Sunday, May 27, was the 100th birthday of a true American icon, someone Time magazine called one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th Century. Rachel Carson was an environmental activist long before the “green movement” became popular. Her most famous book, Silent Spring, warned of the effects of the uncontrolled use of lethal pesticides on all of nature. Along with her earlier work The Sea Around Us, Silent Spring remains a classic, and will influence many future generations. Sadly, rather than honoring her prescience in raising warnings about environmental destruction, critics have blocked efforts to honor her on the occasion of the centennial of her birth with the argument that she was wrong about DDT and other pesticides. I’m no scientist, so I will have to leave it to others to comment on that issue. But it seems like an ironic tribute to her still-powerful voice that no less than a U.S. Senator has opposed what might otherwise have been a deserving remembrance on her 100th birthday.
Oddly, I suppose, I was thinking about Rachel Carson this weekend as I read about the ongoing flap over Rosie O’Donnell’s departure from “The View.” I suspect that if there were a test, millions of people would instantly identify Rosie, and most would be stumped by Rachel — and not just because Rachel Carson has been dead for nearly 40 years. Pop culture favors easy treats over hard thoughts. Given the choice between reading a tribute to Rachel’s work or watching Rosie’s videoblog one more time…. well, let’s just say that this might not be a fair contest.
100 years from now, however, whose life’s work will be remembered, debated, deconstructed and reconceptualized? Perhaps Rachel Carson didn’t get it right on all points, but in the sum total of her life’s work, surely her contributions to civilization’s improvement are worthy of honor and recognition. Environmental stewardship is a deadly serious issue, not a whim-of-the-moment topic on a talk show. Maybe that’s why I didn’t hear much about Rachel’s centennial over the weekend, but Rosie was all the rage (ok, along with that Miss Universe pageant, which will be a topic for another blog!).
Let’s give Rachel her due — she deserves vastly more press than Rosie!
By the way, Rachel Carson was also a graduate of a women’s college, the Pennsylvania College for Women — now Chatham University!
A Response to Senator Coburn’s Remarks on Carson