University hosts conference to honor Rachel Carson

On Saturday, Carnegie Mellon hosted a tribute to American marine biologist Rachel Carson that honored Carson and educated the public about her agenda. The Rachel Carson Legacy Conference, “Sustaining the Web of Life in Modern Society,” was held in the University Center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The conference was the third in a series of four events celebrating the centennial anniversary of the birth of Rachel Carson, who is best known for writing the novel Silent Spring.

Edward O. Wilson, a Harvard University professor, delivered the keynote address. He used Carson’s work as a context for entering a larger discussion on the science of biodiversity.

A variety of experts held sessions in which they discussed current environmental issues such as global warming, the health of the oceans, and environmental leadership. This was followed by a group discussion session titled “Answering the Call to Action” in which audience members composed an “action agenda.”

Patricia M. Demarco, executive director of the Rachel Carson Homestead Association, said she hoped the conference would motivate students to inspect their own ecological footprints and inspire them to take action.

“I want them to ask themselves, ‘What can we do individually?’ ” Demarco said.

She cited her own students as an example, who challenged her to be a vegetarian — a challenge she met.

“My students have the motivation to be catalysts for change,” she said.

Carnegie Mellon President Jared L. Cohon delivered the conference’s opening remarks. He spoke about admiring Carson for having the courage to pioneer the global environmental movement.

“Fifty years ago, people didn’t want to hear about environmental issues as they do today,” Cohon said. “People tried to write her off as a hysterical woman trying to scare people. She stood up to substantial abuse, and her message endured.”

In 1999, Rachel Carson was recognized as one of the 20th century’s most important people by Time magazine.
“When you say ‘Rachel Carson,’ people usually think about DDT [a common pesticide Carson helped ban] and malaria. I want this conference to portray her as an inspiration to women, a scientist,” Demarco said. “She was aware of the relationship between people and the climate, people and the ocean long before the idea of global warming was seen as it is today.”

Jennifer Schroeder, program officer and webmaster of Clean Air/Cool Planet, a non-profit organization which focuses on finding solutions to global warming, spoke about the difficulties of looking at global warming and climate change in the context of the individual. She conceded that people can’t participate in society without consuming, and that even when individuals make a commitment to using renewable energy, recycling, buying local products, riding bikes, and other eco-friendly activities, the problem isn’t solved.

Schroeder encouraged students to begin a dialogue on campus by asking questions like: “Why doesn’t everyone want to recycle?”; “Are they being lazy?”; “Why aren’t people getting the message?”; “How should we organize this?”; and “What kinds of containers should we buy?”

“Chaining yourself to a tree is no longer effective,” said James Ayers, vice president of Oceana, an environmental organization devoted to protecting and restoring the world’s oceans.

Ayers urged students and adults to overcome avarice, consume less, and get involved. He spoke of the process involved in moving governments around the world toward change, a process which involves performing research, informing the public, joining alliances and partnerships, and communicating with executive administrations.

Carnegie Mellon students have already begun this process.

Austin Redwood, president of the on-campus environmental organization Sustainable Earth, is currently working on a project to increase the amount of alternative energy purchased by Carnegie Mellon students from 20 percent to 51 percent.

“People here have heard things that have been said before,” Redwood said. “Now I’m ready to turn that into action.”