Rachel Carson Conservation Park in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Rachel Carson Conservation Park in Montgomery County, Maryland.

“In nature nothing exists alone.”

So wrote the renowned scientist and poet Rachel Carson, whose seminal work “Silent Spring” was responsible for launching the modern environmental movement.

In the fourth part of our climate change series, we take a deep dive into the life and legacy of Rachel Carson, who lived and died in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Produced by Julie Depenbrock


  • Robert Musil President, Rachel Carson Council
  • Deneise Hammond Principal, Rachel Carson Elementary School
  • Diana Post Director, Rachel Carson Landmark Alliance
  • Danielle Weissman Ph.D. Candidate, University of Maryland
  • Kathryn Rodgers Staff Scientist, Silent Spring Institute

Excerpt from "Silent Spring"


A Fable for Tomorrow

There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings. The town lay in the midst of a checkerboard of prosperous farms, with fields of grain and hillsides of orchards where, in spring, white clouds of bloom drifted above the green fields. In autumn, oak and maple and birch set up a blaze of color that flamed and flickered across a backdrop of pines. Then foxes barked in the hills and deer silently crossed the fields, half hidden in the mists of the fall mornings.

Along the roads, laurel, viburnum and alder, great ferns and wildflowers delighted the traveler’s eye through much of the year. Even in winter the roadsides were places of beauty, where countless birds came to feed on the berries and on the seed heads of the dried weeds rising above the snow. The countryside was, in fact, famous for the abundance and variety of its bird life, and when the flood migrants was pouring through in spring and fall people traveled from great distances to observe them. Others came to fish the streams, which flowed clear and cold out of the hills and contained shady pools where trout lay. So it had been from the days many years ago when the first settlers raised their houses, sank their wells, and built their barns.

Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community: mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens; the cattle and sheep sickened and died. Everywhere was a shadow of death. The farmers spoke of much illness among their families. In the town the doctors had become more and more puzzled by new kinds of sickness appearing among their patients. There had been several sudden and unexplained deaths, not only among adults but even among children, who would be stricken suddenly while at play and die within a few hours.

There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example — where had they gone? Many people spoke of them, puzzled and disturbed. The feeding stations in the backyards were deserted. The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other birds voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.

On the farms the hens brooded, but no chicks hatched. The farmers complained that they were unable to raise any pigs — the litters were small and the young survived only a few days. The apple trees were coming into bloom but no bees droned among the blossoms, so there was no pollination and there would be no fruit.

The roadsides, once so attractive, were now lined with browned and withered vegetation as though swept by fire. These, too, were silent, deserted by all living things. Even the streams were now lifeless. Anglers no longer visited them, for all the fish had died.

In the gutters under the eaves and between the shingles of the roofs, a white granular powder still showed a few patches; some weeks before it had fallen like snow upon the roofs and the lawns, the fields and streams.

No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.


  • 12:00:02

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. "In nature nothing exists alone," so wrote the renowned scientist and poet Rachel Carson whose ground breaking work "Silent Sprint" launched the modern environmental movement. Today in part four of our climate change series, we're taking a look at the life and legacy of Rachel Carson who, though, she was born in Pennsylvania and discovered her passion in the tide pools of Maine wrote her most famous work in Maryland.

  • 12:00:31

    KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss her lasting impact is Bob Musil. He is President of the Rachel Carson Council, a legacy organization founded in 1965 by Carson's closest friends and colleagues. Bob Musil, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:00:45

    ROBERT MUSILIt's great to be here, Kojo. Thanks.

  • 12:00:46

    NNAMDIBob, Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" spurred the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act and eventually led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. As Jill Lepore wrote for The New Yorker, quoting here, "The number of books that have done as much good in the world can be counted on the arms of a starfish." For listeners who have not yet read "Silent Spring," Bob Musil, what did this book uncover exactly and why was it so revolutionary?

  • 12:01:17

    MUSILWell, I think it's one of the first books that put together two strands in American environmentalism that go way back. One is the concern for nature, birds, bunnies, penguins, stuff like that, the woods. And the other was environmental health, a concern for exposure of people to contaminants. She put them together and also had a broad sense of the connections as you alluded to. I think what's really key about "Silent Spring" is that it lit up the sky.

  • 12:01:50

    MUSILShe was a best-selling popular author who had three best sellers that were on the best seller list for up to two years. So she was beloved. These are ocean books. And so it was a quite controversial subject, but she was already well-known. The other thing I want to say about "Silent Spring" just so people understand we call it the book the five starfish, but it isn't just the book that launched the movement.

  • 12:02:19

    MUSILRachel Carson was not alone. She had incredible numbers of scientific colleagues of environmental organizations, of women who had come before her, she corresponded throughout the world.

  • 12:02:29

    NNAMDIStood on their shoulders.

  • 12:02:31

    MUSILAnd so she stood on the shoulders of giants and rocked the world. It's also a combination of her writing. You mentioned that she's poetic, and the incredible diligence of the science. People immediately attacked her and tried to dispute the science and it was so well done and so cutting edge that that proved impossible.

  • 12:02:52

    NNAMDISo what happened after "Silent Spring" was published in 1962?

  • 12:02:56

    MUSILWell, you eluded to some of that. I think another thing that people sometimes forget, because the book is so powerful is that Rachel was involved with politics and policy. She had campaigned for John F. Kennedy. She had been part of Women for Kennedy. She was extremely close to the great environmental, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. They worked together on legislation to try to get a conservation department.

  • 12:03:23

    MUSILUnfortunately as we know Rachel died of breast cancer. John F. Kennedy, who she admired, was assassinated. But ultimately it led to the movement forming Earth Day and all those kinds of things that led quickly to the EPA, the Clean Air Act and other kinds of legislation and changes.

  • 12:03:45

    NNAMDIYou've spoken about the importance of our concern for the environment being grounded in credible science, but you've also said that science alone can be arrogant even dangerous when it is without empathy. What did you mean by that?

  • 12:03:58

    MUSILWell, that's sort of reflecting Rachel Carson, who said that, and she's reflecting the once well-known and great humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. And she has an epigraph about the destructiveness that comes from mankind from Schweitzer. She meant that -- she's writing keep in mind in an era of open era nuclear testing, chemical sprayed everywhere, rivers burning. It wasn't a nice little, you know, pastoral time she was writing about.

  • 12:04:32

    MUSILAnd so she I think, by empathy she wanted us to feel and wonder about the smallest things about birds and ferns. She wrote about her great nephew, who she adopted. She took him through the woods at an early age. So if you stop and feel for these creatures, then you're not going to want to kill them is basically what it's about.

  • 12:04:58

    NNAMDIWhy does Carson begin "Silent Spring," Bob, with a fable?

  • 12:05:03

    MUSILShe took a lot of heat, is the polite word for opening with fiction. She had suffered intense ridicule from paid hack male scientists. They would say, how can a woman without children tell us about the future? She's a spinster. She's a communist. And so the fact that she started with a fable, it is fiction, but it is based on scientifically accurate things. So she wrote it in a way to draw in ordinary folks. The science told us that robins were being poisoned, that people were at risk from DDT, that we could end up in a disastrous place. But until -- again, with this sense of imagination, awe and wonder and empathy, if you didn't start with this it could be just sort of science.

  • 12:05:53

    NNAMDIWould you read for us an exert of that fable?

  • 12:05:57

    MUSILOn the air?

  • 12:05:58

    NNAMDIYes. On the air.

  • 12:05:59

    MUSILI would love to.

  • 12:06:00

    NNAMDIPlease do.

  • 12:06:02

    MUSILWell, it's the opening of the book and it is a fable. And it starts, "There once was a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings. The town lay in the midst of a checkerboard of prosperous farms, with fields of grain and hillsides of orchards where, in spring, white clouds of bloom drifted above the green fields. In autumn, oak and maple and birch set up a blaze of color that flamed and flickered across a backdrop of pines. Then foxes barked in the hills and deer silently crossed the fields, half hidden in the mists of the fall mornings. Along the roads, laurel, viburnum and alder, great ferns and wildflowers delighted the traveler’s eye through much of the year. Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community, mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens, the cattle and sheep sickened and died. Everywhere was a shadow of death."

  • 12:07:24

    NNAMDIAnd we got to talk about how in a way she ends that fable by saying, "No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves." And for me that's the key. Also joining us in studio is Diana Post, Director of the Rachel Carson Landmark Alliance and Co-Owner of Carson's Home in Silver Spring, Maryland. Diana Post, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:07:53

    DIANA POSTThank you, Kojo.

  • 12:07:55

    NNAMDIRachel Carson's home in Silver Spring, Maryland is considered a national historic landmark. I just mentioned that you co-own the house. How come and what is it like there?

  • 12:08:06

    POSTWell, it's very inspiring. It's a very special place where Rachel Carson wrote "Silent Spring." She designed the house. She helped the builder fashion it and she lived there for seven years. And our organization is the Rachel Carson Landmark Alliance and what we do is to try to enhance Rachel Carson's reputation and her writing and her vision and her message through intergenerational initiatives and information that passes on her legacy and her courageous life. And we work out of the National Historic Landmark House. We have an office there.

  • 12:09:06

    POSTAnd the house has inside a very full library and outside -- and the library contains some of Rachel Carson's original books. Some of her own books are there. And outside we have a wildlife kind of refuge. Part of the property is kept wild as Rachel Carson requested for the birds and frogs. And this outdoor area provides sanctuary. We see many of the same birds that Rachel Carson saw. There are few that we don't see, but most we do. And we also have a pollinator garden, because of the great loss of pollinators of native bees and of birds.

  • 12:10:00

    POSTAnd through this house and through this property we give attention to Rachel Carson's message. And that is a reverence for scientific truth and a deep caring for the natural world.

  • 12:10:21

    NNAMDIOne of the things I noticed about this house is that in the neighborhood in which it was built all of the other houses were built with the front facing the street. Not this one, how come?

  • 12:10:32

    POSTWell, Rachel Carson was a thoughtful person and she knew that she wanted to keep part of her property wild. And also she knew that she wanted to be inspired by the outdoors. She has large windows everywhere. And when she looks out her windows she can see the wild area from her study and from her living room.

  • 12:10:58

    NNAMDIThis for both of you, Bob and Diana, in her first book "Under the Sea," when Rachel Carson wrote, quoting here, "To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb in the flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthy life can be." What effect did these early years of scrambling down rocks and waiting in tide pools have on Rachel and on her writing?

  • 12:11:37

    MUSILWell, her very first book "Under the Sea Wind" was written while she was at the Bureau of Fishery later the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. People don't realize that Rachel Carson was a federal bureaucrat that might cut -- in today's operations. But that she would go down there and do research for the bureau, but then lie on the beaches and feel the waves and listen to the tickling of the shells and the cry of the birds. And use her literary imaginative background to capture that. She considered these very special places.

  • 12:12:10

    MUSILBut I think what's interesting -- what you read there, Kojo, is she had a sense of wonder for these creatures including ourselves, because we all evolved from the sea. The first life was formed and crept out onto the shore. It evolved over billions of years. So we are all part of the same life. We have evolved together, and it is such a mystery. When she looks at a sanderling running through the surf holding its leg up, she sees ancient life. And she brings of sense of spirituality.

  • 12:12:46

    MUSILShe was raised by a mother who was quite active religious person. Her grandfather had been a learned Presbyterian minister. And she turned that into a sense of awe and spirituality that she brought to all of life. And "Under the Sea Wind," and I actually am going to be doing a new edition for Rutger's Press of that book, captures it so beautifully.

  • 12:13:11

    MUSILI did want to say just because they pay me. I didn't mention, as we were talking about what grew out of "Silent Spring," that some of the legacy is, in addition to the wonders of where she wrote and what goes on in the house, that the organization that I'm with, the Rachel Carson Council carries that work of Rachel's that is the policy, politics, education, organizing up to today and people can find out more about that.

  • 12:13:43

    NNAMDIBut in terms of her personal life for much of her life Rachel Carson was a caretaker. Who did she care for?

  • 12:13:50

    POSTWell, she cared greatly for her mother and for her adopted son, Roger, who was also her grandnephew. She cared for her nieces. She was a source of income for the whole family at some points. And she was also -- while she was doing that she was pursuing her own special interest and that was observing. She loved to watch nature.

  • 12:14:23

    POSTAnd her friend Dorothy Sithe (sp?) who was a college roommate said that Rachel was happiest when she was on a trail, when she was outdoors and when she was observing nature. And if you see pictures of Rachel Carson in photos, she's usually either looking skyward with binoculars around her neck or looking through the eyepiece of a microscope at some little creature on the slide.

  • 12:14:58

    NNAMDIIn 1953, when she was in her 40s, Rachel Carson fell in love. Who was Dorothy Freeman?

  • 12:15:05

    MUSILUh, 1953, well, Dorothy Freeman is a neighbor up in Maine part of the year. She and her husband Stan and Dorothy Freeman were just down the road on Dogfish Road. And she met Dorothy and felt this instant connection partly, because of their interest in nature and observing as Diana has said. But also a soulmate to whom she could pour out her frustrations, her needs, her longings. You mention how she's trying to raise a small fairly active boy, Roger. She took care of people her whole life. And so she had to give up a number of opportunities to travel. She was invited to the Marshall Island -- she was deeply concerned about radioactive testing, nuclear testing -- couldn't go.

  • 12:16:05

    MUSILAnd by the time you get to her having metastatic breast cancer, she's in agony. She puts on music to try to calm herself and feel better and she's able to share these things with Dorothy. And it's really quite touching. Her final moments are at a place called the New Wagon Inn just near her home that she built like the one in Silver Spring. She built a cottage in Maine along the rocky shore there. And her ashes were spread by Dorothy, her great love. And they had watched a monarch migration there together.

  • 12:16:44

    MUSILAnd Rachel writes to her, you know, "We will always have the monarchs." And if you go there the grounds keepers the people by the little path that goes down to where her ashes are spread with a plaque on it still plant for the monarchs so that this legacy of her love for nature, for other people, Dorothy, goes on.

  • 12:17:08

    NNAMDIGot to go to the phones and talk about -- to people about what might be two different views of Rachel Carson. Let's start with Lisa in Bethesda, Maryland. Lisa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:17:19

    LISAHello, Kojo.

  • 12:17:20

    NNAMDIHi, Lisa.

  • 12:17:21

    LISAI am Lisa Alexander. I am the Director of the Audubon Naturalist Society. We're based at Wood and Nature Sanctuary in Chevy Chase. And like our good friend Bob Musil, we are happy to claim Rachel Carson as our own. She was on our Board of Directors and one of our most famous members. And one of the things that I like for us to remember about Rachel Carson is that her work with "Silent Spring" was one of the catalysts for banning DDT here in the United States.

  • 12:17:51

    LISAAt the time of her work, our eagles were dying. DDT was causing their eggshells to be too thin and their young were not making it to maturity. And so with her work, we had this amazing resurgence of the health of the American eagle. And we can see them now all the time right here on our Potomac River. So she has so many legacies, but that's one that I think about every time I see an eagle.

  • 12:18:18

    NNAMDILisa, thank you very much for your call. Now for a slightly different view here is Ernie in Kensington, Maryland. Ernie, your turn.

  • 12:18:25

    ERNIEYes. I was reading some criticisms of Rachel Carson's book. I remember that the main thing that it accomplished was the ban on DDT. As a result many places around the world saw an exponential rise in the mosquito population and in malaria. And many millions of children died, because of the ban on DDT and the fact they couldn't kill the mosquitoes. So this is another ...

  • 12:18:55

    NNAMDIBob Musil, I'd like to have you respond to that or for that matter Diana Post.

  • 12:18:59

    MUSILWell, I'd be happy to. It happens that I worked alongside in trying to get the Stockholm Convention to ban DDT internationally. And DDT had already -- when it was banned in this county lost its effectiveness. Mosquitoes were developing resistance to it and there were alternatives to be had.

  • 12:19:23

    MUSILBut importantly for our listener in Kensington I worked with others to get clauses into that treaty that allowed the use of DDT on an emergency public health basis. That if you were facing an outbreak of malaria that you could in targeted precise ways with permission use it to fight that particular outbreak, not spray it all over entire countries and all of the citizens there in.

  • 12:19:50

    MUSILAnd that particular story that Rachel is responsible for the death of millions is too long to go into it here, but the people who have attacked Rachel from when she wrote the book until now have spread that particular, frankly malicious story. But I think the key part for our listener and for others is that Rachel did help ban DDT. She didn't live to see that ban. But that it was already losing its effectiveness and the entire world went ahead and banned it with some exceptions.

  • 12:20:24

    NNAMDIDiana Post.

  • 12:20:25

    POSTI would just like to add to that that Rachel did not originally write in "Silent Spring" that she wanted to ban pesticides at all. But the President Science Advisory Committee recommended and they agreed with many of Rachel's findings. But they recommended the phase out of persistent organic insecticides, such as DDT and endrin, dieldrin, and some others.

  • 12:20:57

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break, when we come back we will continue this conversation on Rachel Carson. It's the fourth in our series on climate change and we're encouraging you to join the conversation by giving us a call at 800-433-8850. Has there been progress in the environmental movement since "Silent Spring" was first published back in 1962 or not? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:21:37

    JOSHUAMy name is Joshua and I am a second grader at Rachel Carson. We can help the environment by recycling, reducing and reusing. One way to help is recycling paper. When you recycle paper, it helps the environment by cutting less trees down. Reducing or using less of different things can also help. For example, you can reduce the amount of paper you use by using the back. Finally, when you reuse there is less trash. Instead of using paper plates you can use a glass plate every day. Why don't you try to reduce, reuse and recycle?

  • 12:22:17

    MIMIMy name is Mimi and I am fourth grade student at Rachel Carson Elementary School. My school has worked hard to achieve an everlasting goal to take care of our environment. This past fall my school engaged in a fundraiser where we ran laps and raised money to upgrade our courtyard and pond so the animals, who used to live there can come back. We also hope to get an outdoor classroom so that classes can enjoy the outdoors. That all goes to show that our school cares for our environment and tries to honor Rachel Carson the scientist.

  • 12:22:47

    MARKHi, my name is Mark and I am a fifth grader at Rachel Carson Elementary. If Rachel Carson was still alive I think she could really help us, because she was a conservationist and a scientist. As a scientist she would get information and data about global warming and she would find solutions and try to stop global warming. As expressed, Rachel Carson could really help us out with global warming.

  • 12:23:12

    NNAMDIA huge thank you to the students of Rachel Carson Elementary School in Gaithersburg for sharing some of the things they've learned from Rachel Carson. We'll be hearing more of what they had to say throughout today's show. Yesterday, you may remember, I had kids educating me about the big brown bat. Today, I have kids educating me about the environment. Joining us in studio is Deneise Hammond. Deneise Hammond, thank you so much for joining us. You've been Principal of Rachel Carson Elementary for three years now. Tell us about the school.

  • 12:23:40

    DENEISE HAMMONDIt's an amazing school in Gaithersburg, Maryland. We have almost 900 students and almost 100 staff members. I really liked how Bob talked about Ms. Carson's concern for nature and environmental health and Diana talked about her reverence for scientific truth and a deep caring for nature. And I feel that, at Rachel Carson Elementary School, our curriculum, as well as our students and teachers, really try to highlight those topics.

  • 12:24:08

    NNAMDIWhy is science education of particular importance to you?

  • 12:24:13

    HAMMONDWell honestly, I was not an educator at birth. My degrees are in microbiology and chemistry. And I love kids, so somehow, the two came together. I ended up being the principal of a school that is named for a scientist and an author, which is awesome for me, because I get to do everything that I love together: talk about science and work with kids and amazing people.

  • 12:24:36

    HAMMONDAnd one of Rachel Carson's quotes that I like to highlight is, "If I had influence with the good fairy, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder, so indestructible that it would last throughout life." And I think that that's what MCPS tries to do with our next generation science standards, making sure that environmental studies and habitats, environmental change, environmental systems are all highlighted throughout the curriculum.

  • 12:25:02

    NNAMDILet's hear a bit more from the students of Rachel Carson Elementary School. They graciously shared some of the lessons they have learned about caring for the environment.

  • 12:25:11

    ALEC (STUDENTMy name is Alec, a 4th grader at Rachel Carson. Do you like going outside and breathing in the fresh air, or finding a cold shady spot under a tree on a hot summer day? Ever wondered what it would be like without these things? If so, you probably agree that deforestation is bad for the environment. All around the world, important forests are disappearing, including the Amazon. This can have a huge negative effect on our future, including air quality, animal populations, medicine discoveries and conserving water, just to name a few. Let's leave our forests alone.

  • 12:25:48

    ANNIEHi. I am Annie, in 3rd grade in Mrs. Fernandez's class at Rachel Carson Elementary School. Last year on Earth Day, our school had a kite festival. Classes learned about wind energy and creating kites. We each designed and decorated our own kites. Then we all went out on the field and attempted to fly them. Some of the kites succeeded in flying, and some didn't. We all tried our best and had a blast.

  • 12:26:15

    MATEOHello. My name is Mateo, and I am in 1st grade. People have to recycle. Animals are suffering out there. So, please recycle and stop littering. That is why we need to take good care of our environment. Change starts with you.

  • 12:26:31

    NNAMDIWill someone come in here with a camera and take a photo of Deneise Hammond's face (laugh) when these kids are talking? She is just...

  • 12:26:37

    ROBERT MUS8ILBeaming.

  • 12:26:37

    NNAMDI...so overjoyed at hearing them. We've got to Tweet that out. Deneise, what does environmental education look like at Rachel Carson Elementary?

  • 12:26:46

    HAMMONDWell, MCPS has the next generation science standards. And, in each grade, there are items that are unrolled. So, 1st grade, they start with environmental studies, 2nd grade, habitat interactions, 3rd grade, environmental change, 4th grade, environmental systems and eco systems. But then at Rachel Carson we try to elevate those items with, you heard someone talking about our Earth Day Kite Festival. Students had the opportunity to learn about wind energy. And then they actually created their own kites and then we went up on the field and they tried to fly them. And, this year, they'll use the knowledge they gained last year to create even better kites.

  • 12:27:20

    HAMMONDWe do a science and invention night. We have an amazing PTA at Rachel Carson who supports everything that our students are trying to do. And they support the STEM. We're calling it a STEM festival this year. It's been the science and invention night in years past where students actually create projects that can range from environmental science or any type of science, and share them on that evening.

  • 12:27:39

    HAMMONDAnd then our biggest thing right now that we're trying to do is an outdoor classroom for students. We want to make sure that we have a butterfly garden. We talked about the monarch butterflies that she was so fond of. That's in her name. We have a little pond that's very shallow but we're building it up so that we can have some wildlife in there so that students can use the underwater microscopes to actually go in there and see what the underwater habitat looks like. And then just so that they can enjoy the outdoors, just like Rachel Carson did.

  • 12:28:06

    NNAMDIObviously, all of this fosters a passion for the environment in young kids, but how has environmental education changed since you were in school?

  • 12:28:14

    HAMMONDTo be honest, as I think back, I don't even recall. (laugh) Not that I'm that old or anything, but... (laugh)

  • 12:28:19

    NNAMDINo, you're not. (laugh)

  • 12:28:21

    HAMMONDI mean, I remember talking about littering, but the whole recycling and conservation of energy, that wasn't part of my education. And that is a huge part of the education of elementary students these days.

  • 12:28:32

    NNAMDIA lot of news coming out about climate change can be frightening for young kids: wild fires in Australia, devastating storms and floods here at home. How do those conversations play out in the classroom?

  • 12:28:42

    HAMMONDYou have to be careful in how you state such environmental destruction to students. With one of our runs, I believe it was two years ago, there were the issues down in Texas with the hurricanes and everything. And what we did was we tied that into our run. And the money we raised -- we raised some money for our school, you know, to benefit our school. But then we sent some money down to a school down in Texas who was impacted by that. So, students had a way of learning about the devastation without truly seeing how bad it could be. But they need to know, but we just have to be careful in how we present it to them.

  • 12:29:15

    NNAMDIOn to the phones. Here's Susan in Houston, Texas. Susan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:29:20

    SUSANHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to call and express my appreciation for Rachel Carson and all of the work that she did at the time, and, of course, all of the work that your guests are doing today to celebrate her life and work. As a very young child, in the 1960s, I lived in that same neighborhood where she wrote the book. And I was completely oblivious to that at the time. (laugh) But it was interesting how that then guided where I ended up in my life.

  • 12:29:47

    SUSANAt the time, as a very young child, there weren't many children in that neighborhood. It was a very private kind of place. And so, as a really young child, I always wished we lived closer to school, where all the kids were. But because there were fewer kids, there was that opportunity to get out in nature and really observe and play and just do all of the things that obviously were very important to her, too.

  • 12:30:09

    SUSANWe moved away from that neighborhood and to an environment that was totally the opposite. And, I have to say, when I read "Silent Spring" in 7th grade, I was just flabbergasted, blown away by the fact that I had been in the same area where this wonderful woman had lived. And it really did -- my interest in environmental sustainability began in that neighborhood, and then went on as I learned more about it. And chiefly because of what I read in her books.

  • 12:30:40

    NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing your story with us, Susan. Here is Evan in Ashburn, Virginia. Evan, your turn.

  • 12:30:46

    EVANThank you, Kojo. Thanks for having the show. So, I learned on your show about how she built her house. In fact, I did the same thing with mine. As a kid, my mom had "Silent Spring," and I remember looking at it. And in 1972 and '73, I was president of Students for Environmental Action at WT Woodson. So, I mentioned that to Professor AJ Carlson, my double E professor, and he gave me the Club of Rome "Limits to Growth" book.

  • 12:31:16

    EVANAnd the thing about it is, all the environmental actions are good and necessary, but unfortunately, maybe the only true solution would be to reduce the human population by two-thirds. Now, obviously, people who think that are viewed as misanthropes and evil. And, clearly, there's no moral way to do it. But I wonder, if in fact, ultimately that might be the only thing that works. And just how evil that might look, I just finished "Rainbow Six," by Clancy, (laugh) And that is a good illustration of how evil that would look if someone tried it.

  • 12:31:53

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much. We got an email from Pamela, who said: thank you for this show. It is so important to the preservation of the Earth. I read this book in the 1960s and still have my original copy. Throughout my life I've tried to live a life that respects the environment. I recently read the new edition of "The Sea Around Us." I feel it should be mandatory reading in schools. People can have an understanding of how special the Earth is.

  • 12:32:15

    NNAMDII was recently speaking to a Montgomery County middle school science teacher who did not know who Rachel Carson was. Well, we're going to let the students of Rachel Carson Elementary have the final word about this before we go to a break.

  • 12:32:29

    IANA ROSETTAHi. I'm Iana Rosetta. I am in Ms. Bough's 4th grade class at Rachel Carson. I'm going to talk about wind energy and how it works. Wind energy works by having wind hit turbines, making them spin around an axle. This axle has a magnet that turns inside a coil of wires. This process creates electricity. At my school, we learned about this. Then, to test it, we made our own kites, and later, we flew them. Wind energy's important, because it creates another way to make electricity without burning fuel, therefore reducing carbon emissions. I hope you understand wind energy is important.

  • 12:33:01

    TYLERMy name is Tyler, and I am in 3rd grade. Rachel Carson was a biologist who cared a lot about the environment. And we can carry on her legacy by throwing away trash and recycling. Things that get recycled get turned back into things. Our 3rd grade did a service project where we collected plastic bags and turned plastic bags into (word?) which will be made into mats for the homeless. We should also pick up trash that we see, even if it isn't ours. Since Rachel Carson was so passionate about the environment, we can be like her by recycling trash.

  • 12:33:45

    NNAMDIWelcome back. In this fourth in our series on climate change, we're talking about the work of Rachel Carson, in general, and in particular, her book "Silent Spring." Joining us in studio is Bob Musil, president of the Rachel Carson Council, a legacy organization founded in 1965 by Carson's closest friends and colleagues. Diana Post is director of the Rachel Carson Landmark Alliance, and she co-owns Carson's home in Silver Spring, Maryland.

  • 12:34:09

    NNAMDIDeneise Hammond is principal of Rachel Carson Elementary School in Gaithersburg, Maryland. And joining us in studio is Danny Weissman, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland and a member of the school's agroecology lab. Danny Weissman, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:34:23

    DANIELLE WEISSMANThanks for having me, Kojo.

  • 12:34:24

    NNAMDIWhat is the lab's mission?

  • 12:34:26

    WEISSMANSo, our lab explores the intersection of agriculture and ecology. And what that means is trying to get our food production systems to work in harmony with nature, in harmony with the ecosystem. So, two of the projects that we work on right now, some of our major projects are cover cropping systems, which I'm sure a lot of people have heard about. We're just trying to rebuild soil health, because soil health is in a crisis right now in the U.S. and across the entire world. And we also focus on issues related to sea level rise in coastal farmland. And we're actually losing coastal farmland at an unprecedented rate right now.

  • 12:35:05

    NNAMDIDanny, how has Rachel Carson impacted your life and your work?

  • 12:35:08

    WEISSMANI've always considered myself an environmentalist. My parents are very strong environmentalists, as well. And I first read her book when I was 12 years old, and I remember being amazed that one person fighting so hard and being so persistent. I know she had the support of many scientists around her, but just the things that she had to deal with on a day-to-day basis, the fact that she did not give up and she just pulled through and didn't give up the fight, that really inspired me. And it made me feel that I could be like her and do the same thing in the future.

  • 12:35:42

    NNAMDIWhy does “Silent Spring,” in your view, remain relevant today?

  • 12:35:46

    WEISSMANWe are facing the exact same issues today as she was facing. I'm actually going to a discussion in Annapolis tomorrow on a ban of a chemical called chlorpyrifos, which is a toxic compound, and that's actually known to thin eggshells of birds, just like DDT. So, history repeats itself. We are dealing with exactly the same issues that she dealt with.

  • 12:36:13

    NNAMDIDiana Post, same question to you. Why does "Silence Spring" remain viable today, remain important today?

  • 12:36:20

    POSTWell, it's beautiful literature. It's very evocative of the Earth and the need to preserve the earth. And its message concerning pesticides, which are mainly all, if not most all, many have been banned. But its message concerning biological controls, which is in the last chapter of "Silent Spring," is still very relevant. Because we need to spend more developing biological controls, and we need to give that information to our farmers, to agriculture, to landscapers, to foresters, and have them incorporate them into their work.

  • 12:37:15

    NNAMDIJoining us now by phone is Kathryn Rodgers, a staff scientist at the Silent Spring Institute, a scientific research organization dedicated to uncovering the links between chemicals in our everyday environment and women's health. Kathryn Rodgers, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:37:31

    KATHRYN RODGERSThank you, Kojo.

  • 12:37:32

    NNAMDITell us about the Silent Spring Institute. What kind of work do you do there?

  • 12:37:36

    RODGERSSilent Spring Institute was founded about 25 years ago. We're based in Newton, Massachusetts. And we were founded by breast cancer activists from the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition who were concerned about higher rates of breast cancer in some counties of Massachusetts. And they successfully lobbied our state government for a scientific investigation into the causes of those higher rates of breast cancer, which was then the founding of Silent Spring Institute.

  • 12:38:12

    RODGERSAnd so, in some of our first studies, we -- in the same way that Rachel Carson broke down the boundaries of us and the environment, like, obviously, humans are part of the ecosystem, and she wrote about that through pesticides like DDT impacting not only birds, but also having potential impacts on human health. So, we investigated the indoor environment, dust and air and drinking water of a group of women with breast cancer and without breast cancer, to compare those levels between women.

  • 12:38:54

    RODGERSAnd what we found, we measured many endocrine-disrupting chemicals, chemicals that disrupt normal hormone functioning in the body that can be associated with diseases like breast cancer and many other diseases. And we found these compounds at -- we were the first to really measure those in the indoor environment. And that put to rest the myth that chemicals that are added to our consumer products stay put.

  • 12:39:23

    RODGERSWe measured -- one of our first studies measured BPA in drinking water on Cape Cod. So, these chemicals migrate out of consumer products. They enter our environment, and then eventually, we are exposed to them. And bringing it back to DDT, DDT was also something that we measured. We actually still today commonly measure that in the indoor environment in people's homes and in classrooms, because the chemical's so persistent.

  • 12:39:57

    RODGERSAnd studies have found that women in the 1960s who had higher exposures to DDT, and even their babies, when they were developing, who had higher exposures to DDT, were three to four times more likely to develop breast cancer as adults. And that finding, that took 60 years for us to see the result of those exposures to DDT in humans, you know, in utero. So, these chemicals, they can have a long-lasting impact beyond what we can immediately see.

  • 12:40:34

    NNAMDIAfter you became aware of Rachel Carson and read her, you spoke of her as being somewhat transcendentalist. What do you mean by that?

  • 12:40:43

    RODGERSSo, this is just my own observation. I, like everyone else who's calling into the show, I'm just so honored to work to carry out Rachel Carson's legacy. And her writing of how we are part of the ecosystem really, you know, it speaks to me, like, to my core. And one of the questions that I've asked myself is, before "Silent Spring," why was that language not common in our culture or in our society in America?

  • 12:41:19

    RODGERSAnd I think that in order to answer that, we have to go a long way back to look at the founding of America and think about the mass genocide of the native people who lived here and the attempt to erase all of that indigenous wisdom, which we know speaks to concepts like intergenerational justice and connectivity, and that kind of spiritual connectedness that people have, because we are part of the environment. So, while Rachel Carson is a hero of mine, I also look to other people and other leaders who also have a very similar message that she has to share.

  • 12:42:17

    NNAMDII want to get back to the telephones. Here is Kim, in Washington, D.C. Kim, your turn.

  • 12:42:22

    KIMHi. It sounds like your elementary school is teaching children to understand the changes we need to make on Earth. This is so wonderful, but this can be so scary for them. I'm 63, and our future, as earthlings, is scary to me. Do you have like a sociology class, or how are you making sure they don't fall into a really scared situation?

  • 12:42:47

    NNAMDIDeneise Hammond?

  • 12:42:48

    HAMMONDWe don't have a sociology class at the elementary level, but we're just very careful in what we present and how we present it. As a staff, we talk about ways that we're going to present items to students. We make sure that if there are questions from them, that we have a way to answer them. And if they go beyond what we at the school can answer, then we get the parents involved and let them know concerns of the students, as well.

  • 12:43:09

    HAMMONDBecause the reality is they are in this world. We think that they're not paying attention, but kids are tuned in. They know exactly what's going on. We may be listening to the news. They're listening, too, you know. So, they need to know and they need to be secure that we're going to protect them and we're making sure that they know what they need to know to be safe.

  • 12:43:25

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Speaking of schools, Betsy in Washington, D.C. wants to talk about a school. Betsy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:43:33

    BETSYHi. Thanks for taking my call. Obviously, Rachel Carson's legacy goes far and wide. She went to college in Pittsburgh. At the time, it was called Pennsylvania College for Women. Today, it's a new name, Chatham University. And her legacy is very strong there. There are many environmental study classes. There's actually a separate campus devoted to environmental education. So, there's a strong emphasis at the university on environmental issues. And that is, obviously, also part of her legacy for having graduated from there.

  • 12:44:07

    NNAMDIThank you. I'd like both Diana and Bob to speak to that.

  • 12:44:10

    POSTThank you. Just wanted to mention that the last book that Rachel was associated with is called "The Sense of Wonder." And, in this book, she makes a plea to parents, teachers, adults to give children a chance to enjoy a sense of wonder, to share nature in its excitement, its thrill and its mystery. And it's fun with children. And this is antidote, partially, for some of the sad news that we're hearing about climate change and the other things. The children need to know that nature is there for them, and that they will be healthier, happier and better people for it.

  • 12:45:04

    MUS8ILWell, we've been talking about how we've been inspired by Rachel Carson from elementary school, onward into being a young woman scientist. I work with the Rachel Carson Council. We have a campus network of 54 campuses with many, many thousands of faculty and students.

  • 12:45:23

    MUS8ILWe're bringing them to Washington for a lobby day, because what's important, I think as Danny was saying, she's going down to Annapolis to talk about how we can create change, chlorpyrifos and other chemicals that are still there. And so I think it's important for young people to see us citizens through groups like the Ranch Carson Council and others taking action that can be effective to change policy. So, it's important to recycle, love those kids, to develop the wonder. But then, finally, Rachel Carson took action on all of these things.

  • 12:45:56

    NNAMDIDanny, we only have about a minute left, but before she died, Rachel Carson had planned a subject of her next book, "Sea Level Rise." Can you tell us about your own research on sea level rise here in Maryland?

  • 12:46:06

    WEISSMANSure. So, I've worked on this research project for the past four years on the lower eastern shore of Maryland, on the Delmarva Peninsula. And I work in two counties that some of the listeners may be familiar with, Somerset and Dorchester. And if you've been to those counties lately, you cannot miss the fact that there are huge swaths of land going underwater, hundreds of acres every year.

  • 12:46:27

    WEISSMANSo, I’m working with farmers to try and figure out a good strategy for how to adapt to this change on their land. We go out to some of their fields and we see salt marshes essentially creeping up onto the landscape. And I mean creeping, because you'll see salt marsh plants right next to corn plants and huge bare patches of lane that have been just so damaged by salt, nothing will grow.

  • 12:46:51

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Danny Weissman, Bob Musil, Diana Post, Deneise Hammond, Kathryn Rodgers, thank you all for joining us. Today's show about Rachel Carson, part of our Kojo Climate Series, was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Mark your calendars for the next Kojo In Your Community conversation. We'll talk about changing immigration rules and their impact on local students and families. It's on February 25th at the Columbia Heights educational campus. Learn how to get tickets and more at kojoshow.org.

  • 12:47:23

    NNAMDIAnd join us tomorrow, when we discuss restaurants that are clothing stores and other dual-purpose businesses in this region. Why is this business model trending? Plus, the local Nigerian community reacts to the most recent travel ban. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows