The legacy of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring

Special event on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its publication
14 December 2012, UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, France

Rachel Carson cared deeply about the natural world about her. As a marine biologist her work focused mainly on marine life and on the dangers of chemical pollution; it laid the foundation for the modern environmental movement. When it was released in 1962, her book Silent Spring had an immediate, profound impact that still resonates today. She wrote about technical issues in a beautiful, accessible style, thus reaching a broad audience.

Carson argued that pesticides are more properly termed "biocides" because of their detrimental effects on the environment, rarely limited to the targeted pests. Observing that the indiscriminate use of pesticides were killing songbirds, she was inspired by a phrase from a John Keats poem—"And no birds sing" to name the book. Silent Spring elicited a public outcry for direct action followed by a brutal backlash from the chemical industry, often tainted with sexism.

Rachel Carson’s legacy is manifold. She became an international voice for the public understanding of science through her sea trilogy: Under the Sea Wind, The Sea Around Us and The Edge of the Sea, an exploration of the whole of ocean life from the shores to the depth. Silent Spring helped shape the modern idea of environmentalism, and she is a role model for women scientists around the world.

Participants following via webcast may send their question to: ioc.conf(at) 


This event is free and open to all: students, specialists, representatives of NGOs or anyone interested in Rachel Carson and the issues she held dear.

The space is limited, participants must register for this event below.
All fields marqued with * are required.


UNESCO House, Room IV
125, avenue de Suffren, Paris 7e

Metro: Ségur - UNESCO, Cambronne
Bus: 28, 80
Vélib': stations n° 15009, 15010



(9:30 am: Opening)

Ms Wendy Watson-Wright
Assistant Director General and Executive Secretary, UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission

H. E. Mr David Killion
Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of the United States of America to UNESCO

H. E. Mr Michael Worbs
Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of Germany to UNESCO

Dr Arielle Helmick
Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

Keynotes and discussion with the audience

(10 am. participants following via webcast may send their question to: ioc.conf(at)

The public reception of Silent Spring
Prof. Dr Michelle Mart, Rachel Carson Centre fellow, associate professor Pennsylvania State University, USA
The impact of Silent Spring on the general public, from the time of its release until today, and the ensuing effects on public and political perspectives and behaviours towards pesticides.  

Women activists in the decade following the Silent Spring: Billee Shoecraft, Ida Honorof, and Carol Van Strum
Prof. Dr Amy Hay, Rachel Carson Centre fellow, assistant professor, University of Texas–Pan American, USA
These western women activists were inspired and influenced by Rachel Carson in their protests against the use of Agent Orange herbicides in the decades following the publication of Silent Spring.

Sylvia Sayer (1904-2000): Gender and Nature Conservatism in Postwar Britain
Dr Matthew Kelly, Rachel Carson fellow, senior lecturer, University of Southampton, United Kingdom
Lady Sayer was one of the foremost early conservators of what is now Dartmoor National Park, in Devon in the south-west of England. She led a fearless and empassioned fight in its defence.

Women in environmental grassroots movements: reflections for governance practices
Dr Mercè Aguera-Cabo, International expert, Spain
A study of women's roles in grassroots movements about environmental conflicts in Catalonia (Spain) during the last decade shows the relevance of considering gender inequality in power relationships among the members of the organizations, as well as gender tendencies in women's concerns and interests in environmental issues. The results serve as a basis for a reflection on the introduction of a gender perspective in environmental governance practices.

The debate on DDT in UN conferences
Dr Anna-Katharina Wöbse, researcher, Germany
A study that explores the role the United Nations technical organizations played in the debate on the use of pesticides, shuch as UNESCO, which offered a forum for discussing ecological concerns. The example of pesticide regulation shows clearly what the dilemma of modernization meant to the work of the UN. This also explains the time lag between the diagnosis of potential risks and the ecological paradigm shift around the 1970, and thus reveals some of the "long shadows" of Carson's book.

(12:30 am - 2 pm: Lunch break. The UNESCO cafeteria will be accessible to participants).


50 years and still up to date – Silent Spring – Impact of pesticides on marine life
Dr Luis Valdès, Head of Ocean Sciences Section, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission
A look at the science behind Silent Spring and specifically the direct and indirect impact of pesticides on ocean life today.            

 It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself. 

The Legacy Of Rachel Carson- A Pathway to a Sustainable Future
Dr Patricia De Marco, Director of Rachel Carson Institute, Chatham University, USA
Reflections on Rachel Carson’s role in predicting the unintended consequences of the conveniences of modern life, and on a way forward based on her environmental ethic.

(4 pm: Close)

 We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. 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. — 

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With the kind support of