The Fracking of Rachel Carson

(VIDEO: Sandra Steingraber, who is at the forefront of efforts to halt fracking across the Marcellus Shale deposits, reads excerpts from her essay about the fiftieth anniversary of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, accompanied by a full portfolio of fracking photos by Nina Berman.)

1. Rachel Carson, the ecologist who kicked the hornet’s nest, wrote a book that needed no subtitle. Published fifty years ago this September, Silent Spring rocketed to the top of the bestseller list, prompted a meeting with the president’s science advisers, occasioned congressional hearings, and circled her neck with medals of honor. It also let loose swarms of invective from the pesticide industry. Throughout it all, Carson remained calm. Friends and foes alike praised her graceful comportment and gentle voice. Also, her stylish suits and trim figure. Nevertheless, her various publicity photos (with microscope; in the woods; outside her summer cottage in Maine; at home in Maryland) look as if the same thought bubble hovers above them all: I hate this.

2. In the later portraits, Carson was dying of breast cancer. It was a diagnosis she hid out of fear that her enemies in industry would use her medical situation to attack her scientific objectivity and, most especially, her carefully constructed argument about the role that petrochemicals (especially pesticides) played in the story of human cancer. But behind her unflappable public composure, Carson’s private writings reveal how much physical anguish she endured. Bone metastases. Radiation burns. Angina. Knowing this, you can imagine her patience running out during the interminable photo shoots. The wretched wig hot and itchy under the lights. The stabbing pains (cervical vertebrae splintered with tumors) that would not, would not relent.

3. In the iconic Hawk Mountain photo, Rachel Carson is truly beautiful. Her smile looks natural rather than forced. Posed on a rocky summit, she is wearing a badass leather jacket and wields a pair of leather-strapped binoculars. So armed, she scans the horizon. At her feet, the whole of Berks County, Pennsylvania, unfurls, forest and valley, field and mountain, like a verse from a Pete Seeger song.

4. Hawk Mountain, along the Appalachian flyway, is an officially designated refuge for raptors. As with so many sanctuaries, it started out as a hunting ground with bounties. By the mid-1930s, it had become the spot in Pennsylvania to witness the annual fall migration of hawks. Rachel Carson loved it here. She wrote about her experiences in a never-finished, never-published essay titled “Road of the Hawks.” According to biographer Linda Lear—who gathered the fragments into the collection Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson—the essay is notable not only for its careful analysis of bird behavior and knowledge of geology but also because Carson traced the origin of her airy lookout to Paleozoic marine organisms.


And always in these Appalachian highlands there are reminders of those ancient seas that more than once lay over all this land . . . these whitened limestone rocks on which I am sitting . . . were formed under that Paleozoic ocean, of the myriad tiny skeletons of creatures that drifted in its waters. Now I lie back with half closed eyes and try to realize that I am at the bottom of another ocean—an ocean of air on which the hawks are sailing.

6. She sat on a mountaintop and thought about oceans.

7. The marine inhabitants of the ancient seas that once overlay Appalachia transformed, when they died, into gaseous bubbles of methane. Pressed under the accumulated weight of silt sifting down from nearby mountains, the seafloor solidified into what’s now called the Marcellus Shale, a layer of bedrock that’s located under thousands of feet of what we would call the earth, but the mining industry calls overburden: the material that lies between the surface and an area of economic interest. To extract methane bubbles from the area of economic interest, the natural gas industry is now blowing up the state of Pennsylvania.

8. High-volume, slickwater, horizontal hydrofracking would be considered a crime if the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which regulates underground chemical injections, pertained.

9. But they don’t. In 2005, fracking was granted specific exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Fracking is also exempt from key provisions within the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Chemicals used in drilling and fracking operations can be claimed as trade secrets; public release of their identity is not mandated by federal right-to-know provisions. The Environmental Protection Agency has limited jurisdiction over fracking.

10. The Environmental Protection Agency credits Silent Spring for its existence.

11. You can think of fracking as a hostage exchange program. A drill bit opens a hole a mile deep, turns sideways, and then, like a robotic mole, tunnels horizontally through the shale bedrock for another mile or more. The hole is lined with steel pipe and cement. To initiate the fracturing process, explosives are sent down it. Then, fresh water (millions of gallons per well) is injected under high pressure to further break up the shale and shoot acids, biocides, friction reducers, and sand grains deep into the cracks. Trapped for 400 million years, the gas is now free to flow through the propped-open fractures up to the surface, where it is condensed, compressed, and sent to market via a network of pipelines. The water remains behind.

12. Within the rumply state of Pennsylvania is a place called Triple Divide, where three adjacent springs feed the watersheds of three mighty rivers: the Allegheny (which flows west to the Mississippi River); the Susquehanna (which flows east to Chesapeake Bay); and the Genesee (which flows north to Lake Ontario). This area of Pennsylvania—which is the sixth most populous state in the union, which sits upwind and upstream from the eleventh most populous state of New Jersey and the third most populous state of New York—lies in the heart of the ongoing fracking boom in the eastern U.S. According to the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, drillers in the Marcellus Shale amassed 1,614 violations of state oil and gas laws between January 2008 and August 2010. In one incident, a well blowout near the Punxsutawney Hunting Club in Clearfield County sent 35,000 gallons of toxic effluent into a state forest over the course of sixteen hours. Campers were evacuated.

13. Rachel Carson was born on May 27, 1907, and grew up on the outskirts of Springdale, sixteen miles from Pittsburgh. Her lifelong devotion to the sea began as a small child when she discovered, on a rocky hillside near her family’s farm, a fossilized shell. A sea creature in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

14. Actually, only some of the frack water stays behind in the shale. The rest, now mixed with brine and radioactivity, shoots up to the surface with the gas. Finding a safe place to dispose of this toxic flowback is an unsolved problem. Sometimes, the waste from drilling is just dumped on the ground. That’s illegal, but it happens. Sometimes the waste is dumped down other holes. In 2010, 200,000 gallons were poured down an abandoned well on the edge of Allegheny National Forest. Much of the flowback fluid is trucked to northeast Ohio, where it is forced, under pressure, into permeable rock via deep injection wells. This practice, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has concluded, is the likely cause of the unusual swarm of earthquakes that shook northeast Ohio in 2011.

15. Most of the state’s fracking operations are set to take place in Pennsylvania’s forests. To be precise, 64 percent of Pennsylvania gas wells are to be drilled in forested land, which includes state forests and natural areas. For each well pad sited in a forested area, an average of nine acres of habitat are destroyed, says The Nature Conservancy’s Pennsylvania chapter (each well pad can accommodate up to six wells). The total direct and indirect impact is thirty acres of forest for each well pad. This does not include acreage lost to pipelines. On average, each well pad requires 1.65 miles of gathering pipelines, which carry the gas to a network of larger transporting pipelines.

16. Somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 wells are planned for Pennsylvania, to be built over the next few decades. The Nature Conservancy forecasts the destruction of 360,000 to 900,000 acres of interior forest habitat due to pipeline right-of-ways alone.

17. They are fracking Allegheny County.

18. They are sizing up Berks County, too.

19. Berks Gas Truth is a grassroots antifracking organization that focuses on human rights. The group is fond of quoting Article 1, Section 27, of the Pennsylvania Constitution:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonweath shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

20. Carson had a lot to say about human rights. In Silent Spring:

If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem.

In congressional testimony (June 1963):

[I assert] the right of the citizen to be secure in his own home against the intrusions of poisons applied by other persons. I speak not as a lawyer but as a biologist and as a human being, but I strongly feel that this is or should be one of the basic human rights.

From her final speech (San Francisco, October 1963):

Underlying all of these problems of introducing contamination into our world is the question of moral responsibility. . . . [T]he threat is infinitely greater to the generations unborn; to those who have no voice in the decisions of today, and that fact alone makes our responsibility a heavy one.

21. Human rights were not always Carson’s focus. Indeed, her bestselling trilogy of books about the sea—Under the Sea Wind (1941), The Sea Around Us (1951), The Edge of the Sea (1955)—gives an adventurous account of a world in which the human race scarcely appears. If we the readers could visualize the oceanic world below the waves—full of communities of interacting creatures that possessed agency and distinct personalities—we might, the author believed, experience wonder and humility. And wonder and humility, said Carson, “do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction.” By contrast, the book she longed to begin at the time of her death was going to be all about environmental destruction—and the human rights violations that occur as a result. To halt the growing contamination of the oceans, to counteract a culture of conquest and annihilation, required more than humility, Carson had come to believe. It called for confrontation and witness. Nevertheless, she was also, at the time of her death, working on a book-length expansion of an essay titled “Help Your Child to Wonder.”

22. The Springdale where Rachel Carson lived as a child was no preindustrial, Romantic garden. The stench of the local glue factory was horrible. By the time she left for graduate school at Johns Hopkins in 1929, two coal-burning power plants flanked the town and were plainly contaminating both the river and the air. “The memory of the defilement industrial pollution brought,” said Linda Lear, would remain with Carson for the rest of her life.

23. To honor Carson (and promote tourism), the Springdale Team of Active Residents coined a new slogan for the town: Where Green Was Born.

24. According to a 2010 investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, residents of Springdale have higher than average rates of death from lung cancers and heart ailments linked to air pollution. Quoted in the article, the then-director of the Rachel Carson Homestead Association, Patricia DeMarco, said, “We’re in a black hole here, where companies put out pollution and take in profits while the costs to our air and water quality are borne by the public.” DeMarco characterized Springdale residents as being quick to accept pollution as normal.

25. Silent Spring predated the nation’s cancer registry program, which came into being under Richard Nixon and mandated that all states track cancer incidence within their populations. Without registry data—and the information about the changing rates of cancer they provide—Carson was left with only case studies and mortality data to work with. She also lacked sophisticated geographic information systems (GIS) and computer mapping programs that can generate visually compelling pictures of potential cancer clusters and other spatial patterns for statistical analysis. In 1960, there were no right-to-know laws, pesticide registries, or Toxics Release Inventories. There were no statewide women’s breast cancer groups that monitor public and academic research. Carson painstakingly pieced together the evidence available to her—reports of farmers with bone marrow degeneration, sheep with nasal tumors, spray-gun-toting housewives with leukemia—and concluded that cancer was striking the general population with increasing frequency. She believed that she was seeing the early signs of an epidemic in slow motion. She was especially concerned with the apparent rise in cancers among children. And she was right.

26. April 2012 was a silent spring in Pennsylvania. Funds for a statewide heath registry—which would track illnesses in residents who live near drilling and fracking operations—were quietly removed from the state budget. At the same time, a new state law, Act 13, went into effect, which allows a physician in Pennsylvania access to proprietary chemical information for purposes of treating a possibly exposed patient—but only if he or she signs a confidentiality agreement. Confounded, Pennsylvania doctors began asking questions. Does that mean no contacting the public health department? What about talking to reporters or writing up case studies for the New England Journal of Medicine? Can a physician who signs the nondisclosure agreement (in order to treat a patient) and then issues an alert to the community at large (in order to fulfill an ethical obligation to prevent harm) be sued for breach of contract? The president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society registered her objections, to which Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Sam Smith furiously counter-objected. Denying that Act 13 constitutes a medical gag order, Smith’s spokesman accused objecting doctors of yelling fire in a crowded theater.

27. Still waiting for the Pennsylvania Medical Society to point out that, verily, the theater is burning.

28. Rachel Carson was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 1960, although she would not find out until the following December. Her physician did not tell her the results of the biopsy. Her cancer rapidly metastasized. With her next surgeon, she insisted on full disclosure. She knew the news would not be good. Nevertheless, she wrote to him in February 1963, “I still believe in the old Churchillian determination to fight each battle as it comes. (‘We will fight on the beaches—’ etc.)”

29. In 2011, Chesapeake Energy, a top producer of natural gas, was a corporate sponsor of the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition. In response to questions about possible conflicts of interest, the coalition’s executive director Heather Hibshman said, “I’m not a scientist. I’m not a researcher. I run a nonprofit. I’m going to leave it at that.” Hibshman also said that she was unaware of any correlations between fracking and breast cancer.

30. Fracking for the cure.

31. In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson pointed out that pesticides were rapidly rolled out after World War II not because of some unmet pest-control need (like, say, farmers suddenly overrun with bugs and weeds). Rather, abundant leftover stockpiles from wartime use were in need of a domestic market. And so, with the help of Madison Avenue, one was created. DDT, a military weapon, was thus repurposed for domestic use without any premarket testing for safety. An abundance of former military planes that could be cheaply converted into spray planes—and an abundance of former military pilots who loved to fly them—helped seal the deal.

32. In March 2012, it was announced that the town of Monaca, in Beaver County, Pennsylvania (twenty-eight miles northwest of Pittsburgh), would be the site for a massive new ethylene cracker facility—the first in Appalachia—that will create chemical feedstocks for the plastics industry out of the other hydrocarbons that come up with the gas when Marcellus Shale is fracked. Most notably, ethane. This plant is being rolled out not because of some unmet need for more plastic. Rather, it is being built to solve a disposal problem for the energy industry and—of course—to create jobs. Petrochemical crackers are notorious air polluters, and the air of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, already exceeds legal limits for ground-level ozone (smog) and fine particles, which is the very sort of pollution that crackers create. Michael Krancer, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection secretary, is not worried. “The plant will be state-of-the-art and built by a world-wide, world-class, environmentally responsible company.”

33. That company would be Shell Oil.

34. The biggest repository for plastic waste is the ocean. It was Captain Charles Moore who discovered, in 1999, that the mass of plastic fragments in the central Pacific now outweighs the zooplankton by a factor of six. Sunlight and wave action break the fragments into smaller and smaller bits, but no one knows how small the bits can become or how long they last. It’s possible that some common plastics never degrade in the ocean. It’s possible that these plastic particles absorb organic toxicants. It’s certain that plastic particles are consumed by marine organisms, including the fish that are then consumed by us. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the best way for individuals to address the problem of plastic waste in our oceans is to use less and recycle more. Blocking a convoy of fracking trucks is not on its list of recommended actions.

35. Rachel Carson’s final speech, “The Pollution of Our Environment,” was delivered six months before her death. By then, her pelvis was pocked with tumors and she walked with great difficulty. To her audience, a convocation of 1,500 physicians and medical professionals, she asked why. Why, in the face of overwhelming evidence of human harm, do we continue to pollute? Why do we pretend that alternatives to defilement and risk do not exist, even when other courses of action are available to us? Or, to use Carson’s framing, why do we behave “not like people guided by scientific knowledge, but more like the proverbial bad housekeeper who sweeps dirt under the rug in the hope of getting it out of sight”?

36. Says Businessweek, “The preferred way to dispose of the brine and fracking fluid . . . is to pump it out of sight, out of mind into deep, cavernous wells.” At last count, Ohio, with its permeable bedrock, has 176 such wells into which 511 million gallons of flowback waste have been injected.

37. To her audience of doctors, an ailing Rachel Carson offered three explanations for our collective reluctance to give up on poisonous technologies. First, she said, we wait too long to evaluate the risks. Once a new technology is deployed and a vast economic and political commitment has been made, dislodging it becomes impossible.

38. Second, we fail to acknowledge that nature invariably has its own (unpredictable) way with harmful pollutants. Because ecosystems are dynamic, chemicals released into the environment do not stay where they are put, nor do they remain in their original form. Instead, they are transported, metabolized, concentrated, oxidized, methylated, and otherwise reassembled. They enter cycles and pathways. They are sent up food chains and passed down generations. Look, said Carson (who delivered her remarks while seated), the earth is alive. And living things interact with their environments. There are no compartments.

39. Third, we act as though the evidence for harm in other animals does not apply to us even though we share biological ancestry and are thus clearly susceptible to damage from the same forces. This, in spite of the fact that “it would be hard to find any person of education who would deny the facts of evolution.”

40. Oh, Rachel.

41. No comprehensive study on the human or animal health impacts of fracking has ever been conducted. However, using a case study approach, veterinarian Michelle Bamberger and Cornell biochemist Robert Oswald have been studying the impact of gas drilling on livestock, horses, pets, wildlife, and people who live in the gaslands of Pennsylvania. Nondisclosure agreements, trade secrets, litigation, and a general atmosphere of intimidation make their investigation difficult. So far, as described in a paper published in the environmental policy journal New Solutions, the team has documented widespread evidence of health and reproductive problems. In cattle exposed to fracking fluid: stillborn calves, cleft palates, milk contamination, death.

42. In cats and dogs: seizures, stillbirths, fur loss, vomiting.

43. In humans: headaches, rashes, nosebleeds, vomiting.

44. In a private letter, Rachel Carson suggested another explanation for the prevalence of pollution. Scientists are cowards. Especially scientists who work in government agencies. The ones who are privy to the disconnect between the state of the scientific evidence and the policies that ignore that evidence. The ones who stay silent when they should be blowing whistles.

45. Rachel Carson died in Silver Spring, Maryland, on April 14, 1964. Cause of death: breast cancer and heart disease. She was fifty-six.

46. In May 2012, Stephen Cleghorn, a farmer, scattered the ashes of his wife, Lucinda—who died of lung cancer—on their farm in Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania, which is in Jefferson County. The ceremony was unusual. It included a press conference, during which Cleghorn announced that, with this deposition of ash, he was hereby consecrating his land and declaring it off-limits to fracking in perpetuity. From here on out, the widower averred, “surface rights” (a concept whereby ownership of the surface land is separated from the mineral rights below) would refer to the rights of all beings whose lives are sustained at the surface and depend upon the clear, clean water that runs upon and below it:

May she who was tender and close and loving of me—now made dust and distant from me by cancerous death—come now in these ashes to declare this farm forever inviolate of shale gas drilling or any other attack upon it as a living system. Here now she declares a new right of love on the surface and below this farm that no gas drill will ever penetrate.

The goats bore witness.

47. We will fight on the beaches—etc.

48. In February 2012, Berks Gas Truth brought financial analyst Deborah Rogers to the Episcopal Church in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Rogers lives in Fort Worth, Texas, and serves on the Advisory Council for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. To her audience in Kutztown, Rogers argued that the economic fundamentals of shale gas were shaky. Gas reserves were smaller than projected, life spans of producing wells shorter. The leasing frenzy and subsequent speculation had produced financial bubbles. She pointed out that solar panels on a tract of land the same size as a well pad would generate electricity for twice as long as a shale gas well would bring methane up from bedrock. Rogers also noted that 94 percent of the gas wells in the Barnett Shale play in Texas emit benzene. Three months after Rogers’s lecture, researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health found elevated benzene levels in the ambient outdoor air of communities located near drilling and fracking operations in rural western Colorado. For residents living close to wells, benzene levels were high enough, according to the authors, to create acute and chronic health effects.

49. Memo to the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition: it’s been known for some time that benzene exposure causes leukemia and birth defects. As for a link between benzene and breast cancer, that possibility was affirmed by the Institute of Medicine in December 2011.


If, having endured much, we have at last asserted our “right to know,” and if, knowing, we have concluded that we are being asked to take senseless and frightening risks, then we should no longer accept the counsel of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous chemicals; we should look about and see what other course is open to us.
               —Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Sandra Steingraber narrates a slide show about the fracking of Rachel Carson’s homeground at This article was made possible by generous support from the Park Foundation.

Sandra Steingraber is the author of Living Downstream and several other books about climate change, ecology, and the links between human health and the environment. She was an Orion columnist for six years. Author photo: Laura Kozlowski.


  1. If fracking is allowed to continue we will see a significant rise in cancers of all types as well as other diseases caused by pollution. I have no doubt that the people making loads of money off this practice will receive their proper punishment. Karma is physics, for every action there is an opposite but equal reaction. The Death of the Sea is near and one half of the world’s population depends on protein from the sea as their main source of sustenance. Are these people insane, immoral, or care more about money than their fellow human beings. Probably all of the above, I hope they get exactly what they deserve.

  2. It’s not us and them. It’s all us. We must become better at helping profiteers see the need for a purified and and sustainable planet. They need peace and love to see more clearly.

  3. Thank you for such a well written, piece, placing this struggle in the greater context of human rights and environmental activism.

    I’d like to offer the suggestion, (and request!) to add any and all citations of facts / reports in the article. I have read many of them independent of this article, and find it could only strengthen the cause to keep our data and info strongly entwined with our calls to action.

    Thanks again for a lovely piece.

  4. The obsession for money destroys morality. Reason and science count for nothing with those intent on profits. Our world is being poisoned and destroyed for profit.

  5. I’m holding on to hope, Mike. I do what I can locally and I feel our collective intentions to raise the conciousness to a new and clean way to treat one another and sustain our planet is in process. Be patient and work hard!

  6. we fight because there is no other alternative, we cannot lose, there is no other planet to move to, we continue each day because to not fighting is unacceptable. We have already solved the issue facing our very survival and future with solar, wind, geo thermal, and sunflower and hemp can revolutionize farming, re invigorate manufacturing and create jobs nationally. Subsidies that now go to already wealthy polluting oil and gas companies should go to farmers willing to grow our food and fuels which are compatible, clean the air and do not pollute. There are so many fronts to be present….see you on the beaches

  7. Pennsylvania. Important place and part in our early history. Independence Hall a.k.a. Pennsylvania State House is a landmark building. Philadelphia considered the birthplace of USA. The site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the ratification of the Articles of Confederation uniting the 13 colonies in 1781; and adoption of the Constitution outlining the nation’s basic laws in 1787. The Liberty Bell. An important symbol of United States freedom. Cracked once in 1846, repaired. The bell received another crack and hasn’t rung since, only gentle taps in honor of Martin Luther King Day, since 1986. The Liberty Bell crack is deemed a favorite aspect of the bell’s history. The crack. The condition of freedom in PA and the USA.

  8. Joanne — Thanks for your words of encouragement. Reminds me of Paul Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest (see wiki). The innumerable small efforts may eventually bind the Corporate Gulliver!

  9. Joel — Thanks for your good thoughts. We need each other’s support in this long and uncertain struggle for a better world.

  10. “Are these people insane, immoral, or care more about money than their fellow human beings. Probably all of the above, I hope they get exactly what they deserve.” Amen, Michael Eure. And it is up to us to see they get their just deserts!

  11. ….see you on the beaches, indeed! this is our world; we have to “own” this struggle. and stay sane.
    so thankyou sandra, for helping sustain the spirit.

  12. Thank you Sandra for such a beautiful piece and thank you Orion and Park Foundation for its presentation. It was magnetic and by #29 I was emotionally enveloped in it.

    Throughout the nation, we render harm to the masses for the monetary benefit of the very few already extremely wealthy by the extractive processes for the energy sector. We as a Nation are catering to King Coal, hydrofracked gas, and oil wells in the most sensitive of places and numerous “forever” injustices are delivered in the name of “keeping a job and affordable energy”.

    The oddity is that there other constructive forces available for energy production and it could be profitable, yet we continue to choose destruction over construction. I believe we must ask why. Why are we so willing to play Russian roulette with both the health of the planet we call home and humanity’s health?

    The new constructive force needs a charismatic committed leader on the national level, a national energy policy with real green goals in mind, courageous Congress men and women to plow ground and plant seeds.

    Thank you forever to leaders like Rachael Carson and Harry Caudill. Their teachings continue.

  13. Sandra,

    What a moving, thought-provoking article you have penned! My heartfelt thanks and gratitude to you for this exceptional piece of non-fiction.

    We are so very fortunate to have people like you who are the next generation of Rachel Carsons.

    I live in Idaho where we are currently in the bullseye of the frackers. They just started seismic testing in a 50 sq. mi. area on August 13th. There are a few of us here at ground zero– Payette County– who have been desperately trying to sound the alarm. Unfortunately most of the time our pleas fall on deaf ears (especially if those ears are attached to our local “leaders” or state lawmakers).

    Your article– so clearly and concisely– draws the parallels between what was happening in Rachel Carson’s backyard (and subsequently ALL of our backyards), and the future we’re destroying for our children and future generations.

    I can say– unequivocally– that there are days when I just want to curl up in a fetal position, cry and say, “how am I making a difference?”. Fortunately every time I start to feel that way, I read a story about someone who is taking action in their community, or I read a marvelous story– such as this one– that reinvigorates me and gives me hope that our collective efforts WILL make a difference.

    Thanks for your compassion, and your kind and generous spirit. Your obvious commitment to your fellow human being comes sailing through!

  14. Another heartbreaking case, so well laid out by the author, of profits over people, complete with legal barriers to even basic information about what’s happening to the people affected. It has to be remembered, too, that American “consumers” (we used to be citizens, remember?) are complicit with the corporations in that we cannot, at least in the aggregate, imagine giving up or modifying the trappings of the petroleum-based economy.

  15. Paul Cook — “American “consumers” (we used to be citizens, remember?) are complicit with the corporations in that we cannot, at least in the aggregate, imagine giving up or modifying the trappings of the petroleum-based economy.”

    Our problem is addiction– to shopping, TV, cell phones, cars…you know the list, it’s a long one. In the past Quakers, Shakers, Amish and others tackled this problem with some success. The point is that we need a spiritual movement that has simple living and saving the Earth as primary objectives. The spiritual basis provides motivation that selfish frameworks cannot. Sacrifice for the common good is honored in such a group. Some of the basic principles used in AA’s twelve steps can be very effective in breaking long standing habits and dependencies. To think that we can create a better world through selfishness is sheer delusion. We hold tight to our toys at our peril. A modern movement of this type could avoid some of the extreme attitudes of past efforts, and still be designed to be very effective. Meeting regularly in small groups of committed people could be a central method of deepening understanding and practice together.

  16. Carson was promoted while the more direct critics, Biskind, Mobbs, and Scobey, were made arcane. I found them as the end result of my independent research finding DDT causative for the polio epidemics. Ref:, also published by Townsend Letter. The same entities that promoted Carson took her down.

  17. Thank you for mentioning Berks Gas Truth in your excellent article. We meet just a few miles from Hawk Mountain and are very concerned about not just the drilling that may come to the Utica Shale in that part of the county, but the drilling that may come to the South Newark Basin in Southern Berks, and, even more immediately, the pipelines and compressor stations that are already on their way here. We led a countywide campaign to get municipalities to pass resolutions opposing Act 13, the state law that strips local government of control over all gas drilling operations. Pennsylvanians reading this who don’t know about Act 13 should visit our website at or the Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s site at to learn everything you can about it because, if Act 13 is allowed to stand, every inch of Pennsylvania will be in “the drilling region”.

  18. Great article, both in content and in presentation. So glad you penned this, Sandra, and thanks Orion et al for sharing this with the world.

    We need help if we are to restrain the Corporate Gulliver. The moneyed interests will do whatever they must to deny climate change, because every earthbound hydrocarbon molecule means money to them if it can be dispersed into the atmosphere. We depend on a functioning Democracy as the check-and-balance, to protect us and our lone planet. Some would argue that this needed Democracy is not just failed but corrupted; broken.

    The same marketing and governance forces that pushed air applications of synthetic chemicals post-WWII, which Rachel Carson bravely spoke against, …those same forces today seek to frack the hell out of our lands, drilling and injecting damages deep into the aquifers. Rachel Carson spoke up. More of us need to speak up today. Some would argue, that is one of our largest problems today: too many of us are too silent, too distracted with other life issues, thus lack the great focus that produced a book like ‘Silent Spring’.

    It inspires that she wrote this book in 1962, at age 54. My guess is there are many of us who are at that same point in our own lives. We learned first-hand about thalidomide, DDT, Love Canal, Three Mile Island, Times Beach, Bhopal, ozone depletion, climate change, and on and on. And, of course, Cancer. We also learned about the potential and creativity with which the moneyed interests denied, delayed and distorted: to destroy, while preserving their narrow monetary gains. The lessons are clear: we cannot depend on our government to restrain this Corporate Gulliver. We must be that force, through words and through actions.

    Thank you, Rachel, for continuing to inspire us all.

  19. many thanks, sandra, for keeping rachel carson’s ideas alive and connected to what is still happening, and more alarmingly so.

    i think we have to put our bodies in the way of the bulldozers. what else will get their attention? if and when the powers that be catch on, it’s game over……may even be too late already. how much can our mother earth deal with? such insults and disrespect to our planet – mom nature has all the answers if we just work with her.

  20. Mike K in post 16 nailed it. I mean, this is a beautiful piece, very moving. But the problem is, we hate the effects but all use the products. Now, I am not saying it all comes down to what we “consumers” use (bottom up approach); corporations have to be held accountable too (top down approach). But face it, there is a market for dirty energy, and part of the solution must be reducing that demand. But how? It’s so hard, it’s so pervasive in our society in every aspect. How do we disconnect? How do we get others to do so, to look at what’s happening with clear sight?

    Well, I want to pass on this link, it’s a documentary, called I Am, and it’s free on this site, which I saw yesterday and has really moved me. Not really a new message, especially for Orion folks, but it’s got a certain punch which I found refreshing and penetrating.

  21. Thank you, Brandon, for the link to “I Am”. A different approach to activism than Steingraber’s or Carson’s, but worth exploring. And something I want my students to experience.

  22. Rachel Carson was correct years ago, I suppose, when noting,
    “We stand now where two roads diverge…… The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road-the one “less traveled by”-offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” I fear we will not choose to take ‘the other fork of the road’ until it is too late to make a difference that makes a difference for the future.

  23. Steve — Thanks for the Carson quote. She was my first awakener to the field of ecological sanity and its frightening opposites. The global illnesses resulting from our planetary poisoning spree are now ripening into an epidemic of full blown lethal diseases, threatening the precious DNA at the basis of our fragile survival on Earth.

  24. Locating “a road less traveled by”…. a path Rachel Carson would likely have recommended to one and all. At least we have one example on the planet where “the superhighway” was at least momentarily abandoned. Does anyone in the Orion community know of other similarly organized communities with population caps?

    Thanks always to Mike K, who speaks out when most consciously choose to remain silent; who seeks the best available scientific research rather than deliberately hide from it; who takes the path to ecological sanity, not the superhighway to insanity via endless economic and population growth.

  25. Sustainable Okotoks – The Legacy

    “Not far from my hometown of Calgary, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, there is a beautiful little town called Okotoks. About 10 years ago, the folks there decided they were going to live within their local environmental means. Today Okotoks can fairly call itself the greenest community in Canada”…..Prime Minister Stephen Harper

    In 1998, Okotoks made a decision about its future, becoming one of the first municipalities in the world to establish growth targets linked to infrastructure development and environmental carrying capacity when it adopted a Municipal Development Plan – ‘The Legacy Plan’. In 1998, the town faced an intersection in its evolution. Dependant on the Sheep River for its water and its ability to treat and dispose of effluent, Okotoks could choose to continually “grow without limits” and align with regional development and access to regional infrastructure, or take the “road less traveled” and intentionally choose to live within the carrying capacity of the local environment.

    Informed by extensive public consultation, the high cost (a regional pipeline) of exceeding carrying capacity, and a preservation of a small town atmosphere value system expressed in a community survey, a community driven vision was created that chose to respond to rather than manipulate the environment to sustain our standard of living. A population cap at the licensed limits of the Sheep River aquifer (approx. 30,000) became a key feature of Okotoks’ development path. A build-out municipal boundary for 30,000 people was established. Sustainable Okotoks rests on four pillars that guide and shape a comprehensive and holistic approach to sustainable development:

    1. Environmental Stewardship
    2. Economic Opportunity
    3. Social Conscience
    4. Fiscal Responsibility

    The pillars work together to nurture what Okotokians have expressed desire for – a town that is safe and secure, maintains small town atmosphere, preserves and protects a pristine river valley, provides housing choices, employment opportunities and quality schooling, and caters to all ages and cultures.

    A comprehensive set of targets and initiatives were defined to ensure that our build-out population would be reached in an environmentally, economically, socially, and fiscally responsible way. Since 1998, more than 100 sustainability initiatives have been undertaken.

    The road Okotoks chose to travel was pragmatic, unique, and daring – and about much more than just a population cap. Today, whether it’s a more balanced tax base, broader housing choice, a composting sewage treatment plant, a reduction in water use, or the Drake Landing Solar Community, we can all be proud of our collective accomplishment: becoming ‘better’ not just ‘bigger’. Along the way, be it through several awards, acknowledgment by the Prime Minister, or the featuring of our community on CBC National, the sustainability torch we have carried with ambition and purpose has become a guidepost for others to follow.

  26. SE, we understand fear but must not give in nor give up. Absent of faith, we continue to hope.

    You take great pride in your community and you are happy to light the way for others, I can tell. Congratulations.

  27. Steve — The Okotoks website is really inspiring. Shows what people can do if they really decide to act responsibly towards the environment and each other. The limitation of population in their community goes so much against the grain of aggressive chambers of commerce! Bigger is just not better in our world of shrinking resources. Three cheers for the Okotokians!

  28. What Fracking represents is the widespread, general direction we are being lead. It has a very visual consequence as is depicted in the Orion article. Water supplies are in grave danger in Fracking zones. When a vital resource like water is compromised a myriad of new, not presently visible, negative issues manifest.

    Chemicals in agriculture are equally as harmful to humankind but the profit results are much higher than organic farming because of enhanced growth yield and less time in the fields creating a direct effect on farm economics. This trumps the vivid illogical and harmful issues. We have a government that is by all practical purposes controlled by lobby and special interest groups like Monsanto. How can we expect sweeping changes to occur toward a direction opposite from the course we are presently on? This country is obsessed with economic gain at any cost, regardless of environmental intrusion. As a culture we are the wealthiest and most gluttonous yet the passion to gain more and more, faster and faster represents the dominant collective energy. This condition seems illogical and senseless when analyzed wholly. When does the “enough is enough” factor enter the equation? Do people need to be dropping like flies on the streets in order to gain attention? Voters are as responsible as any other influence, we vote our leaders to their positions of power and fall for their double talk and promises directed to prey on voter insecurity, which in the present centers on the power of money.

    The soil, air and water are the most precious natural commodities on our planet. If we ignore the obvious damage created by destructive practices we are ignoring ourselves.

  29. Dear Mike K and Raymond G,

    The problem we face is infinitely increasing human overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation worldwide by the human species on a finite planet. Rachel Carson understood.

    We need to be focusing on the biological and physical limitations of a planet with the size, composition and ecology of the finite planetary home we are blessed to inhabit. Will we ever direct our attention to biophysical reality: there cannot be infinite human activities in a finite world.

    Let’s us look for just a moment at the growth of mega-cities in this context.

    How on Earth can this growth be sustainable?



  30. There is a big difference between Rachel Carson’s science, by which we can best be guided to knowledge of ourselves and the world we inhabit, and the ideology that underpins the preternatural disciplines of politics, economics and demography.

  31. Ideologies need to be named and debunked. As things stand now, there is much confusion about what is and what is not science. Ideologues in politics, economics and demography are consciously and deliberately misrepresenting themselves as scientists. If demography is not a science; if Demographic Transition Theory is not scientfic, how can demographers gather themselves in an International Union of the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP). If economics is not a science; if neoclassical economic theory is not scientific, how can the Nobel Prize (presumably an award for outstanding achievement in science) be given annually in Economics. At least the Nobel Peace Prize, often awarded to politicians for exceptional achievements, is not confused with the awards to scientists. Such willful misrepresentations of science need to be exposed for the ideologies they are.

  32. Steve — Science, which could be one of our most outstanding methods for discovering truth, has become too often corrupted by political and economic interests, whose only aim is the bottom line, and to hell with the truth. For instance, the same PR firm that was hired years ago to convince us that tobacco was a harmless item has recently been employed to tell us that global warming is a myth. Three years into their campaign, they have reversed the 60/40 majority who believed global warming was a real danger, and now only 40% believe so, and 60% feel it is a myth. Of course the PR firm presents all their propaganda as being “scientific”.

  33. Dear Mike K,

    “Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, ‘Stay the course’

    Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned ‘Titanic’.

    You might think I’m getting senile, that I’ve gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up.

    These are times that cry out for leadership. But when you look around, you’ve got to ask: ‘Where have all the leaders gone?’ Where are the curious, creative communicators? Where are the people of character, courage……… and common sense?…..

    The silence is deafening.

    Hey, I’m not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here. I’m trying to light a fire. I’m speaking out because I have hope…………… If I’ve learned one thing,
    it’s this:

    You don’t get anywhere by standing on the sidelines waiting for somebody elseto take action…. It’s not too late, but it’s getting pretty close.” —- Lee Iaccoca

    Mike, help me out here. How is it that “ENVIRONMENTALISTS” who have made of claims of interest in future human well being and environmental health will not speak out like a car salesman,’as if each one was a million voices’? The failure of nerve, intellectual honesty and moral courage appears to be greater now than in any other moment in the history of humanity.



  34. Steve — The answer is one word: DENIAL. We live in a culture of make believe. Many seem to think that if you just look the other way and don’t make a fuss about anything, then everything will be just fine. I have a couple of friends like that. Just don’t bring up anything serious or troubling or they will raise their eyebrows to indicate they think you are going off the deep end. Reminds me of Alfred E. Neuman, “What, me worry?” If you just don’t pay attention, it doesn’t really matter that our society is going over a cliff….

  35. Dear Mike K,

    The denial of which you speak simply has to be overcome …. somehow soon. It appears to me that people who think of themselves as environmental activists are really remarkably passive, careful to be politically correct when speaking, and unwilling to speak out of about what is true to them, according to the lights and best available science they possess. Such denial cannot be construed, much less logically contrived as the right thing to be doing any more than worshippers of Mammon can pass muster with their self-serving idea that greed is good. If we indeed are dominated by a greedmongering “culture of make believe”, as you put it, then honorable people are going to help us all improve our orientation to reality, I suppose, lest we knowingly and recklessly direct the children down a ‘primrose path’ to some sort of global ecological wreckage, the likes of which only Ozymandias has witnessed.

    Yours truly,


  36. S E Salmony, you ask about leadership? Hell, the entire national dialogue is about nothing but the economy, taxes, the debt… basically, money. There’s no room for anything else. I was surprised as well as cynical when the “green movement” seemed to go mainstream. Turned out to be a fad. The mind of the typical American can handle nothing more than fads, it seems, but this is an issue that needs lasting support. Yet as you say, there’s no leadership, not even from the Greens themselves. I mean, of course there are activists, but there’s just no room for them in the political climate these days. No on has any time for anything besides money issues.

  37. Brandon — You are right, money rules our lives. From cradle to grave money determines how we live. A university education for example has the sole purpose of positioning one to make more money. Truth, goodness, beauty, justice — every value is subordinate to economic utility. We are taught that the meaning of life is to acquire lots of money. Those who are good at this become rulers over others and all the resources of the planet. The corrupt dysfunctional world we live in owes most of its problems to the insane worship of money. War is justified by its supposed profitability. Its ok to murder and pillage others if it increases your wealth. The governments, corporations, and armies of the world are no more than a vast network of competing mafias in search of wealth, power, and domination over others. It is for this reason that all authentic spiritual traditions emphasize simplicity, frugality, sharing, and humility. There is really no other truly effective path out of our current global impasse.

  38. I stopped reading this article as soon as the writer described Carson’s jacket as “badass.” This tells me the writer wants to show us that she is hip, that Carson is hip, and thus destroys her credibility. If you want to be taken seriously by people with an I.Q. over 25, then stay to a higher rhetorical level. The debasement of discourse is of a piece with hedge funds and fracking. Think about the relation between language and culture.

  39. Robert Wolf — Your stylistic hypersensitivity caused you to miss a good article on Carson and the impact of fracking. You might try holding your nose and soldiering through. You remind me of an English teacher I had long ago: one misspelled word and your paper was rejected forthwith!

  40. Sometimes we need to see our idols in their ordinary human aspects. Thus they become real folks like us, and can inspire us to go and do likewise.

  41. While Carson paid attention to detail (and I wouldn’t wish her illness on anyone) she jumped at a wrong hypothesis. DDT was not killing birds, but doing away with it credits Carson with the deaths of many in Africa from insect-borne diseases.

    Fracking happens below the water tables, so the only pollution problem – spills of some of the fluid – is going to be a very minor problem. Meanwhile, it is one fuel source that has dropped a bunch in price.

  42. That old canard about DDT has about the same amount of truth as saying fracking is harmless. Its amazing that poison has so many friends.

  43. Some of what Rachel gave us:

    In Sri Lanka, in 1948, there were 2.8 million malaria cases and 7,300 malaria deaths. With widespread DDT use, malaria cases fell to 17 and NO deaths – NONE – in 1963.

    After DDT use was discontinued, Sri Lankan malaria cases rose to 2.5 million in the years 1968 and 1969, and the disease remains a killer in Sri Lanka today. More than 100,000 people died during malaria epidemics in Swaziland and Madagascar in the mid-1980s, following the suspension of DDT house spraying. After South Africa stopped using DDT in 1996, the number of malaria cases in KwaZulu-Natal province skyrocketed from 8,000 to 42,000.

    By 2000, there had been an approximate 400 percent increase in malaria deaths. Now that DDT is being used again, the number of deaths from malaria in the region has dropped from 340 in 2000 to none at the last reporting in February 2003.

    In South America, where malaria is endemic, malaria rates soared in countries that halted house spraying with DDT after 1993 — Guyana, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. In Ecuador, DDT spraying was increased after 1993, and the malaria rate of infection was reduced by 60 percent.

    In a 2001 study published by the London-based Institute for Economic Affairs, “Malaria and the DDT Story,” Richard Tren and Roger Bate say that “Malaria is a human tragedy,” adding, “Over 1 million people, mostly children, die from the disease each year, and over 300 million fall sick.”

    Every decision we make has costs and benefits. Nobody elected do-gooders in the West the world’s cop – or its high executioner.

  44. As a counterweight to Steve’s “evidence” accusing Rachel Carson of mass murder through DDT suppression read this: It turns out that these baseless accusations of Carson are part and parcel of Big Chemical and other right wing anti-environmentalist groups efforts to discredit her, lest she cut into their profits. They have spent millions in this endeavor over the years, and are always eager to recycle their drumbeat of lies and distortions.

  45. It is interesting that Steve follows up his slur on Rachel Carson with a totally false statement that fracking is harmless to the environment. The incredible quantities of highly toxic chemicals injected into our groundwater can be easily researched on the web. Factual scientific data have little relevance to those with a political/economic agenda. That blatant anti-environmentalists take the time to comment on the Orion blog proves that they fear the knowledge that is disseminated here. There is good reason that Orion rejects the distorting influence of corporate advertising dollars…

  46. 2 points:
    1. Why go to the trouble of using dangerous chemicals when simple hydraulic pressure is what breaks up the rock strate so far below? Sure we can limit the damage from spilled fluids, but fracking’s effect of heating costs will keep many from suffering this winter; and,

    2. Denials of DDT’s positive effects might sound better read over the graves of some of the thousands who would have survived had DDT been allowed in their environments.

    Invective aside, science can be a wonderful thing; however, enthusiastic pursuits of incorrect hypotheses, such as Ms. Carson’s, must stand the everyday evaluation of other professionals before the establishment of new rules which may result in terrible costs to mankind. When society gets sold on popular ideas, there has to be some pause, so double checking before “the baby is tossed out with the bathwater.”

    Don’t forget, very earnest – but seriously wrong – thinking led some earlier fans of ecology to forecast that humanity would have died off from this planet by 1990.

    Retired teachers like me love the environment, but I’ve never been able to abide liars or false crusaders, whether speaking for McGovern in 1972 or for Nixon just a while later.

  47. Although Steve continues to spout anti-environmentalist propaganda, anyone can find out the truth about his baseless accusations by googling fracking dangers or Rachel Carson critics. Unfortunately those who have bought into theories of environmentalist wrong doing are immune to doing any independent assessment of their wacko ideas, which are like religious articles of faith to them.

  48. However, we really enjoy your religious articles of faith!

  49. The article I linked to in comment #48 was not based on faith, political or religious, but on dispassionate science. Similarly, those who have alerted us to the damage being done by injecting massive amounts of toxic chemicals into the ground are fully backed up by unquestioned data and scientific analysis. I feel sure if our conversation goes on, sooner or later you will be informing me that global warming is a hoax, and that kids really were riding dinosaurs for fun not long ago in our Earth’s marvelously short history.

  50. Steve, the reason that toxic chemicals are used in fracking is to kill off the massive amounts of microbes and bacteria that live among the gas bubbles. There’s actually an ecosystem way down there, it turns out. If they did not do so, industry contends that their well bores and pipes would become clogged with life. So it’s a toxic process by necessity.

  51. While I definitely don’t feel all warm & fuzzy about shooting a 15% acid mixture down the pipes for fracking, the stuff seems – SEEMS – to be diluted over a hundred times before any portion of it leaves that area. The anti-microbial aspects get much less consideration compared to the “slickwater” designed to get the gas out smoothly when I go to geological sites.

    Whodathunk the microbial aspect would even have to be addressed? Reminds me of the time Superman fought the aliens – who I THINK were in a well of some kind…

    Oh, yeah – a black & white well!

  52. This article is beautiful; a real wake-up-call to what we call and think is “important” and how we deal with what we call our “essentials”.
    In Parts 37, 38, and 39 Sandra Steingraber lists three ways that Carson believed that us, as consumers, have failed to give up on harmful poisonous technologies:

    37. To her audience of doctors, an ailing Rachel Carson offered three explanations for our collective reluctance to give up on poisonous technologies. First, she said, we wait too long to evaluate the risks. Once a new technology is deployed and a vast economic and political commitment has been made, dislodging it becomes impossible.
    38. Second, we fail to acknowledge that nature invariably has its own (unpredictable) way with harmful pollutants. Because ecosystems are dynamic, chemicals released into the environment do not stay where they are put, nor do they remain in their original form. Instead, they are transported, metabolized, concentrated, oxidized, methylated, and otherwise reassembled. They enter cycles and pathways. They are sent up food chains and passed down generations. Look, said Carson (who delivered her remarks while seated), the earth is alive. And living things interact with their environments. There are no compartments.
    39. Third, we act as though the evidence for harm in other animals does not apply to us even though we share biological ancestry and are thus clearly susceptible to damage from the same forces. This, in spite of the fact that “it would be hard to find any person of education who would deny the facts of evolution.”

    While all three points are significant, true and meaningful, the one that is the most relatable, at least to me, is part 38. Where I live there is an issue with ground water quality. In the 1800 – 1900 this place was a big mining town for lead, silver, copper, and gold, as a result we still have the supplementary chemicals used in the process. This material, placed along the edge of a river and upstream of the town wells is affecting the water and ground water quality.
    This instance refers to part 38 because the chemicals are not stationary they are turning to liquid as they are mixed with water. The matter is working it’s way into the ecosystem, when we drink the water that is contaminated, and the same when animals drink the water. It’s exactly as Rachel Carson said: “They are sent up food chains and passed down generations.” We fail to realize this placing the harmfully proven toxins above ourselves. We as humans live in the moment; this waste may effect us later.
    I would like to say that we need to stop this behavior, to simply get rid of every aspect that hurts the environment but that would be hypocritical of me because I am a successful consumer that takes what I have for granted. What would and what can humans do to adapt to a more sustainable world? Is that idea to far out of the ballpark or could we achieve it? And lets say we do achieve sustainability; how long did that take, do we still have a planet that can we saved at that point?

  53. The earth itself is not free of chemical or potential chromosomal dangers. Even it it were, atomic radiation coming from space would burst that bubble immediately. Life is full of chance for good and evil. That is one reason so many have added 2 + 2 and realized that there is something much more at work than what we can see. While some appear to have made gods of the local planet or the politician of the day, the majority of Americans know full well that there is something really permanent at work here.

    While earth is beautiful and worthy of study, we will only be here so many decades. While we must try to leave it like we found it, ’tis folly to think this life is all there is.

    Regarding man’s experience with chemicals, we have tended to quit too early on as many as we have hurt ourselves with. Just thinking about the weight-loss drugs of the 1990s, while a small portion of humanity could not withstand the effects of the drugs like Phen-fen or Redux, hundreds of millions are now deprived of even trying them. Perhaps one day our knowledge of genetics will free some to try materials that are poison to others.

    I do believe in cleaning up water supplies and other things damaged by lead mining, earlt lather-tanning operations, and so on. Just consider the costs and benefits is all I say.

  54. This piece made me cry, plain and simple. What else to say. So beautiful and terrible, intimate and poetic.

    -At home in La Plata county, CO, where the fracking and drought continue, and the Halliburton trucks roll by to do their dark work accompanied by window-tinted security SUVs.

  55. (Greetings from Ky.)

    If you’re really worried about fracking, the Obama regime is writing most of a hundred new rules and regulations a day and, given their distrust of all evergy companies in general, you can rest assured that all the anti-fracking devotees in the EPA will have Haliburton all tied up in no time at all. And even their smiley-faced happy-clown trucks will be parked far from your little corner of nirvana or Eden.

    Of course, you may freeze shortly afterward, but freezing always trumps having cheap energy anyway, right? Elections mean things.

  56. I hope that Rachel Carson, who did a phenomenal service to mankind with her work, not least of which was the bold content in ‘Silent Spring’, is able to read these comments. I think Rebecca’s recent post would make her smile in heaven. But, Steve, I think there may be content and attitude in your posts that might make Rachel glad she is IN heaven.

    Please, Steve, tone it down or take it elsewhere, so we who enjoy this good article can not feel attacked by irrelevant nonsense.

  57. Jeff — Internet trolls delight in irritating folks engaged in serious conversation. They don’t try to make sense or stay factually based. They love to entice their victims into a back and forth exchange as it gives them the chance to find what really ticks a person off, so they can needle them more effectively. The only way to deal with them is just to ignore them; anything else is just a waste of time that only encourages them. Let Steve rant, he is just an irrelevant troll. I guess I broke my own rule by mentioning him. But the rest is silence. I promise!

  58. ‘Twas just a bit of reassurance to a poster who was clearly unnerved by the peospect of fracking technology even when it occures hundreds of feet below water tables.

    It always helps to openly discuss these issues, and it always makes us wonder why some just drop a bad name or the troll word instead of openly discussing issues. Of course, dropping terms is so much easier than reading the original article, eh?

    Anyway, if there is any basis in fact to these fears of fracking, this is the PERFECT time in American history to have such technology quashed. We have the most anti-energy tech President this country is likely ever to have, and fossil energy is his most hated enemy.

  59. Thank you for a magnificent article, although I am quite saddened. I try to imagine a world where this madness does not happen.

  60. I’ve got this giant industrial-strength sack, bulging with large, folding bills, and I’d like to see some nature-loving oik take it off me. SO WHAT if the sea dies? Or the damned Earth? If no-ones left, who’ll complain? If we hadn’t caused the destruction and vanishment of the many cultures that preceded us here on these (happily) stolen shores, could there have been an Elvis? ‘Put money in thy purse’, and the rest shall follow.

  61. thank you, Sandra, for reminding us that, like Carson, we must never stop paying attention and using our voices to stand up.

  62. Thank you, Sandra, for reminding us that, like Carson, we must never stop paying attention or using our voices to stand up.

  63. I have lived many years outside of USA. Obvious others have not. Do you all not know how many millions have died from this evil woman? Or do you not care? I read her book when it first came out, only years later as trained professional did I find out how evil her effects really were.

  64. The myth of Rachel Carson’s supposed evil deeds lives on. Fortunately anyone can go on the web and discover the nonexistent basis of these lies, and also find out who profits from them.

  65. I have lived outside the US, in malarial regions, though have not witnessed malarial deaths. Although I don’t believe that has any weight to caring about and understanding this issue from a biological perspective. a perspective you seem to be highly uneducated about.

    “there is no global DDT ban. DDT is indeed banned in the U.S., but malaria isn’t exactly a pressing issue here. If it ever were, the ban contains an exception for matters of public health. Meanwhile, it’s perfectly legal—and indeed, used—in many other countries: 10 out of the 17 African nations that currently conduct indoor spraying use DDT”

    “DDT use has decreased enormously, but not because of a ban…. Mosquito populations rapidly develop resistance to DDT, creating enzymes to detoxify it, modifying their nervous systems to avoid its effects, and avoiding areas where DDT is sprayed — and recent research finds that that resistance continues to spread even after DDT spraying has stopped, lowering the effectiveness not only of DDT but also other pesticides (Current Biology, 8/9/05)”

    Carson herself was educated enough to understand this ” – “No responsible person contends that insect-borne disease should be ignored,” Carson wrote in Silent Spring. “The question that has now urgently presented itself is whether it is either wise or responsible to attack the problem by methods that are rapidly making it worse. . . . Resistance to insecticides by mosquitoes . . . has surged upwards at an astounding rate.””

    And further, claims that DDT itself isn’t harmful are just too much to swallow.

    “prenatal exposure to DDT leads to significant decreases in mental and physical functioning among young children, with the problems becoming more severe when the exposure is more serious (American Journal of Epidemiology, 9/12/06; Pediatrics, 7/1/06)”

    It is OBSERVABLE – that DDT accumulates – if applied in powder form it doesn’t absorb through the skin, but insects, worms, fish, birds and humans accumulate it by eating eachother and this is evident in fatty tissue – how is that not supposed to be a concern for life on this planet? ANYTHING that accumulates in your body would ring an alarm bell to me.

    So if I can truly understand your definition of “evil” then let’s talk about the psychopathic nature of Henry Ford, who must have been able to predict, in a god-like manner, the disgusting rate that his killing machine would massacre human life daily and hourly for centuries to come…a death toll, that is also nothing to blink an eye at. but no… we can’t predict or hardly prevent all misfortune.

    Even more so, or in my opinion a less well intentioned industry – is factory farms and monocultures who are absolutely destroying the complex ecosystems that have sustained life for millions of years – all in the NAME of soy and corn championing hunger eradication – but really in the name of MONEY. If you want evil – there are definitely examples of people who know better, but still have disregard for the earth and for humanity. Rachel Carson was not one of those people.

    Carson had the best, educated, informed and insightful intentions, well before the times when the rape of our environment was noticeable. The accumulation of DDT is still apparent in our rivers and lakes and I am afraid to imagine what my mental health and my childrens, nieces or nephews would be had we chosen ignorance on this issue. I dare to doubt I would be “privileged” enough to critically assess this issue.

    We are scientists who understand biological and ecological implications – rejecting the ignorant views that people make inherently “evil” choices.

    We also understand, there are more responsible solutions to this problem.

    I also acknowledge many people trump scientific knowledge with religious beliefs – or in some cases economic dogma, believing that environmental scientists are incapable of understanding industry and technology. I can only sigh.. as I consider the hubris required to believe one can “out-technology” this earth-system that has resiliently and unfaltering sustained itself. The more we observe whole ecosystems – the better chance we had at surviving.

    I referred to this article for the quoted sections above

    also here is another discussion

  66. Thanks Paige for your informed comments. Popular myths are hard to decontaminate. It is usually people with connections to industries that profit from violating environmental protections who spout these slanders.

  67. This retired Ky. schoolteacher is not connected to any company obedient liberals have learned to hate, but I was sold the Rachel Carson bill of goods very thoroughly back in my McGovern ’72 days. It took no thought at all, just a reflex, to celebrate the removal of DDT from the marketplace. After all, who’d miss it?

    Millions of Africans and other missed it, because DDT was the only thing between them and malaria, a particularly nasty way to die.

    Just as we try medicines and all the chemicals we use that may enrich OR threaten our lives, there is no automatic answer here. Each change requires a cost/benefit analysis.

    Such thought doesn’t leave much room for collectivist jingoism, but most of the readers here already suspected there is no simple answer to the questions we face.

    I never have benefitted from advice that I hate whoever the other person already hated.

  68. Steve, thanks for the kind and educated insights. I read the article and responded before reading other comment (I read her book when it originally came out – what a killing person, though it took years of study and thought to understand how many she killed). I would think those like mike k (oh, I use my actual real name, not a non-trackable one) have much less technical education that even a retired school teacher (do not mean this in a negative fashion just that many of my co-peers are PhD in STEM areas). He reads like a lit arts grad (if that, and certainly not from the early years when that actually was significant). Anyone can pull out of their netherend a citation from internet, providence unknown, quality unchecked. But when golbal warming was raised??? What are we now, 13 years at zero, flat world temp, no increase?? I am 62, grew up in a generation warned (BY SOME of the same jacka**es now spouting off about warming) that the next ice age was upon us. 1970’s. Mike k must have missed that, or he just plumb misses a heck of a lot in general. I do not like ad hominum attacks, but when there is absolutely no intelligent lifeform to debate with (I read some of your attempts), there is nothing left.

  69. I found this article, as originally posted, to be great. Very thought-provoking, covering a truly significant person who spoke up about a problem at a time when money-powers would be quick to gun her down. And new info, too (at least for me); I never realized that she came down with cancer shortly after publication. Rachel Carson’s story and her writing are well worth our studying today, to understand how we got here. To learn to do better. To avoid mistakes like fracking.

    The title of this good article was ‘The Fracking of Rachel Carson”. So, to a couple of the more annoying comment-delivery systems: how about let’s quit trying to rewrite this into a far less interesting piece, ‘Let’s Frack the Fracking of Rachel Carson!’. Surely, in retirement, you must have better things to do.

  70. Jeff — I have come to understand that climate change deniers, anti-environmentalists, liberal haters — are the product of a vast and well funded project to sow these attitudes in those looking for something to vent their bile on. It is no use trying to reason with them, they are not interested in that approach. Openness is like poison to them. Many of them are far right fundamentalists whose ideas are stoked by Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, etc. They love to argue and vilify those they have been taught to despise. It is not worth your time to interact with them. As soon as you discern what their game is, its time to ignore them. They hate that. They will do anything to enmesh you in their nonsense. It is for them that the wise saying was put out that simply says: Don’t feed the trolls.

  71. Wonder quote: To avoid mistakes like fracking.

    Oops! Even the enlightened scientific types employed by the state of (not N. Dak.) New YORK found nothing about fracking to keep us from using it.

    It’s okay to hate energy companies and their investors; it’s even okay to hate America & capitalism. But it’s a mistake to fool your own self about reality.

    Now, go out there and catch us some unicorns!! Attaboy!

  72. As a native of west virginia I know what environmental poker is all about. Lets play a new game called corporate water drinking challenge. The board of directors of Freedom Industries (now under bankruptcy protection) vs American Water. The theme of the contest is-No, you drink it. They can compete for the Bhopal Cup. The committee to identify SSDD in West Viginia is the sponsor.

  73. Sandra – have to hand it to you; you evoked my first tears on reading about cancer – finally I realized I was ignoring it, avoiding it like the plague, than you made see that was not right at all as I knew it wasn’t. Thank you! – Mostly you gave me a rage and an wherewithal to fight against mankind’s reckless drive to keep “fracking” technology an obfuscating god.

Commenting on this item is closed.