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The first Environmentalist: Rachel Carson

Rachel Louise Carson received her degrees in marine biology from the Pennsylvania College for Women and in zoology from the Johns Hopkins University. Her true calling turned out to be much broader in range than the academic study of wildlife, however. As Carson’s career as a scientific writer progressed, she became interested in the effects of artificial chemicals on the natural environment. Though her published research, she was the first to direct public attention to the environmental damage caused by the indiscriminate use of pesticides in agriculture. She is thus regarded as public figure who launched the environmentalist movement.

Upon enrolling in college, Carson had initially intended to major in English and become a journalist or novelist. Her attentiveness to presentation allowed her to convey even rather dry facts in an evocative prose style that held the attention of the general reader. Wedded to her extensive academic training in biology, Carson’s talent for expressive writing positioned her ideally to bring scientific findings about ecology to a mass audience. She published a famous trilogy about the delicate and complex ecology of the sea, beginning with Under the sea-Wind. That first volume took a large-scale approach, describing the living systems of the ocean in everyday easily understood terms. Under the Sea-Wind was only a moderate commercial success, but it, along with Carson’s writings for the United States Fish and Wildfire Service, set the stage for her second volume published ten years after the first. The Sea Around Us made Rachel Carson a household name. It became not only a bestseller but also a National Book Award winner. In it, Carson examined more explicitly than before the effects of human action on the creature of the ocean. The Last book in the trilogy was the Edge of the Seam in which Carson trained her writerly and scientific gaze on the shoreline of the East Coast to examine the endangered organisms that populated it.

• These books established Carson as a public figure who advocated respect for the environment, but the work that would be her most lasting legacy was yet to come. She began to examine data on the effects agricultural pesticides, spurred in part by a letter from two friends who owned a farm in Massachusetts and end expressed concern that sprayed pesticides such as DDT threatened not only beneficial insects and birds but also people. She put her conclusions in a landmark fourth scientific volume, Silent Spring. In the image that gave the book its title, Carson hypothesized about an ecosystem in which the calling of birds had been silenced by poison in soil and groundwater.

Paragraph 3 is marked with an arrow [•]

Carson alleged that the regulation governing use of these chemical were inadequate, though her positions were not as extreme as they are sometimes now characterized. She did not support the outright banning of pesticides. Rather, she objected to ‘indiscriminate’ use, which is to say, use without any thought for caution and moderation. Eventually, Carson/s views were taken seriously at the highest levels of government. President John F. Kennedy’s Science Advisory Committee solicited her advice on how to improve rules about pesticide use. She also testified before Congress. Through her influence, she assisted in bringing about far stricter controls on toxic chemicals such as DDT, which deteriorates slowly and thus remains in soil and groundwater for very long periods of time.

Although Carson’s fame meant that she was in demand as a public speaker, she much preferred the solitude of research and writing. She employed assistants but frequently did even tedious archival research herself to avoid wasting time reviewing material with which she was already familiar. The same concern with clarity and elimination of waste characterized her writing itself. Though Carson died in 1964, two years after the publication of Silent Spring, that book is still frequently cited in environmental policy recommendations by analysts and regulators. Her best – selling work, it also remains a staple of high school and college science classes. Indeed, more than one major publication has deemed Carson one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century.


1. The word launched in the passage is closest in meaning to

(a) wrote about

(b) reorganized

(c) began

(d) researched

2. The author uses the word dry in the passage to indicate that facts discussed are

(a) not interesting

(b) not related to marine life

(c) not difficult to explain

(d) available in the works other scientists

3. Which of the sentences below best expresses the essential information in the boldfaced sentence in the passage? Incorrect answer choices change the meaning in important ways or leave out essential information.

(a) Carson felt in necessary to choose between becoming a scientist and becoming a popular writer.

(b) People were surprised at the large-scale damage Carson’s writings brought to their attention.

(c) Carson initially found it difficult to write about ecology for a mass audience.

(d) Carson was able to popularize her views by combining her writing talent and knowledge of biology.

4. The author uses the phrase a household name to indicate that Carson

(a) became famous

(b) wrote very slowly

(c) did not socialize much

(d) was already planning her third book

5. According to paragraph 3 of the passage. Carson was influenced to write Silent Spring by

(a) observing the use of pesticides at her farm

(b) a letter from friends

(c) the public reaction to her first three books

(d) her illnesses caused by DDT

6. It can be inferred from the passage that DDT is especially dangerous because

(a) it is the most commonly used pesticide

(b) its taste attracts birds

(c) it does not disappear quickly

(d) it takes a long time to kill insects

7. The word trained in the passage is closest in meaning to

(a) questioned

(b) studied

(c) reviewed

(d) aimed

8. The “silent spring” in the title of Carson’s fourth major book refers to

(a) The long gap between her two books

(b) People’s unwillingness to speak out against pollution

(c) The death of wildlife agricultural chemicals

(d) The hidden danger of pesticides

9. The word alleged in the passage is closest in meaning to

(a) ruled

(b) argued

(c) disproval

(d) limited

10. the word indiscriminate in the passage closest in meaning to

(a) ineffective

(b) uncontrolled

(c) illegal

(d) funded

11. Which of the following is NOT mentioned in the passage as evidence of Carson influence on the regulation of pesticides?

(a) She spoke before Congress.

(b) She served on a presidential committee.

(c) Her work is still cited by regulators.

(d) She wrote the first set of pesticide regulations.

12. Directions: An introductory sentence for a brief summary of the passage is provided below. Compare the summary by selecting the THREE answer choices that express the most important ideas in the passage. Some sentences do not belong in the summary because they express ideas that are not presented in the passage or are minor ideas in the passage. This question is worth 2 points.

Rachel Carson was a pioneering environmentalist who helped draw public attention to the effects of human activity on wildlife.






Date: 2015-04-19; view: 1993

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