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Civic Impact

"Silent Spring" 50 years on: Impact on science, media, society highlights conference

Rachel Carson's landmark environmental book, Silent Spring, debuted 50 years ago, and Chatham University's Rachel Carson Institute is holding a symposium May 11-12, with the National Aviary, to mark the event. 
"This book provoked a lot of questions, a lot of backlash," notes Carson Institute Director Patricia DeMarco. "We're looking back at some of the science that has happened since then." The symposium will also examine the changes in public perceptions about environmentalism, in nature writing and in views on Carson's book itself. 

Scientists, including keynoter Louis J. Guillette, Jr., who studies the effects of environmental toxins on alligator reproduction, will address environmental contaminants and health. Steve Latta, of the National Aviary, studies a small meadow bird as an indicator of ecosystem health in places where Marcellus shale is being fractured for gas extraction, will also tackle the subject. Holly S. Lohuis of the Ocean Futures Society (run by Jean-Michel Cousteau), will talk about lessons from the sea, while Dr. Terry Collins, professor of green chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, will lead discussion about the increasing burden of non-biodegradable compounds that accumulate in our bodies.
"Your average newborn has 227 synthetic chemicals in their body at birth," DeMarco says, pointing to an annual count by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Collectively, we are exposed to an increasing number of contaminants … and the coordinations [with increased incidents of disease] are not innocuous."
A panel titled "Challenges for the 21st Century" features both Carson's son and a representative from the National Fish and Wildlife Service -- where Rachel Carson once worked -- who works at the agency's Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which was the topic of Carson's first work for NFWS.
"The Image and the Message" will gather reporters, artists and filmmakers to address the challenges of communicating environmental science to the public and "the use of public media to neutralize environmental concerns," DeMarco says. The event also includes the chance to hear a recording of one of Carson's speeches and the participation of Linda Lear, a Carson biographer.
Tickets for the symposium are available here.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source:  Patricia DeMarco, Rachel Carson Institute
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