September 27, 2012 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring — a book that inspired the banning of DDT, and as a consequence brought about the revival of the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, osprey, and brown pelican. It’s also a book that has been credited with inspiring the modern environmental movement — a movement that has saved millions of lives via cleaner air, water, land, and communities.
This spring, Audubon Magazine published an excellent article by noted historian/author Douglas Brinkley about the writing of Silent Spring and the ties between President John F. Kennedy and Rachel Carson — an alliance that helped serve the goals of both the politician and the author. It’s a fascinating look at the conservation politics that existed at the time Carson was giving birth to her seminal classic — a book that “Time” magazine listed among the top ten most important books of the century.
Running for president in 1960, Kennedy advocated saving seashores as wildlife refuges and recreational areas. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, a New Dealer and close Kennedy family friend, set the tone and tenor of JFK’s burgeoning environmentalism when he intoned at a Wilderness Conference in San Francisco that the “preservation of values which technology will destroy . . . is indeed the new frontier.”
Biologist Rachel Carson, working feverishly on her eco-manifesto Silent Spring throughout 1960, considered July 15—when Kennedy delivered his acceptance speech after winning the Democratic nomination for president and called for a “New Frontier” to reinvigorate the progressive, can-do spirit of America—a gold-starred day. Most political pundits heard only Kennedy’s vigorous lines about outfoxing the Soviet Union in the Cold War. But Kennedy—who had championed the Wilderness Bill that would eventually be signed into law by Lyndon Johnson, supported expanding bird sanctuaries and advocated the creation of new protected national seashores—offered a promise Carson found irresistible.
Be sure to check out the rest of the article.
And congratulations, Rachel. Your contribution is still being felt 50 years later.