This year is the 45th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring, a book by Rachel Carson credited with starting the modern environmental movement. On the always-interesting Kottke.org this morning, there is a link to an article about one of the efforts to discredit this book, an article that is really worth a read for a look into the bizarre and murky workings of amoral, stateless corporations like Phillip Morris and their intersections with the loonier edge of the right wing in this country. I say “loonier edge,” but I should point out that — obviously — the “bizarro world” we’re-hurting-the-planet-by-trying-to-help-it outlook on environmentalism has successfully become somewhat mainstream in this country, although the tide does seem to be turning back at least slightly in the direction of the rationalism on this issue that most of the rest of the world subscribes to.
In summary, I guess the basic verdict on Carson is that — while she didn’t get the science perfectly right in her book — she wasn’t as wrong as some people (
i.e. e.g., tobacco-company black operatives) try to claim she was. The intellectual hit men hired by the tobacco companies, whose goal was to discredit the anti-tobacco World Health Organization on this seemingly unrelated subject, say she killed “millions” of people by encouraging the banning of DDT (a a pesticide that was once effective against mosquitoes, the insect that carries malaria), which she argued for because of the devastation the chemical was causing on bird populations. Apparently they ignore the otherwise well-understood role that indiscriminate use of DDT itself played in worsening malaria, by breeding DDT-resistant malaria parasites. But I guess that possibility would be off the radar of people who don’t believe in evolution, anyway…
The take-home lesson: there’s always someone with an incentive to manipulate the public conversation, and not always someone whose stake is obvious. So be careful what you believe. (Which I say knowing full well that it applies to me on this very issue, yes, thank you very much.)