Rachel Carson Remembered

Jan 14, 2013

It’s the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.  The life and legacy of Carson and her not so well known ties to eastern North Carolina.

It’s the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring. It’s one of the first widely read books of science, written by Rachel Carson, a world renown author, conservationist, and arguably the founder of the modern environmental movement. Stephen O Connell has this profile of Carson and her not so well known ties to eastern North Carolina.

While researching information for a public interest book, Carson traveled from Maine all the way down the coast making a stop in Beaufort, North Carolina. Professor of Marine Ecology at the Duke Marine Lab, Dr. William Kirby Smith.

“As I understand it she used one of our boats, and met with some of the staff here at the island, and then spent several days at low tide making notes and making observations which she later incorporated into her book.”

The Down East region is home to the Rachel Carson Reserve, which was dedicated in 1985 to honor her work.  The almost two mile island boasts a diverse ecosystem including salt marshes, sand dunes, shrub thicket, and maritime forests.

Managed by the Division of coastal management to preserve natural resources and threatened coastal habitat, the 2600 hundred acre sanctuary is home to feral horses and 200 bird species, 23 of which are considered rare or decreasing in number.

Carson is most well-known for her book “Silent Spring” which challenges common beliefs about the use of pesticides.  Many people credit her work with the budding of environmentalism. William Souder has written about the life and legacy of Rachel Carson.  He says her writing elucidated the fact that man was affecting his environment, an idea that steered away from the much more passive idea of conservationism.

“With Rachel Carson and Silent Spring we get a fairly significant change in that outlook, and that really begins what we call the modern environmental movement, and environmentalism, the perspective is slightly different. It’s a little more urgent, it’s a little more pessimistic”.

Carson spent four years researching the data being collected by scientists on the effects of DDT. She died shortly after the book was published. Souder says her ideas caused changes that resounded throughout the decade.

“ In the wake of Silent Spring, throughout the balance of that decade, the environmental movement really did blossom; there was important legislation the clean air act which actually passed in 1963 while Carson was still alive, and then later the Clean Water Act. And then in 1970 probably the most significant, fairly direct result of Silent Spring, was that the Nixon Administration created the Environmental Protection Agency. One of the first orders of business for the EPA was to examine DDT and a bunch of other closely related pesticides and the agency ended up banning the domestic use of those pesticides in 1972, and going forward.”

Although the use pesticides were never banned around the world, and are still in use today in the United States, there is research into the use of pesticides going on around the country.

“There are a lot of herbicides still used in American agriculture, as well other fungicides and insecticides, but certainly one of the developments that has developed recently is that we have learned how to modify food crops so that they are resistant to certain pesticides, and what that encourages of course is the continued use of pesticides on crops because it is economically sensible to do so.”

This month is the fiftieth anniversary of the publishing of her book, Silent Spring. New York City Choreographer, Wendy Osserman, and Composer, Douglas Alvord are putting on a performance in Grantsboro on Sunday afternoon to celebrate Carson’s work. In addition to musical acts, Osserman says excerpts from one of Rachel Carson’s books will be read. 

“ They’re all from the edge of the sea, which is one of her five books that came out, and they’re charming, and it’s very poetic, and her writing is so eloquent about nature, that I think it draws you in.”

The concert is on Friday at 3:00 p.m. at the Delamar Center on Pamlico Community College Campus and benefits the Pamlico Community College Foundation.  If you’d like more information, go to public radio east.org. If you are interested in learning more about Rachel Carson, William Souder recent published a book called On a Farther Shore: the Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson. Stephen O’Connell, Public Radio East.