the total acreage) which has destroyed the milkweed that Monarch butterflies and many pollinators depend upon for nourishment. It is time we took seriously Rachel’s prophecy:
“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost‘s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”
Biographical entry courtesy of Carson biographer © Linda Lear, 1998, author of Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature.