As the leaders of Japan, Great Britain, Germany and, belatedly, the United States prepare to meet colleagues and 30,000 clerics, artists, activists and journalists at the Rio Earth Summit, all owe quiet homage to Rachel Carson, whose "Silent Spring" sparked the modern environmental movement.
Her book radically altered America's consciousness 30 years ago, leading the world into a new understanding of the fragility of life on Mother Earth. The U.S. Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1963, and after 20 million people took part in 1970's massive Earth Day demonstrations, a Clean Water Act, then the Endangered Species Act joined the arsenal of nature's protection. On the heels of that, Stockholm hosted the first Earth Summit, which helped midwife environmental agencies in 115 countries.
But if Americans are justly proud of their leading role when "environmental consciousness" was a foreign word in many countries, the way U.S. actions are seen in much of the world today should bring a rude shock: