HomeLearning CenterMeet the Women Who Inspired Environmental Movements

Meet the Women Who Inspired Environmental Movements

Originally published by Rebecca Cormos for Ms. Magazine

The environmental and feminist movements have grown like stems and branches of a twisting vine or tree. Sometimes merging, sometimes growing apart. At times they have strengthened each other. At others, they have grown distant. Ultimately, they both address similar forces of oppression and exploitation. They share a common goal of dismantling the “status quo.” Their shared vision is the thriving of both women and nature. Climate change is not just an environmental crisis—it is a feminist crisis as well.

The following is an excerpt from Intertwined: Women, Nature, and Climate Justice, depicting connections between environmental and feminist movements.

In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, which many consider to have launched the modern environmental movement. In the book, Rachel detailed the natural and human health impacts of a then-widely used pesticide called DDT. She provided evidence of how the use of DDT was causing massive die-offs in birds and other species, how it entered the food chain, and how it was stored in human bodies, causing cancers and genetic damage.

Carson was attacked cruelly, personally and misogynistically for her work. Time magazine wrote that her book was an “emotional and inaccurate outburst” that was “hysterically overemphatic.” Yale Environment 360 reported that “an official with the Federal Pest Control Review Board drew laughter from his audience when he remarked, ‘I thought she was a spinster. What’s she so worried about genetics for?’”

Nevertheless, in 1963, as she was dying from breast cancer (a fact she kept secret), Carson testified before Congress, advocating for laws and policies to control the use of DDT. She died a year later in 1964 at the age of 57, but her legacy continued to grow. Her work is said to have provoked the passage of the Clean Air Act (1963), the Wilderness Act (1964), the National Environmental Policy Act (1969), the Clean Water Act (1972), and the Endangered Species Act (1973), along with influencing the creation in 1970 of the Environmental Protection Agency, and galvanizing the first “Earth Day,” on April 22 of that year.

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