Rachel Carson: the fight against pesticides and for living things

Biologist and environmental activist Rachel Carson’s biography discusses her commitment to certain pesticides produced by the chemical industry.

The growing questions about the ecological crisis have rekindled the interest of all the precursors, scientists or activists who in the past have contributed to documenting the upheavals observed at different levels of nature and even warning about the risks. In this search for quasi-heroic references – often masculine – the young Calype publications propose to rehabilitate the witness, the figure of the biologist and activist Rachel Carson (1907-1964) in their collection “Destinies”. in the era of destruction of the living.

Scientific trajectory

While Rachel Carson’s works are bestsellers in the United States, she is relatively little known in France (even if some schools bear her name, such as in Saint-Denis), and her works are rarely cited (for example: her film Marie-Monique Robin, The world according to Monsantoreleased in 2009).

However, he is a pioneer in world ecology, who made a name for himself with his research on the harmfulness and toxicity of some products found in nature. In this regard, he makes a definite thesis: For the first time in the history of the world, people live in contact with toxic products from conception to death. “.

In this book, philosopher and essayist Thierry Paquot, an expert on urban planning issues, paints a portrait of Rachel Carson. He recounts their journey and scientific discoveries, avoiding the teleological narrative that often frames biographical writing.

Rachel Carson faced many obstacles throughout her life, starting from her formative years. After several failed attempts, he chose to pursue a scientific career, more specifically in marine biology. It is a fine choice in the first half of the 20th centurye century, because this kind of work is not valuable for women. She eventually taught at the University of Maryland before becoming the second female assistant marine biologist hired by the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries.

The interdependence of life

Rachel Carson began writing short articles for mainstream science journals or magazines. He was quickly distinguished for the double quality of his texts: they have both great scholarly rigor and great literary quality. From articles to brochures, then to essays. His first works were published in 1937 Undersea, is the result. It recounts his journey to the bottom of the sea and marks the beginning of his career as a writer.

A global bias is visible in all her written works: Rachel Carson is convinced that everything is connected in nature, and man is an integral part of this totality. For him, the world consists of many interdependent elements. But this relationship is not static: it must be thought of in terms of evolution (this is Darwin’s legacy). In short, everything is connected, but nothing is fixed or fixed; everything is constantly shifting to reconfigure the temporal equilibria created by living things.

From here, the concern about the impact that human activity can bring to nature is evident. And Rachel Carson is up to date with the first signs of rising seas and oceans, which will change the balance of many coastlines.

The work of DDT and pesticides

Over the years, Rachel Carson’s interest in the environment grew and extended beyond the marine realm. The work that made him famous is the data he synthesized and the insecticidal properties he conducted on DDT, a chemical used to kill lice and mosquitoes during the war. .

After the war, the chemical industry sold this pesticide to civilians. But soon the administration’s reports mention mass deaths of insects, birds or fish in places where the product is spread. It was then that Rachel Carson took up the issue and published research highlighting the harmful effects of this product on the environment and the species affected. He ends by publishing his work on this problem Man’s war against nature.

From the same point of view, he looks at another question, that of “fire ants,” a species of South American ant whose bite is fatal and destroys certain plants. To compensate for their harmful effects on plants, farmers are suggested to use chlorinated hydrocarbons to get rid of them. Ornithological societies are concerned about the disappearance of birds after the spread of these chemicals and are quick to mobilize. And here again, Rachel Carson investigates the connection between the use of these insecticides and the death of birds. He eventually publishes a work that is widely praised and circulated, but also widely attacked by the chemical industry. silent spring.

Rachel Carson’s analysis continues to resonate today in a context of new health and environmental scandals – think of the chlordecone that poisoned the soil of Guadeloupe and Martinique. From his struggles, we can keep the importance of considering environmental pollution with chemical products and their impact on living species (plants or animals, including humans) that contribute to the natural balance.

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