"Over increasingly large areas of the United States, spring now comes unheralded by the return of birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song. This sudden silencing of the song of birds, this obliteration of the color and beauty and interest they lend to our world have come about swiftly, insidiously, and unnoticed by those whose communities are as yet unaffected." —Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
Fifty years ago today, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring—the book that many credit for launching the modern environmental movement—was published.
In it, Carson investigates the damage that the fast-growing use of DDT to control insects had inflicted on birds and other wildlife, and eventually humans.
Despite the initial uproar after the book's release, Carson ultimately changed the way people look at the natural world. "Her message that humans cannot totally control nature, or eradicate species we don' t like—at least not without harmful side effects—came through clearly. She advocated integrated management: using a minimum of chemicals combined with biological and cultural controls," says the PBS website.
The year after Silent Spring came out, President Kennedy directed his Science Advisory Committee to investigate Carson's claims. Its investigation vindicated Carson's work and led to an immediate strengthening of chemical pesticide regulations.
Seven years later, President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency with one of its first tasks being to ban the use of DDT and other harmful pesticides.
Carson died of cancer two years after Silent Spring was published, at age 56. On the plaque by the sea where her ashes were spread read the words, "Rachel Carson (1907-1964), Writer, Ecologist, Champion of the Natural World, Here at last returned to the sea," along with a quote from one of her last letters: "But most of all I shall remember the monarchs."
Carson's foresight and courage to speak out about human activities that destroy our natural world and the necessity that we all need to be good stewards of the Earth, led to tremendous strides in the environmental community.
Here at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, we are now facing an historic, unprecedented opportunity to really truly save the Bay through the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Perhaps we would never have gotten here were it not for the heroic efforts of individuals like Carson.
"We stand now where two roads diverge," said Carson. "But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one 'less traveled by'—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth."