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Rachel Carson and Expanding the Conversation on Environmentalism

2012 September 28

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Cross-posted from the Administrator’s Blog

By Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of ecologist Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking 1962 book Silent Spring. By 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was established.

That’s no coincidence.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring launched the modern-day environmental movement and changed the world we live in.

In her book, Carson discussed the widespread and detrimental use of certain pesticides – especially DDT, a toxin that almost wiped out our national symbol, the bald eagle. EPA banned the use of that pesticide in 1972.

Rachel Carson’s writing helped Americans see the connections between their health and the health of the environment. Her efforts helped ignite the conversation on environmentalism in America.

One of my priorities as administrator of EPA has been to continue what Rachel began by working to expand the conversation on environmentalism. Bringing people together around environmental issues is essential. We want mothers and fathers to know how important clean air, water and land are to their health and the health of their children. We want to continue to engage African Americans and Latinos and expand the conversation on environmental challenges, so we can address health disparities resulting from pollution that affects low-income and minority communities. Environmental justice will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.

Though we’ve made a great deal of progress since Silent Spring, we still have much work to do. Heart disease, cancer and respiratory illnesses are three of the top four most fatal health threats in America. They account for more than half of the deaths in the nation – and all three have been linked to environmental causes. Environmental issues are critical health issues, and we need all Americans to participate in this conversation.

Rachel Carson helped show many Americans that, though they may not think of themselves as environmentalists, environmental issues invariably play a role in their health and in the future of the nation.

Her message remains as true and as critical today as it was 50 years ago.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. DK-STL permalink
    September 30, 2012

    This past semester I studied at Oxford University where I heard from Steve Rayner and Mike Hulme who each helped write the Hartwell Paper. Both discussed the importance of framing when studying climate change. Mike Hulme spoke about why we disagree about climate change due to six different perceptions of the problem. People view climate change as a market failure, technological hazard, global injustice, overconsumption, mostly natural, or as an environmental ‘tipping point.’ Steve Rayner spoke to us about how Americans and Europeans view nature differently. In Europe people view nature as the rolling pastures coexisting with farms and people. However, in America, people view nature as something you must travel too to experience. To help expand the conversation about environmentalism in America it might help to bring up the framing issue first.

  2. Heidi from permalink
    November 28, 2012

    I’ve read over and over again that respiratory illnesses are becoming more prevalent in today’s society. As people spend more time indoors, they are prone to allergies related to poor indoor air quality from material off-gassing and harsh cleaners.

    I experienced this first-hand when I moved into a newly refurbished apartment that had new paint, vinyl and carpet. From day two, I had headaches and trouble sleeping and then after a few more days, dizzy spells. Eventually, I went to stay with a friend until the apartment off-gassed and aired out enough to be tolerable. I moved out after 6 months.

    Now I make sure that anyplace I move into has used the least toxic materials as possible like Zero VOC paint, wool carpet, cork etc. A healthy body is worth way more
    than the few extra dollars that these products may cost. I would gladly exchange square footage for higher quality products and clean air.

  3. MarkWD permalink
    January 25, 2013

    I stumbled across your blog whilst researching in this area and just wanted to thank you for drawing my attention to Silent Spring which I have not yet read. I have decided to now!

    Your points about linking environment with health are so important if the issues are to get through to the man on the street. Let’s hope they do.

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