Get To Know The Mother Of The Modern Environmentalist Movement In This PBS Doc

In 1962, Rachel Carson became an unlikely champion of the environment when her warning, Silent Spring, moved a president.

Get To Know The Mother Of The Modern Environmentalist Movement In This PBS Doc
Rachel Carson on her porch in Southport, Maine (1955)

WHAT: American Experience’s Rachel Carson, which premieres on PBS on January 24.


WHO: Directed by Michelle Ferrari, produced by Ferrari and Rafael de la Uz, and featuring the voice of Mary-Louise Parker as Carson. With science journalists Deborah Blum and Deborah Cramer, science historians David Kinkela and Mark Lytie, Naomi Oreskes, Carson authorities Linda Lear and Robert K. Musil and William Souder, among others.

WHY WE CARE: At a time when DDT was considered a cheap fix for crop pests, Carson’s 1962 bestseller, Silent Spring, was a passionate warning against the long-term dangers of pesticides, unleashing national debate and attacks by the chemical industry (sound familiar?) But it also inspired President John F. Kennedy to launch the first investigation into the public health effects of pesticides—eventually resulting in new laws to protect and preserve the environment.

The two-hour film draws from Carson’s writings, letters, and scholarship for a glimpse into how a soft-spoken, Johns Hopkins University-educated zoologist became an environmental champion on the national stage. Carson’s work as an information specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which gave her access to the latest scientific studies, she was able to compile compelling evidence for the little-understood consequences of pesticides—prompting her to alert the public.

Rachel Carson on the coast near her cottage in Southport, Maine (1955)

“In the ’60s, chemicals provided solutions to complex, often devastating challenges like famine and disease. Carson was the first person to point out there’s a price to be paid for that world,” says executive producer Mark Samels. “She guided us towards an understanding of the interrelatedness of nature and challenged us to think about our impact on the world around us. And that is certainly something that resonates as strongly today as it did 50 years ago.”

About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio.