RALEIGH — Fifty years later, Rachel Carsons Silent Spring still provokes controversy and still serves as a touchstone for the environmental movement.
Carson and her book are the subject of a program of public events at N.C. State University that begins Thursday night with an address by Carson biographer Linda Lear, who also wrote the introductions to the current editions of Carsons books.
Silent Spring raised the alarm about synthetic pesticides and their effects on the environment, wildlife and humans and is often credited with starting the modern environmental movement. But thats not quite right, Lear said in an interview this week.
She inspired the environmental movement, though, by writing the book, and raising our consciousness about the connections between humans and non-humans, and how the whole circle was connected and couldnt be disconnected, Lear said.
Its probably more accurate to say that the backlash to Silent Spring started the movement, she said.
That backlash continues still, much of it among those who say the international ban on the pesticide DDT has cost lives by making it harder to control the mosquitoes that carry malaria.
A widespread belief is that Carson is responsible for that ban. DDT was one of the main examples of pesticides being improperly used that she cited in the book. Also not true, Lear said.
She was against its misuse, overuse and inefficient use, but that subtlety has been lost over the years, Lear said.
These days, Carson is still a target, in many cases by people who deny the existence of climate change and try to raise doubts about the science behind various public health problems, Lear said.
Carson was a marine biologist by training and worked for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries before becoming a writer. Silent Spring has overshadowed her other books, but she wrote three other best-sellers, including The Sea Around Us, which won a National Book Award.
Carson was diagnosed with breast cancer while writing Silent Spring and died in 1964 at age 56.
NCSUs program, called Rachel Carsons Silent Spring at 50, was the brainchild of Larry Nielsen, a professor of natural resources in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources and former provost of the university. It includes several other events at the university and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, and is part of the universitys 125th anniversary commemoration.
Also, NCSU has created a website with more information about the program and resources for schoolteachers interested in teaching about Carson and for young students who may be working on research papers about her work.
The idea behind the program, Nielsen said, is to explore the lasting impact of the book and Carson and to look at the lessons the book still has to offer and the various views about her work good and bad.
What Rachel Carson did in that book, beyond raising the red flag about what we were doing with pesticides, was taking all this research that hadnt been linked before, information on the use of chemicals in nature, their relationship to human health and ecological processes, and then showing how it was all interconnected and then getting it out to the public in a form that was useful, Nielsen said. Thats really the mission of a land grant research university like this one, so it seemed like a good fit for us.