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E.O. Wilson on Rachel Carson

Forty-five years ago next week, the modern environmental movement was launched with the release of Rachel Carson's landmark book SILENT SPRING, amidst fiery controversy that still burns today.

Check out our pages on Rachel Carson and the DDT controversy and read an excerpt from one of Carson's kindred spirits, noted biologist E.O. Wilson, from his recent afterword to SILENT SPRING:

If Rachel Carson were alive today, I believe she’d give America a mixed grade. The increased public awareness of the environment would please the educator in her; the ranking of her book as a literary classic would astonish the writer; and the existence of new regulatory laws would gratify the frustrated government bureaucrat. The naturalist in Rachel Carson, positioned at the core of her several parts, would take pleasure in knowing that ecocidal schemes such as the sea-level canal and the fire ant eradication program, if broached today, would be widely ridiculed and perish stillborn.

Even so, she would recognize that the war between environmentalists and exploiters, local and national, is far from over. It has only subsided since 1962 to a more muted equilibrium. Although developers and policymakers come up with fewer spectacularly bad large projects, they continue to chip, saw and drill away at the remains of the American natural environment. They say, over and over, we just need a little more here and there. The environmentalists respond by saying pull back; nature is dying the torture-death of a thousand cuts.

Of the 1,254 species protected under the Endangered Species Act at the end of 1991, four times as many are declining as are gaining in population. The enemies of federal environmental regulation cite this difference as evidence that the act has failed. Their logic, if applied widely, would call for closing hospital emergency rooms because so many people die there. They declare the Endangered Species Act a detriment to economic growth, conveniently ignoring the fact that fewer than one in a thousand projects reviewed under its provision has been halted.

During the past forty years the United States has come to understand that it is a major player in the deterioration of the global environment. Rachel Carson, who was a quick learner, would be ahead of us in understanding the devastating effects everywhere of still-rocketing population growth combined with consumption of national resources, the thinning of the ozone layer, global warning, the collapse of marine fisheries, and, less directly through foreign trade, the decimation of tropical forests and mass extinction of species. She would regret, I’m sure, the sorry example the United States sets with its enormous per capital appropriation of productive land around the worked for it s consumption – ten times that of developing countries.

On the other hand, the lady from Maryland would take some hope from Earth Summit, the successful Montreal Protocol aimed at the reduction of ozone-thinning chlorofluorocarbons, and the less successful Kyoto Protocol designed to slow climatic warming (still thwarted in 2002 by lack of American approval). She would be cheered by news of the rapid growth in funding by the muscle of such global nongovernmental organizations as Conservation International, the Nature Conservatory, and the World Wildlife Fund – U.S.

Silent Spring continues to be worthy of our attention because it marks an important moment in history, just as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and John Muir’s Our National Parks do. The examples and arguments it contains are timeless lessons of the kind we need to reexamine. They are also timely, because the battle Rachel Carson helped to lead on behalf of the environment is far from won.

We are still poisoning the air and water and eroding the biosphere, albeit less so than if Rachel Carson had not written. Today we understand better than ever why we must press the effort to save the environment all the way home, true to the mind and spirit of the valiant author of Silent Spring.

Photo: Robin Holland


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Just got to watch the RC last night and it was wonderful. Thanks. For the past several years, I've been performing a show I created abt RC--RACHEL CARSON RETURNS: HER LIFE AND WORK and I too feel she comes to me when I begin my performance. Her books abt the ocean are truly beautiful and still relevant today. As is SILENT SPRING. And by the way, RC says in that book that malaria mosquitos were already becoming resistant to DDT and suggests other, biological controls for dealing w/ them. Lilith Rogers

Especially for those who wondered who cared for Rachel Carson's adopted son Roger, after her death:
According to my Google search, his name is Roger Christie, and after Rachel Carson's death, he was adopted by her close friends Paul Brooks and his wife.
Roger Christie is, of course, now an adult. He is also a father.

Thanks to you and the wonderful writer and actress for sharing Rachel Carson with us.
There have been so many depredations upon our environment and our federal lands thanks to BushCorps. The incredible rush to get mining rights to federal lands around the Grand Canyon has mushroomed in the last six years, the last two (2) year's growth has almost been astronomical. More land to be mangled and desecrated, soils and water to be poisoned, heritage to be abused, beauty to be despoiled, and the public trust to be abandoned and abrogated. Where are the Statesmen (and women) who will save our land for all of wethepeople and our posterity?!
Please, Congress, act--and quickly! Stop the mutilations of our public lands, the poisonings of our citizens and our planet, and the rampant greed and irresponsibility.

I'd spend a lot of time detailing how much I respect and admire the work of Bill Moyers, but I just have to gripe about two of his recent PBS offerings.

Katrina Revisited
Rachel Carson's Legacy

-two serious topics that are treated as puff pieces.

Whatever happened to Rachel's adopted son? The question was sort of left hanging.

Thank you so much for the show. It was one of the best!

We have made incredible progress in protecting the environment since Rachel Carson first jolted us from our collective indifference. But the task before us is greater than the achievements behind us. We are losing 6 million acres of tropical forests every year. We are witnessing the greatest loss of biological diversity since the last global extinction event. Coral reefs are threatened in every ocean; fish stocks are plummeting; one billion people have no access to clean, fresh water.

Sadly, we have lost much ground in the last six years.

In June, 2003, the White House tried to change EPA’s draft Report on the Environment, hoping to delete reference to a National Academy of Science report concluding that human activity is contributing to climate change.

The White House objected to EPA’s draft language, widely accepted in the scientific community, that “climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment.”

The administration tried to suppress the use of a well-established 1000-year temperature record, instead substituting an analysis that supported the administration’s position
The White House Council on Environmental Quality censored, and then ceased publication of, a USDA brochure recommending steps that farmers could take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality censored, and then ceased publication of, a USDA brochure recommending steps that farmers could take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

After 10 years of study, and independent peer review by the National Academy of Science, a scientific team issued final findings on species management along the Missouri River, listing actions that were to take effect in 2003. But the Bush Administration stepped in, inserted a new team, and revised the biological conclusions from the 10 year study, with conclusions suitable to the White House.

The Bush Administration overruled a $12 million science-based management plan for old-growth forest in eleven national parks; they did so with a “review team” consisting largely of non-scientists with no forestry expertise; plan changes included doubling or tripling the harvest and relaxing standards for cattle grazing.

Tightening standards for lead pollution and poisoning were avoided by the administration by making last-minute changes to an expert panel, packing the committee with industry-friendly staff and dismissing world-renowned experts on lead.

On December 21, 2005, EPA proposed air quality standards for fine particulate matter that were weaker than even the most generous proposed by the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee.

On March 17, 2006, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals (D.C.) overturned the Bush Administration’s “routine maintenance” rule, which exempted 1000’s of air polluters from regulation.

The White House is not satisfied with attacking clean air; they now have water in their crosshairs, taking actions that will virtually dismantle the Clean Water Act passed 30 years ago, and now considered one of the most successful environmental laws ever enacted. On February 16, 2006, the Bush White House proposed lowering drinking water quality standards for poor and rural communities.

The Bush Administration believes that the world’s resources were put here for man’s benefit and exploitation. Until we again find reason trumping faith in the White House, the environment, and all the resources on which we depend, will be critically threatened by irrational use.

Mr. Moyers,
Thank you a billion times for the special on Rachel Carson and for focusing on Kaiulani Lee's beautiful work. I am an Earth/Environmental Science teacher and was in college during the peak Rachel Carson days. She has always been a hero for all the reasons you and Kaiulani Lee made so clear. So many people today, as one of your readers honestly admitted, don't even know who Rachel Carson is or what she did. For those of us who grew up during her time, we will never forget her courage, tenacity, poignant writing, and most importantly, HER MESSAGE.
Her message about the interconnectedness of all living things and man's role and responsibility in not tipping that 'balance of nature' is even more vital to respect and to act on today than it was forty-five years ago. Those who fight against Rachel and her legacy are most likely the ones who have not read her books and who agree with the crazy scientist from the film clip who argued, "Man will control nature!" What a scary viewpoint. Hopefully there is still time to reacquaint with the wonders of nature and to adjust human activities to help rebalance the parts man has affected.
As for Kaiulani's passionate, beautiful play and portrayal of Rachel Carson, my hope is that someone who watched the program will step forward and assume the goal of disseminating Rachel Carson's heroism, courage and message in some larger format to the general public, perhaps in some wonderful cinematic way, with Kaiulani Lee. You opened the door for that with your program. I cannot thank you enough.

I really enjoyed the program on Rachel Carson--very timely and important. However, with the (mis)leadership in Washington, I fear things are bad and nearing the tipping point. The 11th hour film portrayed this well.

It seems that self-interested elements in control of our government seek profit and power at the expense of the environment and of the vast majority of the Earth's people:

I hope things are not as bad as they seem, but an objective look at the evidence indicates that they are. But it is not too late! We must quickly educate ourselves, spread the word, and act!

The program on Rachael Carson neglected the broader circumstances of the banning of DDT.Read the article in National Geographic-July 2007 on malaria.The article a scintist from the National Institutes of health-Gwadz-saying the "ban on DDTmay have killed TWENTY MILLION CHILDREN"The article goes on to say that malaria is endemic to 106 nations.

Hello Mr. Moyers and Staff.

I'm writing to thank you for producing excellent pieces, and making them available for free over the internet. I regard this as the expansion of the CPB/PBS/NPR mandate to this new medium. Unlike many PBS shows however, yours is streamable. I think this speaks volumes about Mr. Moyers' and his staffs' commitment to enlightening the public via the public's rights of way. Finally, I'd ask that you do some stories about the nature of public and private debt in America. Ours is an economy propped up by it, and almost nobody grasps the extent to which this is true. The way in which our fiscal and monetary policies, our aid and diplomacy, are predicated on an unsustainable approach to debt. This is a very sensitive subject for obvious reasons, but it behoves us to understand the situation and come to grips with it, before we can adequately address it. Thank you very much. I hope you continue, in spite of the pressures placed on you editorially and otherwise, to question authority and bring accurate, insightful stories to the citizenry.

Matt Isles, Oakland, CA

Dear Mr. Moyers,

Thanks for doing your part to enlighten humanity through your excellence in journalism. I thought this might be a good place to convey my own small efforts, so that perhaps others might try it to.

I have been car free for 3 months now, and quite proud of it. Quitting gasoline is as equally or even more difficult as the addictions of cigarettes, and alcohol, maybe even heroin. Cold turkey is not the way to go, and as yet there are no support groups. Their are no patches or gums; quitting is all about self. It took nearly two years of slowly weaning myself out of my gas burning car, but yes, I have finally succeeded. They say “once a gasaholic, always a gasaholic”, but so far so good. The first step for me was admitting I had a problem. Watching and ignoring the reports of global warming, the planet dieing, the penguins dieing, and the terrible war, or killing and dieing for oil, was a sure sign of denial. The fact is: if Earth is dieing so am I. If I am the cause, is that suicide? The next step was moving closer to my work. The neighborhood is not as nice but, nice is only relative anyway. Not being afraid of the weather, or walking in the rain, took some time to get use to. Now I listen to the birds singing, instead of rock and roll. It feels more natural, it feels really good.

Now that I have done it, become car free, and free of gasoline for good, let me tell you the rewards. I have become very healthy in a short period of time. I quit the gym too, didn’t need it. Walking and biking is the best medicine. And obviously the health effects to the environment are equal to my own. Imagine that, nature and I are one and the same. Hmm. Besides the health benefits of gasoline abstinence, I have found my finances have become healthier. Wow, health benefits and more money too; what took me so long? If you are still addicted to car and gasoline it is time to quit. Quit for Earth.

I have decided after watching your Rachel Carson piece last night, that I would become a member of PBS again. That I would donate or help sponsor the best of journalism, the best Mr. Moyers, is you.

Thanks again,


Thank you Mr. Moyers for a beautiful and sensitive poem about Rachel Carson. I am ashamed to say that I had never heard of Rachel Carson before last night. I will be checking her books out of the library today.
I would also like to inquire as to where I might contact Kaiulani Lee and her excellent play. I would like to know what her schedule might be. What an inspiring life she leads. She touched me.

Yet again Bill Moyers presents a riveting documentary about Rachael Carson a gentle woman who, in her gentleness in the 1960's, hit mankind over the head with a wondrous truth illuminated in her book Silent Spring. Man is slowly, through his technological and chemical genius, destroying the most genius creation of all -- earth itself. Man through his unbridled conspicuous consumption and desire to eliminate his perceived enemies is upsetting the evolutionary balance of nature through the endless toxins, pesticides and insecticides he produces.

I am a child of the 50's and live in the same home on the same street at 58 years old that I did at 9 years old. I have seen things and people come and go. I have seen at 9 years old a dump located close to my house which spewed and belched its poison for decades. It was silenced not that long ago and has recently given way to the most modern recycling center. I have Rachel Carson, I think, in part, to thank for that.

Many of the people who occupied my street when I was young have died. Too many, I think, (including my own father) of cancer. I wonder in my uneasy sleep at night if, perhaps, that smoke which coughed so many years ago was the unobtrusive murderer of them all and will ultimately work its biological dark magic and be responsible for my death too. Time, I suppose, will tell. Thank you, Bill Moyers, for bringing this phenomenal woman and her contribution to life again.

I am by no means a frequent or even an occasional "commentor" on any blogs or websites. The last time I did so was in response to Mr. Moyers' courageously reported interview with constitutional law experts Fein and Nichols about America's pressing need to take impeachment action against President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other government figures presently shredding our Constitution beneath their dragging shoeheels. I just now was priveleged to witness another powerful journalistic effort by Mr. Moyers as he presented a beautifully delivered piece on the GREAT American ( and human inhabitant of planet Earth) Rachel Carson. I had read Silent Spring around 1969 during my college years and as I was just beginning to "get my eyes opened" to what was really going on in the closeted world of America's powerbrokers. Ms. Lee's brilliantly inspired performance as the voice, heart, and soul of this gentle giant of both science and literature was spellbinding and in my case it truly came close to moving my consciousness at times perfectly in line with the essence of who and what Ms. Carson's entity really was. I have a close friend back in my hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y. who, in his mid-forties, is reassessing his life and has embarked down the path of environmental studies and activism. He just recently read Silent Spring for the first time and found it to be a sort of morale booster and a "spiritual" source for his new life direction. He has already found the confidence to become a volunteer "reporter"/article writer for the local Sierra Club chapter in N.Y.C. Once again Mr. Moyers is reawakening our overtired and somewhat burned out psychic/social energy by eloquently presenting to us a strong reminder that the battle engaged by courageous Americans against the formidable forces of greed in our country's economic and political multiheaded monster of information manipulation needs to be constantly monitored and revisited by the next generations. To do so in such an artistically enunciated manner is just more evidence of the man's accumulated expertise, commitment and wisdom..KUDOS to all of the Bill Moyers staff and underwriters. Sadly, what comes to mind as I write this is the horrifying fact that Mr. Bush and his "crowd" are getting away with "MURDER" in the area of environmental issues as all of the nation's attention is held hostage to his "WAR NIGHTMARE"! Case in point: somehow he has gotten away with giving the official "O.K."! to the continued raping and pillaging of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia in the frightenly ugly practice of entire mountaintop stripping by the coal barons. Murdered rivers, streams, and as yet uncounted species of insects, fish, mammals, and drinking water that kills the poor humans trying to maintain a wonderful but difficult lifestyle steeped in the culture of those ancient hills. Lastly, my own personal living style is exponentially more "green" and earth/health aware than it had been for years, but I have A LONG WAY TO GO if I seriously wish to become part of the community of persons trying to sdave what is left of the natural world, and this episode of the Moyers Journal has brought that truth closer to the forefront of my thinking and self awareness than it has been for a long time.. THANX!

You want new Rachel Carsons? We are here, but we are not who you think we are. We are environmental scientists and environmental educators without names like Rachel Carson or Edward Wilson. We are not white, and we are not from Christian traditions. We are Native American, indigenous peoples. We are women of color who have been, and continue to be marginalized. We are immigrants who have spent a fortune educating ourselves in this country, and yet cannot find employment or opportunities to publish our works, or have a voice where we can share our intercultural wisdoms. We are the silent movement in this country for new values and morals where the relationship with the environment is central. We are here.




Thank you soooo much
for this visit with
Rachel Carson.

I was especially delighted when the actress said, to paraphrase, I'm always so nervous before this performance, and then it's as if Rachel Carson inhabits me...

(Did anyone notice the knock on the door outside the studio at that very moment of utterance?)

Well done.

We need a new Rachel Carson. Monsanto has patented seeds which are resistant to their carcingous product RoundUp.
Their idea is to spray the wheat fields by helicopter and avoid weeding. (They don't say what happens to the RoundUp after the spraying, but it must remain on the wheat.) Then where does it go? It must become a part of our bread and cereals, which means that we will ingest it.
Then what happens to us??
Some farmers reject this.
A trick of Monsanto is to get one farmer to plant their product. Of course some of the seeds land on the next farm. Monsanto then accuses that farmer with stealing their patented wheat. They win the lawsuit and bankrupt the farmer taking his money and then his farm. They now own the farm and can plant anything that they want to on it. And we get to eat it.

NO ONE is stopping them!!!
Not the FDA nor the federal agriculture dept..

Welcome to the new America run by corporations!!

Whether it be DDT or methyl mercury, the unintended poisoning of many birds when spraying to control Dutch elm disease or to control other pests at such locales as Michigan State University (MSU) in the early 1960s and wonder wheats' widespread poisoning of people in Iraq in the late 1960s and early 1970s provided sufficient evidence that we humans were not ready to make general use of such biocides. Along with outlandish hubris regarding our technological powers, we had much too little understanding of the ecosystemic ramifications of those handy/deadly chemicals to use them widely.

I was a student of George Wallace's at MSU. On a field trip for his ornithology class, it was I who found the poisoned immature horned lark that was noted in Wallace's publication (about his investigation of manifold bird deaths on campus) -- a publication relied upon by Rachel Carson when she penned the book, Silent Spring. [Young horned larks are fed mostly insects by their insect-and-seed-eating parents, making it unlikely that some mercury-contaminated/treated seed source caused the poisoning of the lark that I found. At MSU what other pesticide was getting widespread campus application, coinciding with the onset of those many bird deaths, at that troublesome time? DDT.]

As I see it, Rachel Carson was justified in relying in part on George Wallace's findings re DDT.

And, by the way, Wallace was inappropriately pressured by MSU's board of trustees* to desist in publicizing his findings. Rachel Carson was not alone in having to resist biased pressures by commercial interests.

*THE PEOPLE OF MICHIGAN, through the State Constitution, established the Michigan State University Board of Trustees to develop a free and distinguished University -- to promote the welfare of humanity through teaching, research and service.

My wife and I met as young idealists in the early 1970s, drawn together by concerns and values like those so eloquently stated by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring. Your program and actress depicting Ms. Carson immediately took us back to that time and made us feel both the hope and the outrage we had. What an incredible, courageous, heroic and wise person she was. How dare that, even today she's under attack from those that risk economic harm by her public exposure of the danger and harm to life from some chemicals produced by the petro-chemical industry! I believe that if she were alive today, one new concern for her would be the risk and potential consequences to many life forms from hormones and endocrine disruptors becoming more and more common in the wastewater of affluent societies. I challenge bright, young scientists alive today with a reverence and compassion for nature, to find the courage to be villified by speaking the truth in the public arena on these matters like Rachel Carson did during her time.

Please tell us what happened to Rachel Carson's adopted son Roger.
Who did she find to care for him?

Mr Moyers, You do this country a real service, always bringing up more questions that urgently need to be answered. I only pray that this United States is equal to the task. Certainly, you have our attention. The foregoing responses show just how much we care. Now we must come to grips. The solutions are political, and must by necessity be economic. Thanks, JD Marden

We will always need brave heroes like Rachel Carson. In her last years, she wrote: “We still haven’t become mature enough to think of ourselves as only a very tiny part of a vast and incredible universe. Now I truly believe that we in this generation must come to terms with nature, and I think we’re challenged as mankind has never been challenged before, to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.“ How powerful, and at the same time how distressing, that her words of 40 years ago describe exactly the new challenge -- and for some, the continuing denial -- of global warming.

My incoming freshman class had to read Silent Spring in 1962. Although the book brought about environment legislation, many scientists today no longer believe in science as the discovery of truth, or in the beauty or design of nature as she did. In this sense her opponents have also strengthened their position and melded it with fundamentalist religion, Social Darwinism and other forms of scepticism and like their treatment of Plato tried to paint her into a corner.

Rachel Carson was a true visionary, a woman before her time. I cannot believe that today she is being criticized. The US still exports DDT Pesticides to third world countries and DDT residues are showing up on our shores. People are dying of cancer from DDT and pesticides and as a result of the state of our environment. This world has to wake up before it is too late.

Mr. Moyers, Thank you for your portrayal of Ms. Rachel Carson. Your program has renewed my hope for a better future for our world and natural environment.

I was an environmentalist from youth, long before I knew of Rachel Carson. As an adult, I worked many years in local efforts to protect natural open space and farm lands.
I'm now 48 years old, and it appears to me that we are far worse off now than we were when I was a child. Yes, I grew up in smog much denser than I see today in the San Bernardino basin. We used to drive over the hill to Victorville or Hemet to get an occasional lung full of clean, clear air. But, over the past 20 years, those areas now suffer home grown smog, not dense, but there, most of the time; the same is true of the Central Valley of California and the Owens Valley along the eastern Sierra. Pollution, such as smog, may not be as intense as it once was in isolated areas, but it is now all pervasive. The culprit is, quite simply, too many people. If we reduce pollution by 10%, but we gain 20% in population, we are still losing the battle. The sacred cow of large families is defended and encouraged by nearly every religious, economic, and cultural institution. Even the Sierra Club had, a few years back, refused to acknowledge the replicating elephant in the kitchen. Ignoring the growing population as a primary factor in the world's shrinking and devastated resources is like ingoring the role of poor diet, lack of exercise, and obesity in the disease of diabetes. You can expand all you want, but you and nature will pay the price.

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