Earth Day is April 22, and as you go about planting trees, picking up litter, or test-driving the latest hybrid, say a quiet thank-you to Rachel Carson. She was the marine biologist and gifted writer whose 1962 book, Silent Spring,
exposed man's indiscriminate use of dangerous pesticides, particularly DDT, thus sparking the modern environmental movement. Carson died of breast cancer in 1964, at age 56, but her message lived on, sowing the seeds of awareness that led, in 1970, to the first Earth Day and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, which banned DDT in the United States two years later.
In 1999 Time
magazine named Carson one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, and this year the National Women's History Project is honoring 100 women for "taking the lead to save our planet" (for the full list, go to NWHP.org
), with Carson as the "iconic model." Today her birthplace in Springdale, Pennsylvania, is home to the Rachel Carson Homestead (RachelCarsonHomestead.org
), a nonprofit education center and museum that holds such annual events as Rachel's Sustainable Feast (May 24). Silent Spring
has remained in print for 47 years, and Carson's message that we should seek to coexist with nature, not conquer it, is as relevant as ever.
"She brought us back to a fundamental idea lost to an amazing degree in modern civilization: the interconnection of human beings and the natural environment," wrote then vice president Al Gore in his introduction to the 1994 edition. "This book...for the first time illuminated what is arguably the most important issue of our era."