Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rachel Carson: Outstanding Pennsylvanians 1

Relatively few remember that Rachel Carson, scientist, writer, and prophet of today's environmental movement, was a Pennsylvanian. She grew up on a small farm at Springdale, near Pittsburgh, which today is maintained as the Rachel Carson Homestead. It is a National Historic Site that may be visited, contemplated, and walked upon as she walked upon it when she was a child--though the intrusion of construction for a nearby public high school has forced the closing of one of its trails.
Carson, the first and only child in her family to go to college, got degrees in biology and marine biology, and worked as a marine biologist for the federal government before her skill as a writer led her to a full-time career as a nature writer. Her first three books, The Sea Around Us, The Edge of the Sea, and Under The Sea Wind, won her acclaim as a poetical stylist. But it was her fourth book, Silent Spring, which gained widespread public attention.
In this book she pointed out the devastating effects artificial pesticides were having on the flora and fauna of the natural world. To this day her views remain controversial with some. But with the growing evidence of environmental degradation, much of which seems to originate in human activities (I write this in the midst of the Gulf Oil tragedy of 2010), it is harder and harder to dismiss her ideas. Whether she and her associates will be believed in time to reverse current trends is anybody's guess.)
Carson's work is credited with laying the groundwork for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and she was posthumously awarded the coveted Presidential Medal Of Freedom.
The Rachel Carson Homestead holds various events to which it invites the public. This year, for instance, the Fourth Annual Rachel's Sustainable Feast will be held August 25 on the Rachel Carson Bridge in Pittsburgh--it has outgrown the Homestead site. The event's purpose is to promote local sustainable farmers, chefs who use their food, sustainable businessmen, and members of the public who are interested in sustainability issues. (Attendees have also been known to have fun...)
Another event, of a more austere quality, is the 10th annual Rachel Carson Legacy Conference, scheduled for September 24. Its title is "Challenging Marcellus Shale: The Science, Consequences and Alternatives." Marcellus shale may be the most important environmental challenge Pennsylvania faces over the coming decades, and it is good to see the Carson Homestead attempt to address it.
For more information on visiting the Rachel Carson Homestead, or on attending its events, visit its website at

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