On September 27, 1962, Rachel Carson published the environmental science book, “Silent Spring.” The nature writer’s sensational book exposed the dangers of chemical pesticides like DDT and ushered in the modern day global environmental movement.
Carson started her career as an aquatic biologist and became a bestselling nature writer in the 1950s, winning the National Book Award for 1951’s “The Sea Around Us.” Alarmed by the harmful effects of synthetic pesticides, Carson shifted her focus in the late 1950s to the conservation movement. Manmade pesticides were a product of post-World War II military funding. Much to the chagrin of chemical companies profiting off of the harmful substances, Carson’s “Silent Spring” alarmed a mass of Americans typically unconcerned about the environment. In the book, she wrote about the effects of DDT and, although she did not advocate for an outright removal of the substance, her writing led to a nationwide ban of DDT and other harmful pesticides.
Carson was battling cancer and undergoing radiation therapy when her book was published. With her health steadily declining, she was unable to accept the multitude of speaking invitations and award ceremonies related to her book. One of her last public appearances was when she testified before John F. Kennedy’s Science Advisory Committee and the U.S. Senate to make policy recommendations about pesticides. She died of a heart attack on April 14, 1964.
Although she was unable to live to see it, the grassroots environmental movement was born out of Carson’s groundbreaking book. Spurred by the growing awareness about the harmful effects of humans on the ecosystem, the federal government under President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, while also passing the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act into law.
Today’s climate change and sustainability activists, who annually celebrate Earth Day every April 20 and recently participated in the March for Science on April 22, 2017, can thank Carson for making the environment a national concern.