When Rachel Carson revealed the dangerous overuse of pesticides in the mid-20th century, she increased public awareness of the impact of human intervention on the natural world.

“She set out to save a species … us,” declare the producers of American Experience Rachel Carson, a PBS documentary that offers “an intimate portrait of the woman whose groundbreaking books revolutionized our relationship to the natural world.”

“She set out to save a species … us.”

In anticipation of Earth Day 2017 (April 22), I highly recommend the film for family and classroom viewing. I also suggest teachers and parents review the free, online Earth Day 2017 Climate Education Week Toolkit, which offers cross-disciplinary lesson plans and activities, and encourages discussion of Rachel Carson’s 1962 bestselling book Silent Spring.

Rachel Carson

Carson, a writer and marine biologist, bravely stood her ground defending scientific facts that contradicted the powerful chemical industry’s claim of safety in popular pest control methods. The public outcry that followed the release of her book convinced the government to ban or severely restrict the use of dangerous compounds exposed by Silent Spring.

The Environment and Society Portal says Silent Spring’s “greatest legal vindication” was the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 that protects the public from “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” In 2016, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act strengthened the TSCA’s requirements for evaluating and reporting chemical risk and safety issues.

It is important for students to know the laws exist to protect human health and safety and they exist because individuals armed with information and courage brought awareness of life-and-death issues to the public.

Silent Spring … made a powerful case for the idea that if humankind poisoned nature, nature would in turn poison humankind.”

In a 2012 article published by The New York Times Magazine, Eliza Griswold wrote, “Silent Spring, which has sold more than two million copies, made a powerful case for the idea that if humankind poisoned nature, nature would in turn poison humankind … We still see the effects of unfettered human intervention through Carson’s eyes: she popularized modern ecology.”

I remember proudly affixing green and white ecology symbols to my notebooks after the 1970 inauguration of Earth Day. Now, a few years away from the 50th anniversary of the modern environmental movement, I find myself again very concerned about the future of our planet.

Wikipedia, Public Domain

Earth Day 2017 provides us with an opportunity to introduce a new generation to historical figures like Rachel Carson and to encourage young people who have a passion for the environment to consider careers such as those featured in Working Class: Build & Grow Green.

Technology and innovation provide obvious, well-publicized advantages in our modern age. Silent Spring reminds us not to overlook the potential toxicity of unbridled progress unchecked by public awareness.

To honor Carson’s legacy, let us use Earth Day 2017 to remind students that citizens have the right to voice their concerns and to demand what the law requires – full discloser of products’ hidden and potentially harmful effects on health and the environment.


The following resources, referenced in the above article, may be useful in your planning of Earth Day and Climate Education Week activities:

American Experience Rachel Carson – streaming video

Earth Day 2017 Climate Education Week Toolkit – free lesson plans and activities

Environment and Society Portal – human-environment relationship resources for teachers, researchers and the public

United States Environmental Protection Agency – website includes environmental topics, laws and regulations

How Silent Spring Ignited the Environmental Movement – The New York Times Magazine article by Eliza Griswold, published Sept. 21, 2012

Earth Day – History, campaigns for schools and communities

The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson – Biography, timeline, books, school projects and more

Working Class: Build & Grow Green – Public television documentary featuring 21st century career opportunities


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