Rachel Carson

Image of Rachel Carlson

Thirty minutes into this documentary about the American marine biologist and author, Rachel Carson, it became apparent how incredibly resilient and dedicated she was. How, after working the whole day as a writer and having dinner with her mother, she would lock herself in her room and write until dawn. By the end of it, I had realized how daunting her self-imposed mission was and why it required so much effort.

Working as a junior aquatic biologist at the Bureau of Fisheries, she had access to thousands of official papers and studies about the ocean, all written in a very specific way, and her goal was to read, understand, connect and synthesize them all, so that she could then tell it in a prose that was accessible to people everywhere. 

From war records to submarine research, she would use any piece of information she could find to call attention to the dangers of environmental contamination to humankind. She had to translate the pile of material on her desk, written in academic and technical language, into something easy to comprehend. She had to transform it all, while still being true to it, to tell us that everything is connected, that we all share the environment, and that we must share responsibility for it.

Her journey as a nature writer started when she was 14. Later, in her early 20s, she saw the ocean for the first time and fell deeply in love with it. From that point onwards, she lived a life of the mind. An isolated existence full of responsibilities: Her father died when she was 28, and her sister when she was 30. She then became the sole provider for herself, her mother, and two nieces. She never got married. Later in life, she also had to provide for the son of one of her nieces, who she adopted as her own son, shortly before dying.

The ocean was her parallel universe. She wanted to tell the world about its beauty. Pitching stories to newspapers, she was determined to become a full-time writer. So she used weekends and evenings for creative work.

Her three first books were beautiful odes to the sea. Then, in 1962, her masterpiece came along: Silent spring – a book that aimed to demonstrate that the survival of men depends on the balance of nature. The same men that believed then that pesticides were not poisonous to humans or the land and water resources around them. The same men that still believe that they can control nature. 

Man’s endeavors to control nature by his powers to alter and to destroy would inevitably evolve into a war against himself, a war he would lose unless he came to terms with nature.

Nobody knew what the ocean was really like before Rachel Carson. Nobody talked to the public about pesticides, radioactive nuclear fallout, and their relationship to cancer, infertility, and birth defects. By writing and publishing her books, she challenged corporations and authorities of one-sided science; she raised the level of awareness of the general public. “Her body of work is one of science, literature, and art”. And one that spearheaded the environmental movement around the globe.

Keep reading about Rachel: