Lessons from Silent Spring 50 Years Later

Fifty years ago Rachel Carson sounded the alarm about chemicals in our environment when she wrote Silent Spring. She was the canary in the coal mine but very few people paid attention to her message. Carson was what many people call a citizen-scientist, she knew what scientist knew but the rest of the world did not. Carson’s battle to educate people about synthetic pesticides is much like the environmental fights we are in today regarding global warming, GMO, chemicals in our environment, and fracking.

Carson fought to get her message out, she enlisted the help of journalists like E. B. White who (was writing for the New Yorker at the time) who encouraged her she should write about it. She did tons of research reading as many studies as she could. She wrote her book and then enlisted to support of an organization that already had the trust of the people like the Audubon Society. Then she did something masterful, she piggybacked on the idea that was consuming the peoples thoughts at the time: the health effects of radiation.

Silent Spring was a PR success for its time it was featured in a three part series in The New Yorker and she was featured on a one hour long TV newshow “CBS reports” and was the New York Times Book of the Month! Sadly Carson was fighting cancer during this big PR push but that did not stop her from moving forward. Her work was not met with unanmous acceptance. Big business, chemical manufacturs to be specific, fought against her book much like big business does today.

Carson died before DDT, the chemical she wrote about, was banned.  She is credited with starting a revolution, an environmental revolution. People like Al Gore have come after her raising awareness for other important things. I like to think that there are millions of Carson’s out there: Moms, Dads, grandparents, bloggers, kids…but sadly we are still plagued by the issues that Carson was met with but now the opposition is better organized and has a even more to lose.

We have a lot to learn from Carson’s fight.

  • People are not as connected to real science as they should be, they depend on the media to give them their scientific news.
  • There are issues that are on the peoples minds and in order to get their attention we need to make sure that the issues raised show the parallel to those that resonate with people.
  • Join forces with already accepted organizations and sources to get the message out.
  • Big business is even more organized to fight against these people, motivated crusades, have to join their small forces together.
  • Do not give up even if you do not see a result in the timeline you had hoped. Carson’s goal was not realized in the timeline she hoped but she is still credited for sounding the alarm and getting it done.

I think the best modern day example of similar fight to Carson’s in point is the fight against global warming. Al Gore wrote An Inconvenient Truth based on science and evidence yet there are still millions of people who do not believe in global warming. Extreme weather all over the world including drought, flooding rains, extreme tempertatures…etc. is still met with skeptic views and non-believers. Scientist that have been talking about this problem for years but have been ignored or written off and big business’ “scientists for hire” get more press spreading misleading facts to keep real change from happening because it will affect their businesses bottom line.

Carson is in inspiration for me personally, while I do not have the access to a audience like she did (speaking to Congress!) she remained steadfast even when ill in fighting for what she believed in… a trait that is admirable to anyone fighting for the right thing.

If you have not read Silent Spring I encourage you to do so, the facts will be enlighting and knowing what she was going through when she wrote it and when it came out adds so much more to the story she tells.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons compliments of The Smithsonian Institute