Silent Sil­ver Spring

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

We chal­lenge real en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists to find a bet­ter icon than Rachel Car­son. The cen­ten­nial of the late “Silent Spring” au­thor’s birth­day is May 27. A cel­e­bra­tion by the Rachel Car­son Coun­cil hap­pened May 19 at her for­mer Sil­ver Spring, Md. home, as well as na­ture hikes through the Rachel Car­son Con­ser­va­tion Park in Mont­gomery County, Md. The Rachel Car­son Green­way in north­ern and east­ern Mont­gomery County, Md. will soon be a re­al­ity. The Rachel Car­son El­e­men­tary School in Gaithers­burg, Md. al­ready is. There is lots to ad­mire about Car­son, but there is also a dark side to her legacy that the move­ment will need to reckon with sooner or later. When it does, a bet­ter en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism will emerge.

We’re talk­ing about the cam­paign against the pes­ti­cide DDT and its ef­fect upon the De­vel­op­ing World, par­tic­u­larly sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa. How­ever well in­ten­tioned, it was cat­a­strophic. There, what­ever dan­ger DDT may pose to hu­mans is out­weighed by the mil­lions and mil­lions of malaria vic­tims who suf­fer and per­ish from the dis­ease. Their best hope is DDT, but in many coun­tries, they can­not get it. “Silent Spring” changed pub­lic opin­ion in ways which en­sured that.

Don’t take it from this con­ser­va­tive edi­to­rial page. Here’s Tina Rosenberg of the New York Times in the April 2004 ar­ti­cle, “What the World Needs Now Is DDT.” As she ex­plains: “No one con­cerned about the en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age of DDT set out to kill African chil­dren. But var­i­ous fac­tors, chiefly the per­sis­tence of DDT’s toxic im­age in the West and the dis­pro­por­tion­ate weight that Amer­i­can de­ci­sions carry world­wide, have con­spired to make it es­sen­tially un­avail­able to most malar­ial na­tions.” West­ern aid of­fi­cials find it hyp­o­crit­i­cal to fund DDT in Africa but not at home. Mean­while, chil­dren die. As the NYT put it starkly: “ ‘Silent Spring’ is now killing African chil­dren be­cause of its per­sis­tence in the pub­lic mind.”

This is blind­ness to prac­ti­cal con­se­quences, and it con­tin­ues to af­flict mod­ern en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism. We see it in Al Gore. His “Earth in the Bal­ance” called mod­ern so­ci­ety “deeply dys­func­tional” and ad­vo­cates a “wrench­ing trans­for­ma­tion.” Mean­while, Mr. Gore “off­sets” his owns en­ergy sins. We see it in the gut-level “there oughta be a law” in­stincts of Sh­eryl Crow and Lau­rie David. We see it in the un­for­tu­nate per­sis­tence of po­lit­i­cal en­thu­si­asm for ethanol, which is now driv­ing up corn prices to the point that pos­si­ble food short­ages among the poor in Mex­ico are dis­cussed with reg­u­lar­ity.

Dis­re­gard of con­se­quences must be ex­or­cised in or­der for a true en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism to emerge.

Amid the events to cel­e­brate Rachel Car­son’s life, you won’t hear all this very much. But that makes it no less true. Rachel Car­son is the epit­ome of the tragedy of good in­ten­tions in pol­i­tics. It’s not enough to mean well.

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