Today marks the 46th anniversary of Earth Day, a campaign created in 1970 to “force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.” It has since grown to be a movement that is credited as “the largest civic event in the world, celebrated simultaneously around the globe.” More than a billion people participate in Earth Day each year, and we want you to know the woman who inspired it all.
While Gaylord Nelson, former U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, is credited with creating Earth Day in 1970, it is writer, scientist (marine biologist/zoologist), environmentalist and Woman You Should Know Rachel Carson who truly inspired modern environmentalism with the publication of her book Silent Spring in 1962.
A New York Times bestseller, Silent Spring sold more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries, and according to the history, “up until that moment, more than any other person, Ms. Carson raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and public health.” Earth Day 1970 harnessed the power of that emerging consciousness.
“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson
Taking four years to complete, Silent Spring meticulously documented the dangers of pesticides and herbicides, showed the long-lasting presence of toxic chemicals in water and on land, and concluded that DDT and other pesticides, after entering the food chain, “accumulated in the fatty tissues of animals, including human beings, and caused cancer and genetic damage.”
The evidence presented in the book initiated an attack on Carson from the agricultural chemical industry, calling the book everything from “sinister” and “hysterical” to “bland,” but the public’s concern was raised. President John F. Kennedy read Silent Spring and ordered a presidential advisory committee to examine Rachel’s findings. Its report “thoroughly vindicated both Silent Spring and its author,” and in 1963, the US Senate opened an investigation of pesticides.
Unfortunately, Rachel Carson passed away from breast cancer the following year before seeing the changes that became her legacy, including a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to the ban on the use of DDT.