The Eco-Wisdom of Rachel Carson

Here are quotes from Rachel Carson, whose eco-wisdom has long inspired me. A founding force of the global environmental movement, her vision and impact stretched far beyond her era.

“Here and there awareness is growing that man, far from being the overlord of all creation, is himself part of nature, subject to the same cosmic forces that control all other life. Man’s future welfare and probably even his survival depend upon his learning to live in harmony, rather than in combat, with these forces.”

“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.”

“The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery, not over nature but of ourselves.”

“To understand biology is to understand that all life is linked to the earth from which it came; it is to understand that the stream of life, flowing out of the dim past into the uncertain future, is in reality a unified force, though composed of an infinite number and variety of separate lives.”

“Man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”

“Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species—man—acquired significant power to alter the nature of the world.”

“Nature has introduced great variety into the landscape, but man has displayed a passion for simplifying it. Thus he undoes the built-in checks and balances by which nature holds the species within bounds.”

“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.”

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

“The mistakes that are made now are made for all time.”

“Have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental, as though having lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good?”

“We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts… The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts.”

“If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.”

“To have risked so much in our efforts to mold nature to our satisfaction and yet to have failed in achieving our goal would indeed be the final irony. Yet this, it seems, is our situation.”

“For most of us, knowledge of our world comes largely through sight, yet we look about with such unseeing eyes that we are partially blind. One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”

“There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature–the reassurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

“Against this cosmic background the lifespan of a particular plant or animal appears, not as drama complete in itself, but only as a brief interlude in a panorama of endless change.”


SOURCES

―Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

―Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

―Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

―Rachel Carson, Under the Sea Wind

―Rachel Carson, Essay on the Biological Sciences, in: Good Reading (1958)