Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Trail Mix Blog: Rachel Carson, A Pennsylvanian Sparked An Awakening

By Kent Jackson

This blog post first appeared in the Scranton Times on March 29, 2023--

Rachel Carson was born May 27, 1907 and went to college and lived in Springdale, Allegheny County.  The building housing the departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Natural Resources in Harrisburg is named in her honor.  Peregrine falcons have been nesting on the building since 1996, a species saved by her research into the impact of pesticides on bird eggs and detailed in her landmark book Silent Spring.

It's understandable that a movement to preserve air, water and wildlife would spring from Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is known for its parks, trails and forests and has more miles of streams than any state in the Continental U.S.

Author Douglas Brinkley titled his new history of environmentalism in America, "Silent Spring Revolution," after a book written by Pennsylvanian Rachel Carson.

Carson grew up enjoying the Pennsylvania outdoors.  She graduated from Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University) and then decided to study oceanography before she had been to sea.

She wrote three popular books about the oceans, won the National Book Award and developed a storytelling style that added to the punch of her last, and greatest, book.

In 1962's "Silent Spring," Carson helped readers understand that spraying pesticides like DDT, testing nuclear bombs and pouring chemicals into streams posed a cumulative threat.

By the end of the decade as oil gushed from a drilling platform off Santa Barbara, California and the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire, Americans were ready to act.

A teach-in held by Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, blossomed into Earth Day [April 22].

The nation in the next few years passed acts to preserve endangered species, clean water and clean air and establish the Environmental Protection Agency.

Brinkley is a presidential historian. His book touches on the administrations of Truman and Eisenhower but focuses on the presidencies of Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.

Kennedy loved to sail. He established the first national seashores as companions to national parks and negotiated bans on nuclear testing.

Johnson was unmatched for his ability to persuade Congress to designate Scenic Rivers, national parks, seashore, but largely uncredited for his preservation work because of the backlash from his environmental attacks on Vietnam with Agent Orange.

Nixon irrationally feared that subversives were pushing the green agenda, but he realized that a good environment made good politics. 

He set up the EPA, signed the Clean Air and Endangered Species acts and banned DDT, a move now credited with saving the Bald Eagle and other species from extinction. 

During Nixon's tenure, environmentalism was a bi-partisan issue, although Brinkley writes it has tended to divide Republicans and Democrats since then.

Brinkley also tells of people who influenced the presidents.

John Ehrlichman, now infamous as a Watergate defendant, had been an environmental attorney in the Pacific Northwest before joining Nixon's cabinet.

Stewart Udall, an outdoorsman and friend of the Kennedy family, advocated for the environment through the Kennedy and Johnson administrations as interior secretary.

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas took the media on days-long hikes, going 181 miles, for instance, from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland. 

His walk helped preserve the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal's Towpath as a trail, which today has been extended another 125 miles to Pittsburgh.

They're part of a cast that includes Albert Schweitzer, Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez, authors Edward Albee, Wallace Stegner and Aldo Leopold, photographer Ansel Adams, the Sierra Club's David Brower and lawmakers like Idaho Sen. Frank Church and two other Pennsylvanians, Reps. John Saylor and Leon Gavin, who were early protectors of wilderness and migratory birds.

[Visit the PA Conservation Heritage Project website for more on conservation history in Pennsylvania, important people, events and teaching resources.

[Watch WITF’s Rachel Carson - Voice Of Nature documentary.

[You can visit the Rachel Carson Homestead in Allegheny County to learn more about this remarkable woman.]

Related Articles:

-- DEP Celebrates 60 Years Of Scientist, Writer, Pennsylvania Native Rachel Carson’s Literary Work 'Silent Spring'   [PaEN]

--Guest Essay: When People Have To Choose Health Or Jobs, Everyone Loses - The View From Rachel Carson’s Homestead In Allegheny County   [PaEN]

--Rachel Carson On Leadership: The Human Race is Challenged More Than Ever Before To Demonstrate Our Mastery, Not Over Nature, But Of Ourselves   [PaEN]

--Bay Journal: Rachel Carson No Stranger To The Chesapeake Bay, Its Creatures   [PaEN]

--Op-Ed: In Praise Of Rachel Carson And Public Service; Happy Birthday Rachel Carson!  By James M. Seif, Former DEP Secretary  [PaEN]

--Feature - What We Owe To Pennsylvania’s Rachel Carson  [PaEN]

[Posted: March 29, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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