Rachel Carson

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Rachel Carson : biography

May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964

Early in 1957, family tragedy struck a third time when one of the nieces she had cared for in the 1940s died at the age of 31, leaving a five-year-old orphan son, Roger Christie. Carson took on that responsibility, adopting the boy, alongside continuing to care for her aging mother; this took a considerable toll on Carson. She moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, to care for Roger, and much of 1957 was spent putting their new living situation in order and focusing on specific environmental threats.

By fall 1957, Carson was closely following federal proposals for widespread pesticide spraying; the USDA planned to eradicate fire ants, and other spraying programs involving chlorinated hydrocarbons and organophosphates were on the rise. For the rest of her life, Carson’s main professional focus would be the dangers of pesticide overuse.

Silent Spring

Silent Spring is a book written by Rachel Carson and published by Houghton Mifflin on 27 September 1962. The book is widely credited with helping launch the environmental movement.Josie Glausiusz. (2007), Better Planet: Can A Maligned Pesticide Save Lives? Discover Magazine. Page 34. In 1994, an edition of Silent Spring was published in which vice president Al Gore wrote the introduction.ASIN: B00600Z7O8

Research and writing

Starting in the mid-1940s, Carson had become concerned about the use of synthetic pesticides, many of which had been developed through the military funding of science since World War II. It was the USDA’s 1957 fire ant eradication program, however, that prompted Carson to devote her research, and her next book, to pesticides and environmental poisons. The fire ant program involved aerial spraying of DDT and other pesticides (mixed with fuel oil), including the spraying of private land. Landowners in Long Island filed a suit to have the spraying stopped, and many in affected regions followed the case closely. Though the suit was lost, the Supreme Court granted petitioners the right to gain injunctions against potential environmental damage in the future; this laid the basis for later successful environmental actions.

The Washington, D.C. chapter of the Audubon Society also actively opposed such spraying programs, and recruited Carson to help make public the government’s exact spraying practices and the related research. Carson began the four-year project of what would become Silent Spring by gathering examples of environmental damage attributed to DDT. She also attempted to enlist others to join the cause: essayist E. B. White, and a number of journalists and scientists. By 1958, Carson had arranged a book deal, with plans to co-write with Newsweek science journalist Edwin Diamond. However, when The New Yorker commissioned a long and well-paid article on the topic from Carson, she began considering writing more than simply the introduction and conclusion as planned; soon it was a solo project. (Diamond would later write one of the harshest critiques of Silent Spring.)

As her research progressed, Carson found a sizable community of scientists who were documenting the physiological and environmental effects of pesticides. She also took advantage of her personal connections with many government scientists, who supplied her with confidential information. From reading the scientific literature and interviewing scientists, Carson found two scientific camps when it came to pesticides: those who dismissed the possible danger of pesticide spraying barring conclusive proof, and those who were open to the possibility of harm and willing to consider alternative methods such as biological pest control.

By 1959, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service responded to the criticism by Carson and others with a public service film, Fire Ants on Trial; Carson characterized it as "flagrant propaganda" that ignored the dangers that spraying pesticides (especially dieldrin and heptachlor) posed to humans and wildlife. That spring, Carson wrote a letter, published in The Washington Post, that attributed the recent decline in bird populations—in her words, the "silencing of birds"—to pesticide overuse. That was also the year of the "Great Cranberry Scandal": the 1957, 1958, and 1959 crops of U.S. cranberries were found to contain high levels of the herbicide aminotriazole (which caused cancer in laboratory rats) and the sale of all cranberry products was halted. Carson attended the ensuing FDA hearings on revising pesticide regulations; she came away discouraged by the aggressive tactics of the chemical industry representatives, which included expert testimony that was firmly contradicted by the bulk of the scientific literature she had been studying. She also wondered about the possible "financial inducements behind certain pesticide programs".