Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Silent Spring" - As Relevant Now as 50 years Ago

Silent Spring Book-of-the-Month-Club edition.JPGRachel Carson's ecology classic 'Silent Spring' celebrates its 50th birthday this year.To say it was probably one of the most influential books of the 20th century is plausibly an understatement. Especially given that the Toxic pushers and industrialists-corporatists on the Right are still attacking it, i.e at a website called ""  But we know, at least any of us who've  read the anti-PR masterpiece 'Toxic Sludge Is Good For You' , that Rachel's attackers lack any backing that qualifies them as credible.

In fact, we know they merely have reprised the same useless, exposed template over and over again - whether to defend their hundreds of poisons seeping into our bodies and causing cancers, see, e.g.


Or sneaking them into our industrial food supply (as in the case of "pink slime") without us knowing.

At the time, the Toxic Industrial Complex used every nasty trick to try to destroy Carson's character.  They distributed millions of pamphlets, published articles, and vilified her in media interviews. They also described has as "fanatical" and "hysterical" - despite the fact all sane international scientists agreed with Carson. Also, A Science Advisory Committee assembled by JFK issued its own supportive report in May, 1963. Despite the shrill attacks of the critics, Carson stuck to the facts. She didn't even directly blame the toxic industrialists when 2 years later she was dying of breast cancer - yet it's likely one or more of their disgusting poisons- whether chlordane, heptachlor, or aldrin (not to mention DDT) was the prime culprit for the disease's genesis - as it is for most of our cancers today.

Meanwhile, the attack template remains the same, whether the issue is GMO-foods, asbestos, pesticides or coal-based, mercury generated air pollution: question the science and the credibility of the critics (e.g. Arpad Pusztai in the case of GMO foods, John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton in the case of toxic fertilizer sludge, and Rachel Carson in the case of DDT) and warn of unbearable costs. The latter strategy is now playing out in CA as voters there finally have the chance to force GMO foods to be labeled - as all other foods are- but are warned that if this is done it will impose an additional monetary cost of $300-400 / yr. on their grocery bill.


Most of the corporate Right, including the Conservative Enterprise Institute, insists Rachel Carson did "irreparable damage" by using "extreme rhetoric which generated a culture of fear - resulting in policies that have deprived many people access to life-saving chemicals."

In fact, total codswallop! Including the claim (by Brit Tory Dick Taverne)  that "the anti-DDT campaign she inspired was responsible for almost as many deaths as some of the worst dictators in the last century." Not quite, Dickster. In fact the much greater slayers have been from the West's negiligence (and RC Church's prohibition of condom use) in places like equatorial Africa leading to a monstrous AIDS outbreaks as well as the pollution of water sources. Even a tiny bit of Western capital injected in to find decent water sources might have spared millions water-borne diseases, while making AIDS - anti-HIV vaccines more widely available spared tens of millions who died in agony from AIDS.

Another aspect is the way the corporo-Rightists paint Carson as totally against ALL pesticides, when she simply sought a balance to the then extravagant chemical overuse -  at a time when ecology was barely considered a science. More to the point, that world of 50 years ago was one in which massive nuclear tests of 70-100 megatons each  (conducted by the USSR and the US) were already poisoning our atmosphere as we beheld Strontium-90 ending up in cow's milk, breast milk and other organics. (Thanks to JFK this insanity finally halted in August, 1963 with the signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty- but Rachel did reference the effects of "radiation" in her book).

As for DDT, most experts today agree the chemical pesticide would have been far less effective against malaria -carrying mosquitoes in the scattered and remote villages of sub-Saharan Africa than it was in more densely populated North America.  Indeed, we're well rid of it given that even 40 years after the government-imposed DDT ban, most Americans still carry traces of the chemical in their bodies. Imagine if that ban hadn't gone into effect. We'd be walking-talking DDT factories, or at least repositories!

Rachel Carson's lesson which we need to remind ourselves of today is that cost-benefit assessment of chemicals must always remain in the forefront when considering use. Thus, the benefits of chemicals (e.g. to slow down or halt the incursion of pests, weeds) must always be weighed against their risks and especially the human costs. As Carson wrote in 'Silent Spring' - words with which I leave readers:

"The most alarming of all man's assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials. This pollution is for the most irrecoverable: the chain of evil it initiates not only in the world that must support life but also in living tissues is for the most part irreversible. In this now universal contamination of the environment, chemicals are the sinister and little recognized partners of radiation in changing the very nature of the world - the very nature of its life."

So true!

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