The Legacy of Rachel Carson 
b. May 27, 1907 – d. April 14, 1964

Ellie Goldberg, M.Ed., Newton, Massachusetts www.healthy-kids.info

Rachel Carson's Centennial Year (2007) is a golden opportunity to introduce Rachel Carson and her book, Silent Spring, to a new generation of students, citizens, journalists, opinion leaders, and policy makers. A national awareness of Rachel Carson's life and legacy can stimulate broader public engagement in efforts to stop the damage caused by the unbridled chemical industry and to integrate and align public policy with Rachel Carson's values.

In 1962, Silent Spring was a call for sanity, common sense, public integrity, health security and human rights from a scientist who catalyzed a wave of such political urgency that it generated a powerful "environmental movement."

It was Rachel Carson's reverence for life and sense of responsibility that motivated her to write Silent Spring (1962). Al Gore wrote in his introduction to the 40th anniversary printing, "…without this book, the environmental movement might have been long delayed or never have developed at all…"

As a master storyteller, Carson exposed the extensive harm caused by the reckless use of modern chemicals and eloquently explained the intimate connection between our health and the quality of our environment. To a public dazzled by chemical industry marketing and government complicity, Silent Spring detailed the assault on the essential elements that sustain life: clean air, clean water, and safe food.

Within a few years of its publication, in spite of an orchestrated chemical industry campaign to discredit her work, an enlightened public and their elected leaders led to the creation of the US EPA, the ban on DDT, and environment regulations such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, laws being systematically undermined today.

Silent Spring is as relevant today as in 1962.

Rachel Carson Was Right: Prevention is the Imperative

While all of Carson's books and other writings stand the test of time, Silent Spring deserves special focus because it is a Call to Action. As the evidence of harm continues to grow, Rachel Carson tells a story that gives citizens a clear rubric of values for evaluating public policies and institutional practices in communities now suffering from environmentally induced epidemics of asthma, autism, cancer, and the long list of acute and chronic illnesses and development disorders.

"What Would Rachel Say?" sets a standard for legislators, institutions, corporations, public agencies and citizens.

The National Resource Defense Council calls Silent Spring one of the landmark books of the 20th century and points out how Rachel Carson faced overwhelming difficulties, illness and adversity, and in spite of an orchestrated chemical industry campaign to discredit her work, "rose like a gladiator…motivated by her unabashed love of nature and sense of responsibility."

Like a "Sentinel Lion," Rachel Carson had the courage, the confidence, the reverence for life, and the sense of responsibility to speak out during a period of widespread pesticide abuse and environmental degradation. Silent Spring still has the transformational power to be the touchstone for a new wave of social consciousness and political urgency. 

Rachel Carson inspires us to think of ourselves, not as whistleblowers, troublemakers, or canaries in the mine, but as guardians, steadfast sentries, and defenders of our community against the decisions that allow pollution to contaminate our air, water and food. We can picture ourselves as the sentinel or guardian lion, the universal symbol of protection, alone or in pairs, at the entrances of cities, buildings, gates, bridges, museums -- guarding the treasures of our community. We are the sentries, gladiators, the "guardian at the gate," the sentinel lions working to inform and engage citizens in the work of aligning local practices with the Precautionary Principle and sustainability standards.

The image of the "Sentinel Lion" will help reframe (and reclaim) the goal of environmental advocacy from simple consumer activities, often limited to changing light bulbs, buying "green," and recycling, to greater citizen engagement at all levels working for government and corporate transparency and accountability.[1] The goal is to foster a culture of Sentinel Lions who, like Rachel Carson, are motivated to take responsibility for the health of their communities and to work for sustained political and cultural change that prioritizes public health.

[1] Confronting Consumption, Edited by Thomas Princen, Michael Maniates, KenConca, MIT Press, 2002.