My hero: Rachel Carson

In class we were each given a presentation topic from our main textbook.  My group was given an excerpt from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, with the task of explaining our section to the rest of the class.  As a marine science major, I have been introduced to Carson’s Silent Spring, but I learned that many of my classmates haven’t been as fortunate.  This book is without a doubt one of the most important books that anyone could read.  It’s informative and persuasive, with facts that appeal to the reader’s emotional side.

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I feel that one of the greatest things Rachel Carson ever did was stand up to the pesticide companies who were mass producing DDT.  She was brave in a time when she was supposed to “sit still and look pretty,” she fought for what she believed, and she didn’t let anyone discourage her.  Silent Spring is based on facts and scientific research, which she spent over six years gathering.  She didn’t just wake up one day and say “Hey, I think I’ll cause some problems today.” She saw the problem, assessed the situation, and gathered information to share with the public.    

With the success of her book came criticism from many different people and organizations.  She was labeled an alarmist, and vilified in the media.  Her character was seriously questioned, and she was made out to be a fiction writer, instead of the true scientist that she was.  This woman was a scientist with a Master’s degree in zoology for crying out loud! She had grown up writing articles and books, many of which were ecologically based.  Did any of that matter, though? No.  Instead of accepting the book and working to stop the production of DDT, people ignored her and chose not believe her.

The companies who worked so hard to discredit her stood to lose a bunch of the money that was being invested into mass production of DDT and other pesticides.  They weren’t willing to lose that just because a woman had the audacity to stand against them.  It seems interesting to me that when a book comes out and challenges the status quo or the “way things have always been done,” the industry’s first inclination is to destroy the writer’s character.  What’s even sadder is the population who buys into this defamation.  On the whole it seems people really don’t want to see change happen.  What a shame that is.

I believe that Rachel Carson is not only one of the greatest Americans of the 20th century, but of any century.  When you look at what she accomplished in her lifetime and all the hell she dealt with, it seems to me a no brainer.  She did several years of in-depth research into a topic that many didn’t know about or fully understand.  She developed a sophisticated manuscript from this research and was brave enough to publish it for the world to read.  She dealt with the backlash from an industry that was hellbent on making people believe that she was crazy and “not a real scientist” (whatever that means).  If it wasn’t for her, there may be no regulations on pesticide use today, and we could be in a far worse place than we already are.banner1

Silent Spring continues to be read and studied today, with professors and students alike taking heed to Carson’s words on the dangers of pesticide use.  Even 50 years later, her words are still relevant – that doesn’t happen often.  This book has caused new regulations to be passed and old regulations to be amended.  I don’t think there is a more important book that’s withstood the test of time.  I personally believe that this book is more important now than it was when it was first published – we’re worse off now than we were then.  Our planet is slowly being destroyed from every angle – be it from excessive construction, pesticide use, or fertilizer runoff – which is what Carson warned us would happen if we continued down the same path.

Before I moved to Fort Myers, my family had been vacationing in the area for 15 years.  We always stay in the same condo which has a lakeside view of what used to be a very gorgeous lake.  Over the years that lake has slowly degraded in quality.  It’s gotten darker and murkier, with fewer birds and animals coming near it.  I used to be able to see to the bottom of the lake clearly, but now I can barely see a few inches below the surface.  In my Environmental Chemistry class we did a study of the water quality in the area and I chose this lake for my sample.  I found that this lake is very high in nitrate – a key ingredient in fertilizer.  It turns out the community is using fertilizer frequently to keep the grass and everything looking greener, thus making more people want to live there.  When it rains (as it does in Southwest Florida) that fertilizer runs into the water and essentially pollutes and contaminates it.  This is why my lake is all murky and ugly now.

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