I recently attended a symposium on Rachel Carson’s impact fifty years after the publication of her landmark book Silent Spring.The event, sponsored by the Rachel Carson Institute at Chatham University, brought in people from around the country to discuss our world today and how it changed as a result of one lone woman – a writer turned biologist turned writer – yelling out to the world that we were poisoning our very air and water by attempting to rid the world of wholesale spraying of deadly pesticides that killed everything when there was only one intended victim. Ironically, there were times when the intended culprit, such as the mosquito, didn’t die, but other species in its wake did.
I walked away from my one day there realizing that Carson was really a moderate, not the radical foaming-at-the-mouth communist portrayed by the chemical industry. She actually saw a place for pesticides in agriculture. She was a moderate in that sense. She merely wanted restraint and research to rule. In a speech she gave to the National Women’s Press Club in 1963, she said that most of her harshest critics had never read the book.
The symposium was held at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, which is only fitting. Carson grew up on the banks of the Allegheny River just a few miles from the Aviary, known as “America’s Bird Zoo.” If not for the alarm sounded by Silent Spring in 1962, the National Aviary might be known as a natural history museum rather than a haven for injured and displaced birds.
We do the world a disservice when we harshly judge and criticize without sifting through all the evidence. There’s room for all to be heard, but not if the rhetoric turns to cacophonous shouting spewing forth disingenuous lies. Luckily, the truth prevailed in this case, and Ms. Carson’s lone voice became a chorus that eventually regulated and monitored the pesticide industry. We must continue that chorus today.