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Rachel Carson: renowned writer, scientist, biologist and ecologist

Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson (1907-1964) is perhaps the finest nature writer of the 20th Century - Discover Wildlife

WOMEN WHO DESERVE TO BE CELEBRATED: As part of its social equity agenda, Eco Profit is commencing a Blog series featured on selected women from history. The thought behind this is driven by the lack of acknowledgement in society for many of the dynamic discoveries and achievements of women from the past, including the recent past. Unfortunately, in many cases the term Matilda effect applies which is the attribution of the achievements of women to their male colleagues.


Carson was born on 27 May 1907 on the 26ha family farm in Springdale, Pennsylvania. She was very inquisitive and spent a lot of time exploring the farm. She was also an avid reader and by 8 years old began writing stories, often involving animals. At age ten, she had her first story published in the St. Nicholas Magazine. Carson attended Springdale's small school through tenth grade. Being described as a loner, Carson completed high school in nearby Parnassus, graduating in 1925 at the top of her class. 

After school she gained admission to Pennsylvania College for Women, now Chatham University in Pittsburgh. She studied English before switching her major to biology in 1928. In 1928 she was admitted to John Hopkins University, earning a master’s degree by 1932. She had intended to continue for a doctorate, however in 1934 Carson was forced to leave Johns Hopkins to search for a full-time teaching position to help support her family during the Great Depression. In 1935, Carson's father died suddenly, worsening their already critical financial situation and leaving Carson to care for her aging mother.

In 1936 she secured a position with the US Bureau of Fisheries (only the second woman to do so) as a junior aquatic biologist. Carson was also writing on aquatic life for newspapers, periodicals and copy for radio broadcasts. Additionally, she wrote popular books on aquatic life.

Rachel Carson - Research
One Way To Open Your Eyes Is To Ask Yourself, What if I Had Never Seen This Before? What if I Knew I Would Never See It Again? - Rachel Carson Courtesy of Linda Lear

It was in 1962 that Carson catalysed the global environmental movement with her book Silent Spring outlining the dangers of chemical pesticides. The book was inspired by a letter she received from a friend in Duxbury, Massachusetts about the loss of bird life after pesticide spraying. The book primarily focuses on pesticides' effects on ecosystems, but four chapters detail their impact on humans, including cancer. She also accused the chemical industry of spreading misinformation and public officials of accepting industry claims uncritically.

Chemical companies sought to discredit her as a Communist or hysterical woman. Many pulled their ads from the CBS Reports TV special on April 3, 1963, entitled “The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson.” Still, roughly 15 million viewers tuned in, and that, combined with President John F. Kennedy’s Science Advisory Committee Report—which validated Carson’s research—made pesticides a major public issue.

In Silent Spring Carson asked the hard questions about whether and why humans had the right to control nature; to decide who lives or dies, to poison or to destroy non-human life. In showing that all biological systems were dynamic and by urging the public to question authority, to ask "who speaks, and why"?

Silent Spring - Rachel Carson
Rachel’s passionate concern in Silent Spring is with the future of the planet and all life on Earth. She calls for humans to act responsibly, carefully, and as stewards of the living earth.

Silent Spring became a rallying point for the fledgling social movement in the 1960s. According to environmental engineer and Carson scholar H. Patricia Hynes, "Silent Spring altered the balance of power in the world. No one since would be able to sell pollution as the necessary underside of progress so easily or uncritically." Carson's work is also partly responsible for the deep ecology movement and was influential in the rise of ecofeminism. Ecofeminism brings together feminism and environmentalism, arguing that the domination of women and the degradation of the environment are consequences of patriarchy and capitalism.

Rachel Carson - 'Silent Spring' raised awareness about the dangers of harmful chemicals like DDT
Carson accused the chemical industry of spreading misinformation and public officials of accepting industry claims uncritically - National History Women's Museum

The book led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides and sparked the movement that ultimately led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Seriously ill with breast cancer, Carson died two years after her book’s publication. In 1980, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her homes are considered national historic landmarks, and various awards bear her name.

In 2012 Silent Spring was designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society for its role in the development of the modern environmental movement.

Legacy – Carson inspired a new paradigm of thinking—where humanity is not the centre of life on earth, but part of nature. The legacy of Silent Spring continues today in the scientific community’s increased focus on environmentally friendly practices and the public’s heightened support for sustainability in all areas of our lives. 

For further reading, refer to Linda Lear's biography 'Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature'. "I have delved deeply into the life and work of this incredible individual" - Linda Lear.

This blog contains excerpts from the following articles:


Winton has been in the carbon management industry for sixteen years. Winton brings his accounting skills and climate risk management expertise together to show corporations and government agencies how to adapt their financial systems and business processes to meet the new sustainability and carbon reporting requirements whilst increasing operational efficiency, productivity, and profits.


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