20. Rachel Carson
An American marine biologist and conservationist turned author, Rachel Carson advanced the environmental movement around the world, beginning with the publication of her work, Silent Spring in 1962. The title referred to the silencing of birds due to their being killed by widespread spraying of toxic chemicals. Her book was roundly condemned by commercial farming interests and manufacturers of chemical pesticides and herbicides. Carson’s work pointed out the dangers to the environment and the human race from chemical contamination of waterways and food, led to the banning of the pesticide DDT, and drove a grassroots movement to improve the environment.
“If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth,” wrote a representative of the chemical industry, Robert White-Stevens. Others were equally condemning of her work. She was accused of being a member of the “cult of the balance of nature” and a communist by defenders of the chemical industry. She prevailed, her work largely validated by the scientific and academic communities. Carson died in 1964, from complications from breast cancer. Six years later President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency in response to the public demand raised in large part by her lifetime of dedication to removing toxic chemicals from America’s land, waterways, and air.