It’s been fifty years since the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. I thought it was time I got around to reading it. Carson’s book is widely regarded as the spark that jump-started the environmental movement.
A biologist by training, Carson warned of the dangers of indiscriminate aerial spraying with synthetic pesticides. Once pesticides enter the biosphere, not only do they kill bugs but they make their way up the food chain to animals and humans. Her alarm prompted a grass-roots effort which eventually led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and the ban of the cancer-causing pesticide DDT two years later. American companies continued to export the deadly product to developing countries for another fifteen years.
Carson was raised Presbyterian but never considered herself religious. She criticized religion for its “theological arrogance” in teaching that nature exists to serve humankind and we exist to “control” the natural order of things.
Carson’s admirers called her Saint Rachel and the Nun of Nature. Her detractors, which included the chemical industry and J. Edgar Hoover, called her everything from a deranged zealot to a Soviet sympathizer intent on destroying American agriculture. Carson died in 1962 of breast cancer, but she continues to draw both praise and criticism fifty years later.
Though Carson hoped her book would unify people around doing what’s best for the environment, one unintended consequence, as evidenced in this election year, has been increased polarization on issues related to our management and exploitation of nature’s resources to support our consumptive lifestyle.
Prophets – God adoring and/or Nature worshipping – respond to the spirit’s stirring within them and do what they need to do regardless of the sacrifice. Thank you, Saint Rachel. Because of you, I want to live more aware of the earth on which I tread.
I come like a pagan, unbaptized, a gentile outsider standing on holy ground, with shoes still on, yearning to be converted to this most primal worship – the awesome adoration of the feast of autumn. O God, grant me the gift of conversion. (Edward Hays, “Psalm of the Feast of Autumn” in Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim)