Rachel Carson was a marine biologist and conservationist, a hero to me. Her book Silent Spring spurred a federal reversal in pesticide regulation, resulting in the banning of DDT and inspiring the movement that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. She worked in a time when women were overwhelming expected to stay home --- she was only the second female ever accepted as a full-time employee of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. She finished writing Silent Spring and ushered it through publication and intense opposition from the chemical companies while battling metastatic breast cancer, and the sacrifices she made throughout her life to financially support her parents and relatives leave no doubt that her personal character is as heroic as her professional achievements (1).
The Edge of the Sea is purely biological and was written before she started focusing on conservation writing. It introduces the cast of characters of the shoreline as Rachel Carson experienced them. Here is a typical story with accompanying illustrations:
As the tide ebbed away, the great whelks could be seen here and there gliding about in search of their prey, the clams that lay buried in the sands, drawing through their bodies a stream of sea water and filtering from it microscopic plants. Yet the search of the whelks was not an aimless one, for their keen taste sense guided them to invisible streams of water pouring from the outlet siphons of the clams. Such a taste trail might lead to a stout razor clam, whose shells afford only the scantiest covering for its bulging flush, or to a hard-shell clam, with tightly closed valves. Even these can be opened by a whelk, which gribs the clam in its large foot and, by muscular contractions, delivers a series of hammer blows with is own massive shell.
Nor does the cycle of life - the intricate dependence of one species upon another - end there. Down in the dark little dens of the sea floor live the enemies of the whelks, the stone crabs of massive purplish bodies and brightly colored crushing claws that are able to break away the whelk's shell, piece by piece. pp. 151-152
Rachel Carson goes on to give specific examples, documenting habitat range changes of the green crab, herring, and mantis shrimp.
In 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius calculated that doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide would increase surface temperatures 5-6 degrees Celsius (2). Today, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that it's it’s “extremely likely” that more than half of the global temperature rise since 1950 is due to human activities. 97% of scientists believe global warming is real and human activity is the primary cause (3).
The historical context I stumbled across in the The Edge of the Sea makes it all the more infuriating that almost a century after scientists began documenting the effects of climate change, President-elect Trump's nomination for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency is a climate change denier who claims, "scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind." I'd like to see 97% of politicans agree on anything at all. He describes himself as a "a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda" and is suing the EPA for its climate change regulations in his current role as Oklahoma Attorney General (4).
It is incredibly sad that the agency Rachel Carson's legacy created is going to be led by a willfully ignorant liar who wants to dismantle it. My career has been shaped by my belief that I'm more likely to make an impact on protecting the environment in the private sector than in the public or non-profit sectors, and unfortunately the next four years will almost certainly demonstrate the truth to that belief in regard to the public sector.
I can only assume that Scott Pruitt grew up completely disconnected from the outdoors. You cannot learn about nature and explore it without developing an appreciation and passion for it. I am so glad that I stumbled across Rachel Carson's The Edge of the Sea and that it's giving me a new avenue to keep learning the biology that motivated me to do what I do in the first place.
- Lear, Linda (1997). Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature. New York: Henry Holt.
- Spencer Weart (2003). "The Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect". The Discovery of Global Warming.
(3) Factcheck.org: The Facts on Trump’s EPA Nominee
(4) Washington Post: Trump names Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma attorney general suing EPA on climate change, to head the EPA