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On re-reading Silent Spring

Rachel Carson was born one hundred and fourteen years ago, on 27th May 1907 in Springdale Pennsylvania. Her mother instilled in her a love of nature and the living world which led to her training as a marine biologist. Graduating from the Pennsylvania College for Women in 1929, she studied at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and received an MA in Zoology from John Hopkins University in 1932.

She worked for the US Bureau of Fisheries and rose to become Editor-in -Chief of all publications for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. She wrote pamphlets on conservation and natural resources and edited scientific articles. A writer by nature she also wrote lyric prose in her spare time. The Sea Around Us (1952) and The Edge of the Sea (1955) add up to a ‘biography of the oceans’. From 1952 she devoted herself to writing. Her mission, whether in her academic writing or her children’s books, was to explain how human beings are but one part of nature, distinguished by their power to alter it, sometimes irreversibly.

Disturbed by the thoughtless overuse of synthetic pesticides, after WWII she turned her focus from sea to land, using her knowledge and skills to warn about the long-term effects of this. In her 1962 book Silent Spring (after Keats poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci ’the sedge is withered from the lake and no birds sing’) she challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and governments - calling for a change in the way we view the world – and was called an alarmist for her effort!

By this time, she was well known and came before Congress calling for new policies to protect human health and the planet. Sadly, she died following a long battle against breast cancer in 1964. A paperback edition of Silent Spring was published by Penguin books in the UK in 1965. A school English project required us to pick a book which had affected the way we thought and felt about the world we were growing up in. For me Silent Spring was that book. It has had a lasting effect on me dating from nearly ten years before I joined the Labour Party and over the five decades that followed.

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