Google today celebrates the 107th birthday of American marine biologist, conservationist and writer Rachel Louise Carson, whose writings inspired a grassroots environmental movement that eventually led to the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The stylised Google logo on the search engine’s homepage uses a spectrum of blue colour to illustrate Rachel Louise Carson –who appears in the Doodle armed with a backpack, notebook and binoculaurs – surrounded by marine-based wildlife.
Carson was born on this day in 1907 on a small family farm near Springdale, Pensylvania. It was here that her taste for exploring wildlife began and she began writing stories at just eight years old, and was first published by 11.
Biology and writing were forever entwined throughout Carson’s life. She originally studied English but switched her major to biology, going on to earn a master’s degree in zoology at Johns Hopkins University.
Her career began at the US Bureau of Fisheries, writing radio copy for a series of weekly educational broadcasts intended to generate public interest in aquatic life. She later became the second woman to be hired by the bureau for a full-time professional position when she became a junior aquatic biologist.
Rachel Louise Carson’s official employee photo (c 1940) from the US Bureau of Fisheries (now the US Fish and Wildlife Service)
Carson’s writing on marine wildlife continued, and she contributed regularly to local newspapers and magazines. She turned her hand to writing books on the subject, starting with a bestselling trilogy published between 1941 and 1955, exploring the whole of ocean life.
By 1952, Carson had become a full-time nature writer and began to focus on her research on the environmental impact of synthetic pesticides such as DDT.
This led to the publication Silent Spring in 1962, a book credited with enlightening the American people to the impact of humans on the natural world and inspiring an environmentalist movement.
A Silent Spring speaks out for the environment
Silent Spring focused on the detrimental effects of pesticide overuse and, in it, Carson accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation on the matter. Carson also predicted the consequences of increased use of pesticides, including resistance among those insects targeted. In Silent Spring, she calls for a biotic approach to pest control as an alternative.
Naturally, the chemical companies responsible for producing harmful pesticides protested, but Silent Spring and the public reaction that followed spurred a reversal in the US’s national pesticide policy regardless.
Carson discovered she had breast cancer while writing Silent Spring. Her health detoriorated through the early Sixties and, on 14 April 1964, she died of a heart attack at her home in Maryland.
However, her legacy continued and, in 1970, the Nixon Administration established the Environmental Protection Agency, a body that would be responsible for environmental concerns beyond agricultural policy. Much of the EPA’s early work was directly related to Carson’s research.
Carson received many awards and honours before her death and, in 1980, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honour in the United States.
Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland.