A few weeks ago when we were out hiking we came across one of those little historical plaques that proudly announced that Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, lived in Silver Spring MD. When I got home, I found that the home where Carson wrote Silent Spring is just 6 miles from my house. Because I am a nerd, this was so exciting I made an early morning bike ride pilgrimage to the address I found on the internet, 11701 Berwick Rd, Silver Spring MD.
The house was unassuming in every way. It looked like almost all the other little suburban brick ranch houses that line the streets around here. I didn’t bring my camera on my bike ride. I just stole this picture off wikipedia.
I don’t know what exactly I was expecting, but seeing her residence was a bit of a revelation. I thought it would at least have some sort of architectural alterations to catch water or something that would have made her HOA hate her. But nope. None of that.
Really my surprise started at the plague. I realized I had always assumed Rachel Carson subsisted on some radical hippy commune or at a primitive research station out in the wilds. You know, the places where “real” environmentalists dwell. In actually it seems she spent much of her life laboring dutifully for the government, quietly commuting between DC and suburban MD.
As confirmation of my recent experiences with Carson, I was reading the paper this morning and came across a wonderful op-ed, How Green Was My Lawn by Christopher Sellers. The piece is an interesting reminder that the environmental movement was born and nurtured in American suburbs of the 60s and 70s.
In 1970, only eight years after “Silent Spring” appeared, Americans ranked pollution as the country’s No. 1 problem, outpolling worries about Vietnam and civil rights. And worsening pollution registered most strongly neither in rural areas nor even in cities, but in suburbs. (Now it doesn’t rank in the top 5)
What drove the movement’s early suburban success? It started with activists picking up on local issues like drinking-water safety and smog, concerns that directly affected suburban dwellers but had been largely overlooked by civic leaders, from health and planning experts to homeowner associations to conservation groups.
Consider my young millenial mind blown. But in a good way. It’s encouraging to think that not too long ago my fellow Americans recognized environmental issues as being personally relevant and actionable, at home.
As proof I’ll tell you that I could hear the birds singing when I biked down Carson’s street.