Happy Birthday Rachel Carson

When I wonder what words should replace Emma Lazarus's obsolete phrase on the Statue of Liberty - "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free" I think of Frank Luntz's dictum learned from Joe Romm: "There is a simple rule, you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again and again and again and again and about the time you are absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time." for it clearly is the defining phrase in America today. We see it in the kneejerk "Al Gore's house uses too much electricity" comment on every post that mentions his name, and in the current meme "Banning DDT killed more people than Hitler."

Senator Tom Coburn does it as he kills tributes to her 100th birthday. Treehugger favourite source of hilarity the Competitive Enterprise institute does it with a website Rachel was Wrong; Michael Crichton did it in State of Fear; even the New York Times gets tainted when it looks for balance instead of truth by printing John Tierney doing it. As is so often the case, it gets said again and again, even if it is not true.

Kirsten Wier has written a careful analysis in Salon, where she notes that Rachel Carson was not the first to sound the alarm about DDT, and never said it should be banned. She quotes: "It is not my contention that chemical insecticides must never be used. I contend ... that we have allowed these chemicals to be used with little or no advance investigation of their effect on soil, water, wildlife, and man himself."

She points out that DDT was never actually banned in Africa, it was just never implemented. "Many African countries realized they couldn't really expect to progress with malaria at all if they didn't have some kind of infrastructure," says Litsios. The WHO couldn't afford to launch a massive insecticide-spraying program and help countries build up basic health services at the same time. It chose the latter"

In 1972, the EPA banned DDT in America. Carson's solid reputation may have contributed to the decision, [Professor Mark] Lytle says. But Carson was by no means the sole reason for the ban. According to the EPA's Ellenberger, the decision was backed by sound science, with evidence of DDT's negative effects on wildlife continuing to mount. At the same time, after years of dumping DDT on agricultural pests, insects were becoming increasingly resistant to the chemical. "The risks were increasing, and the benefits were declining," Ellenberger says. "If risks exceed benefits, EPA is supposed to take action."

Wier states clearly that Carson did not get it all right, but "What her critics seem unwilling to admit is that Carson was just one person, and DDT is just one tool. DDT plays a part in the fight against malaria, but it's one drop in a very big puddle" and "Carson's point wasn't that DDT was evil, It was that if you put all your eggs in one basket, that basket's going to break." ::Salon

Tags: Africa | Rachel Carson

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