February 28, 2007

Opening Remark from Moderator Linda Lear

In all of Rachel Carson's prophetic writings there runs a common theme. It is the critical importance of human attitudes toward nature. Carson was overwhelmed with the knowledge that humans had found the power to destroy nature. She believed that nature required protection from humans. But her view of planetary ecology and her prophetic assessment of its future forced her to conclude that humans also needed protection from themselves and their activities because, for better or worse, they were part of the living world. Carson wrote in several places, most notably in a speech at Scripps College, "Of Man and the Stream of Time," (June 1962) that in waging a war against nature, mankind was inevitably waging war against himself. "His heedless and destructive acts enter into the vast cycles of the earth," she said, "and in time return to him."

Did Rachel Carson overstate the problem? Or was she right on target as we view our 21st century world and our global life together on this planet?

Reading: Linda Lear's Introduction in Lost Woods: The Discovered Writings of Rachel Carson. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

To contribute to the discussion click here or go to "Comments" below this box.


John L. Trapp said...

If anything, I think Carson understated the problem, witness current concerns over the potential impacts of global warming.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you.

Bill Fisk said...

I'm not sure she understated the problem. The science of the time did not have the resources to envision the total dominance of industry on how science would be used. We are paying the price for neglecting the teaching of science as is prominently shown by the present administration.

Kay McLeod said...

Thanks to everyone for conceiving this great idea...honoring Rachel Carson and bringing her message back to the forefront. I met Linda Lear in Winston Salem, NC, years ago when she was touring with her wonderful biography Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature and love all her work! (I just purchased her newest book, "Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature"!!!)

I think that Rachel's message is "right on target" and is even more relevant today than during the 1960's.

No matter where I have been teaching in my long career, I have always celebrated Rachel Carson and the importance of what she accomplished in her own indomitable way.

In case one has missed seeing the inspiring play "Sense of Wonder" written and acted by Kaiulani Lee...check out her site and schedule and don't miss seeing her beautiful tribute to Rachel Carson, especially in this anniversary year! Her site http://www.kaiulanilee.com/

Also,the PBS video The American Experience, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring is terrific for high school students and there is online curriculum support for the video.

Let Rachel Carson's life remind us, too, that each of us can and should make a difference wherever and however we can!

julie dunlap said...

I agree with Kay--this online discussion in honor of Rachel Carson is a great idea. I'm looking forward to discussing all these fine books.

Thanks to Linda Lear's collection of Carson's short writings ("Lost Woods"), I've noticed that Carson was concerned in her earliest pieces with the damage humans were doing to wildlife and themselves. "Wildlife," she wrote in a 1938 Baltimore Sun article, "is dwindling because its home is being destroyed. But the home of wildlife is also our home."

Yet early on, she also seems to have believed that the ocean is too vast and forces such as oceanic currents too powerful for humans to affect. I'm wondering when she came to believe that humans could indeed impact fundamental physical forces and the natural environment. It seems that a lingering reason for global warming-denial is the belief that mere humans cannot damage the earth. What would Rachel Carson say to change their minds?

Lisa said...

I believe it was the atomic bomb that first made Carson realize the scope of mankind's ability to alter nature on a grand scale.

I think if Carson had lived in our times, she would have been at the forefront in the battle to slow global warming and to educate people about its dangers. She would have likely done what Al Gore is trying to do now.

I remembered that right before Carson died, she had become interested in the atmospheric sciences, and if she had lived a long life, she might have been one of the first to warn us of global climate change.

But she didn't live long enough to appreciate the planetary crisis we now find ourselves in. And yet still, I don't think she would have been surprised to see mankind finding itself once again in trouble because we neglected our relationship with nature.

Willy Bemis said...

This summer, our undergraduates at Shoals Marine Laboratory in Maine will read works by Rachel Carson as a way to celebrate the centennial of her birth, learn more about her work and impact, and strengthen our island community. The opportunity to communicate with others interested in Rachel Carson and her legacy will help all of us become part of an even wider community

Thank you so much for this wonderful effort.

stephen williams said...

"Did Rachel Carson overstate the problem?"

At the end of The Sea Around Us, Rachel Carson provides suggestions for further reading. It is no accident that under the category of Outstanding Sea Prose she includes Melville's Moby Dick.

Maril said...

I think that Julie Dunlap makes a great point - Carson too for a long time was of a bit of a divided mind. On one hand, man could change the earth for the worse; yet on the other hand nature was too powerful for mere humans to change in any significant way. Humans are entirely capable of holding two conflicting beliefs :) and I think that Silent Spring in great part, er, springs from how Carson managed to successfully confront this schism in her own thinking.

The comment from Lisa about the impact of the atomic bomb on Carson makes reference to this as well - but Linda quoted from an important Carson letter in the full bio, that gets to the question of how Carson made this transition in her thought - you can also find the full text of the letter in Always, Rachel on page 248, dated Feb 1, 1958. The whole letter is important, but I'm especially partial to the section that starts out:

"It was pleasant to believe, for example, that much of nature was forever beyond the tampering reach of man - he might level the forests and dam the streams, but the clouds and the rain and the wind were God's..."

The cultural awakening, of sorts, currently ongoing re climate change is much akin to Carson's own earlier shift in consciousness, before Silent Spring.

Linda Lear said...

"Rachel Who?"
I think its time to ask big question of our on-line readers. As Carson's biographer I have been on the road now for nearly a decade, (Witness for Nature was published in 1997) and I have traveled extensively both in the US and in the UK where it was also published.
In spite of the increasing interest in global warming and in the greening of our culture, and in spite of more and more people recognizing that something must be done, I am invariably confronted with the "Rachel Who?" question.
Granted ours is no longer a print generation, and granted that Carson's life is as far away as the Franco-Prussian Wars to most people under 50, I am still stunned that her name is so unrecognized. I have my own multiple theories about this sad
fact, but I'd be very interested in hearing what readers think, why it is, and what can be done about it, or maybe its not important any more that a name be attached to a philosophy which is widely embraced as "good public policy."

julie dunlap said...

I share Linda's frustration about "Rachel Who?" and extend it to include Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Frederick Law Olmsted, and many other conservation and environmental leaders. I inadvertently drop those names in conversation and am met with blank stares.

Part of the problem is just general awareness. I think that when Americans are asked to name a woman scientist, the only person they can easily come up with is usually Marie Curie. But not knowing the author of Silent Spring, often considered a "10 Ten" book of the 20th Century, strikes me as woefully uninformed.

What can we do about it? I think that reawakening the public to Rachel Carson relates to Maril's comment. Carson's growing recognition of humanity's destructive capacity resonates today, and we can remind people of the perceptual shifts that occurred in the 1960s. I tell my children about that change Rachel sparked as a way to give them hope; the world can change for the better, and quickly, as it needs to do.

Jane Proust said...

My children are following the discussions with great interest, reading Rachel Carson's books and everything they can find about her and her work. When they researched your moderators, they found that Cindy Van DOver"s research is funded by a company, Nautilus Minerals, which plans to do strip mining in the ocean to search for gold! How does this fit in with Rachel Carson's legacy? What do I tell my children?

Locations of visitors to this page