TeacherServe Essays

Rachel Carson and the Awakening of Environmental Consciousness

Author: Lear, Linda

In the summer of 1962 the prestigious New Yorker magazine published excerpts from a sensational new book by Rachel Carson. In Silent Spring Carson argued that humankind was fatally tampering with nature by its reckless misuse of chemical pesticides, particularly the ubiquitous new wonder chemical DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane). In riveting chapters on the contamination of soil, water, vegetation, birds, and wildlife, Carson suggested that the longterm effects of these chemicals were detrimental to the continuation of life. By the time Silent Spring was published that fall, Carson’s alarm had touched off a national debate on the use of chemical pesticides, the responsibility of science, and the limits of technological progress. When Carson died just eighteen months later in 1964, she had set in motion a course of events which would result in banning the domestic production of DDT by 1972 and create a grassroots movement to ensure the protection of the environment through state and federal regulation. Most importantly, Carson’s writing and her courageous witness helped transform the relationship between humans and the natural world and led to an awakening of public environmental consciousness.

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Subjects: Science; Environment and Nature; Education Studies; Environmentalism; Environmental Conservation; Agriculture; Evironmental Protection Agency (EPA); Gender Politics; Social Reform