The 50th Anniversary of “Silent Spring”: A Lethal Legacy – Tea Party Nation

The 50th Anniversary of “Silent Spring”: A Lethal Legacy – Tea Party Nation.

By Alan Caruba

There are books that have doomed millions to death. “Das Capital” by Karl Marx kicked off the worst economic system of the modern era, claiming the lives of millions of Russians and Chinese, along with others in the process. Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” mobilized Nazi Germany, led to World War Two in Europe, and was responsible for the deliberate killing of six million Jews and another five million Christians in its concentration camps, not counting the millions more in war dead. The Nazi leaders were ardent environmentalists.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson; a book that is credited with giving rise to the environmental movement in general and, in particular, America’s unfounded fears of pesticides, especially DDT. Eight years would pass between its publication and the first Earth Day in 1970 that mobilized the beginning of the environmental movement by putting government muscle behind it with the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson” ($25.95, Cato Institute) has a publication date in September, but given the June 20-12 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, it is particularly timely. Its chapters had titles like “Elixirs of Death”, “Needless Havoc”, and “Rivers of Death.” What their content lacked was real science and real facts.

DDT was already famous for protecting human health along with a whole range of agricultural chemicals that protected crops against the depredation of insects, rodents and weeds. The book has rightly been condemned for the deaths—literally millions—that have resulted since the 1972 U.S. ban of DDT by the Environmental Protection Agency. It “was firmly and repeatedly warned by public health officials of the United States, the World Health Organization, and the Pan American Health Organization of disastrous consequences of a DDT ban.”

Even today, the EPA either manufactures or ignores evidence to justify its regulations.

Its inventor, Dr. Paul Muller, received a Nobel Prize in 1948 in recognition of the role DDT played in saving hundreds of thousands of lives of troops fighting the Axis in World War Two and the survivors of the Nazi death camps. It killed the insects that spread Typhus and other diseases. It did so without any evidence of the bogus threat of cancer that Carson advanced.

Nine contributors to “Silent Spring at 50” make a powerful case for the harm Carson’s obsessive fear of what were widely known to be beneficial chemicals. The book is a classic example of bogus science combined with deliberate lies to frighten people. That has always been the modus operendi of the environmental movement.

“Carson would have known of the great public health achievements of DDT and that it was saving lives,” writes Donald R. Roberts and Richard Tren, the authors of one chapter. “Indeed she describes some of the programs in “Silent Spring.” But the bulk of the book is a singular attack on DDT and other insecticides with scarcely any recognition of their actual and potential benefits.”

In the first chapter of “Silent Spring”, titled “A Fable for Tomorrow”, Carson invents a town so poisoned by insecticides that no birds sing there, having all been wiped out. It is pure fiction. Subsequent studies have demonstrated that the die-off she described has never happened. Years of bird counts refute that charge.

Indeed, agricultural pesticides had initially been regulated by Congress in 1910 and generations of farmers took care to avoid contaminating their crops for obvious reasons. The anniversary of the book’s publication is relevant to everyone today, even those born since the DDT ban.

The coast-to-coast plague of bedbugs that has occurred in the past decade and continues today could have been eliminated if DDT was still in use. The mainstream media reported the plague, but never mentioned this salient fact, nor the fact that the EPA has just one pesticide registered for use against bedbugs and routinely refused to allow licensed pest control professionals to use it.

Carson kicked off “the precautionary principle” cited by environmental groups and government agencies that, in effect, leaves the public defenseless against the health threats that Mother Nature provides in the form of insects and rodents known to spread disease, or mold-contaminants such as aflatoxin, many times more toxic than the fumigant that was banned to control it.

Malaria, once on the brink of being eliminated, has long since made resurgence since the ban of DDT, although some nations most affected by the disease have received permission to use it. That is Rachel Carson’s true and lethal legacy.

It is why so much of what the environmental movement advocates, from the United Nations to non-governmental-organizations like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund, and dozens of others always seems to end up killing people in the name of saving the Earth.

© Alan Caruba, 2012

4 Responses to The 50th Anniversary of “Silent Spring”: A Lethal Legacy – Tea Party Nation

  1. Reblogged this on danmillerinpanama and commented:
    Eliminating people in hopes of saving Mother Gaia? See also Rio+20 Summit.

  2. Ed Darrell says:

    There are ideas that doom civilizations, too. The idea that scientists are always wrong, and that we can never do better than to foul our nest, is one of those civilization-dooming ideas. Hate to see you promote it here.

    Caruba is mostly just wrong on the history and the science.

    Carson and her book deserve the praise most often denied, and they deserve little if any of the criticism. Fifty years on Silent Spring’s influence is almost universally positive.

    Carson forced the public, and scientists, to look at the wild as an integrated whole, including the plants and animals and mineral, land and ater resources, and also including the towns speckled among wild lands, and especially the farms sprawling in verdant production across most of America. Carson, almost as much as Darwin, forced scientists to see their science as part of a larger whole — study of ecosystems became important, perhaps more important that the study of individual species or locations.
    Silent Spring alerted humans that all actions in the wild have consequences in the wild, and that the tyranny of numbers affects the entire out-of-doors as much as smaller parcels. Human effects were seen as world-wide.
    Carson’s writing found firm footing in science and showed literary flair, with more than 50 pages of careful and thorough footnotes including precise citations to science research publications. This demonstrated what Richard Feynman later brilliantly described, that a knowledgeable, scientific view of nature makes it more beautiful, and more charming. This near-refutation of Mark Twain‘s philosophy of learning from Life on the Mississippi opened a new genre of literature that is non-fictional and floridly descriptive, but readable and persuasive because of its scientific accuracy.
    Silent Spring made it clear that local actions can make big environmental effects. The bird-killing, spring-silencing actions that could cause the silent spring fable in the books introduction was not a massive federal project, but was instead the result of actions of small towns and cities, county governments, and even individual farmers. Planet-saving action could be started at home, next door, in the block in the neighborhood, in the county — and did not require first approval from a national government.
    Silent Spring unabashedly pointed a finger at all of us as the culprit of the damage, and not some “other” as a bad guy. While this troubles many today, it carries with it the explicit realization that our own actions can start our own salvation. Personal responsibility becomes real in Silent Spring.
    Silent Spring made nature appear accessible to anyone with a yard, or a patch of grass nearby. This gave rebirth to the parks movement, and it encouraged countless thousands to recreation in the outdoors, and to careers outdoors as farmers, ranchers, scientists, forest and park rangers, land managers and gardeners.
    Carson specifically addressed the trade-offs required to stop pollution. DDT was a key part of the campaign to eradicate malaria from the planet, she noted. But overuse or abuse of DDT would surely lead to insect resistance to the stuff, she documented with research already a decade old that showed exactly that. If DDT overuse were allowed to continue, she said, DDT would stop being effective in the fight against malaria. The book was published in 1962. In 1965 the World Health Organization stopped its campaign against malaria in Central and Subsaharan Africa that relied on DDT. Getting support from the not-strong national governments in the region had delayed implementation (80% of all households must be treated with DDT in this program and medical care must be improved to cure malaria in human carriers to make it work). Worse, in areas yet untouched by the WHO campaign, mosquitoes were already resistant and immune to DDT due to overuse in agriculture and other fields. Within 18 months after her 1964 death, Rachel Carson had been revealed as a reluctant prophet.
    Carson alerted the world to alternatives to technological fixes, especially those that carry high costs. Carson worried about the effects on the fight against malaria if DDT was to be rendered ineffective by overuse. Few planned for that eventuality, but it happened. Happily, she also pointed to other solutions. At peak DDT use, 500 million malaria infections annually killed 4 million people worldwide. Today, mostly without DDT but instead with wiser policies of medical treatment and the use of bednets, malaria infections have been cut in half, to about 250 million annually, and malaria deaths have been reduced by 75%, to under 1 million annually. This is more impressive when one realizes the total world population more than doubled in the same time, and the area where malaria is endemic also increased. Carson told us it was possible to defeat a disease without poisoning our selves and our environment, and we have done it, to a great degree, with malaria.
    Birds still sing in the spring, the bald eagle is off the Endangered Species List, America’s air is cleaner, America’s water is cleaner, and more land is set aside for the regeneration of America’s renewable resources and our national, collective psyche in recreation. Much of this can be attributed to actions by people inspired by Rachel Carson’s book.

    • gds44 says:

      You ae entitled to your own OPINION as long as you remember that is all it is! Alan Caruba is not wrong about the toxic effects of this book!

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