Rachel Carson, Mass Murderer?
The creation of an anti-environmental mythBy Aaron Swartz
Sometimes you find mass murderers in the most unlikely places. Take Rachel Carson. She was, by all accounts, a mild-mannered writer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service--hardly a sociopath's breeding ground. And yet, according to many in the media, Carson has more blood on her hands than Hitler.
The problems started in the 1940s, when Carson left the Service to begin writing full-time. In 1962, she published a series of articles in the New Yorker, resulting in the book Silent Spring--widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement. The book discussed how pesticides and pollutants moved up the food chain, threatening the ecosystems for many animals, especially birds. Without them, it warned, we might face the title's silent spring.
Farmers used vast quantities of DDT to protect their crops against insects--80 million pounds were sprayed in 1959 alone--but from there it quickly climbed up the food chain. Bald eagles, eating fish that had concentrated DDT in their tissues, headed toward extinction. Humans, likewise accumulating DDT in our systems, appeared to get cancer as a result. Mothers passed the chemical on to their children through breast milk. Silent Spring drew attention to these concerns and, in 1972, the resulting movement succeeded in getting DDT banned in the U.S.--a ban that later spread to other nations.
And that, according to Carson's critics, is where the trouble started. DDT had been sprayed heavily on houses in developing countries to protect against malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Without it, malaria rates in developing countries skyrocketed. Over 1 million people die from it each year.
To the critics, the solution seems simple: Forget Carson's emotional arguments about dead birds and start spraying DDT again so we can save human lives.