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Study Notes

Rachel Carson (1907-1964)

AQA, Edexcel

Last updated 30 Dec 2018

Rachel Carson's work ignited the environmental movement. Rachel Carson was, first and foremost, a nature writer. She wrote hugely authoritative and influential works about marine life. However, it is Carson's more political work that she is most remembered for today. Carson's work focused on the idea that the state and society do not have any moral authority to dominate nature.

Even during Rachel Carson's 1950s bestsellers about the sea, there was always a strong sense of the impact that humans were having on ocean ecosystems. She became a public scientist, often featured in the media, and therefore an authoritative and well-known voice to discuss issues of pollution.

Carson particularly investigated the long-term effects of chemical pesticide use (most notably DDT) and how this impacted sustainability. This was the focus of her most famous book, Silent Spring.

The book, unsurprisingly received significant opposition from the chemical industry. Legal action threatened, her ideas ridiculed with some concluding she was "probably a communist". However, the science in her book was very sound, and had been peer reviewed and verified by many scientists, so legal action was never more than threatened - it was clear she and her publishers would have successfully defended her findings. Her writings were popular and their most direct impact was that they led to the banning of several chemical pesticides.

However, Carson also had a broader impact on the growing environmentalist movement. She argued that nature should be seen holistically – it does not exist for the convenience of man, humankind is simply part of the natural world. She also showed how serious scientists, and female scientists, could make a significant contribution to environmentalism and to social and political change.

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