Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ignorant Wingnut Sen. Coburn prevents honor to Rachal Carson

According to David Roberts Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) intended to introduce a bill to honor Rachel Carson on the anniversary of what would have been her 100th birthday. Her great book, Silent Spring, literally introduced the world to the idea that the environment had to be viewed as a complex interacting system in which the destruction of one species of plant or animal could upset the entire ecosystem. It seems to me to be a very appropriate honor considering the impact her book had on environmental thinking.

This is what Wikipedia says about what she was teaching:
as a renowned author, she was able to ask for (and receive) the aid of prominent biologists, chemists, pathologists, and entomologists. She used Silent Spring to create a mental association in the public's mind between wildlife mortality and over-use of pesticides like dieldrin, toxaphene, and heptachlor. Her cautions regarding the previously little-remarked practices of introducing an enormous variety of industrial products and wastes into wilderness, waterways, and human habitats with little concern for possible toxicity struck the general public as common sense, as much as good science; "We are subjecting whole populations to exposure to chemicals which animal experiments have proved to be extremely poisonous and in many cases cumulative in their effects. These exposures now begin at or before birth and - unless we change our methods - will continue through the lifetime of those now living."
Unfortunately, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has informed Sen. Cardin that he will kill the bill when submitted.

Why? Wingnut irrational anti-science reasons. Here is more from Wikipedia:
Even before Silent Spring was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1962, there was strong opposition to it. As Time Magazine recounted in 1999:

Carson was violently assailed by threats of lawsuits and derision, including suggestions that this meticulous scientist was a "hysterical woman" unqualified to write such a book. A huge counterattack was organized and led by Monsanto, Velsicol, American Cyanamid - indeed, the whole chemical industry - duly supported by the Agriculture Department as well as the more cautious in the media.

Scientists such as American Cyanamid's Robert White-Stevens (who wrote "If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth."[1]), chemical companies, and other critics attacked the data and interpretation in the book. Some went further to attack Carson's scientific credentials because her speciality was marine biology and zoology, not the field of biochemistry. Some went as far as characterizing her as a mere birdwatcher with more spare time than scientific background, calling her unprofessional.[citation needed] Former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson reportedly concluded she was “probably a Communist.”[2]

In addition, many critics repeatedly asserted that she was calling for the elimination of all pesticides despite the fact that Carson had made it clear she was not advocating the banning or complete withdrawal of helpful pesticides, but was instead encouraging responsible and carefully managed use with an awareness of the chemicals' impact on the entire ecosystem. In fact, she concludes her section on DDT in Silent Spring not by urging a total ban, but with Practical advice should be "Spray as little as you possibly can" rather than "Spray to the limit of your capacity."
[Bolding is mine - Richard, Editor PPS.]
It is clear that what Rachel Carson suggested would sharply reduce the market for DDT and at the same time increase the on-going research costs into safe and appropriate ways to use DDt. The Chemical Industry strikes back at anyone who threatens to reduce their markets and increase their costs. They read the book and went on the attack.

Such corporate attacks are easier because wingnuts don't read the books they ban, burn and otherwise try to hide from the public. It's enough for them that Monsanto, Velsicol, American Cyanamid claim that she said that DDT should be banned.

As I recall, one of the things she established scientifically is that DDT in the environment makes the egg shells of wild birds much thinner and weaker. One result of this was that the bald eagle was rapidly going extinct. DDT use was sharply curtailed, and now we are getting Eagles back. Carson researched environmental connectedness. If someone uses a pesticide to eliminate one organism, the effects of the pesticide are felt throughout the food chain. Poisoning one insect with a pesticide ends up poisoning larger animals and humans further up the food chain. You would never hear that from the chemical industry. It would reduce their markets and raise research costs to them too much.

Of course, they could not be sued for the animals and people their product damaged and killed because the research that could prove it is very costly and complicated. Even if it was performed, convincing 12 members of a jury that the chemical company caused the problem would be extremely difficult. These cases would be more difficult to prove than was the fact that smoking causes cancer. This is a classic case in which a corporation takes the profits and passes off the costs to the environment and to society, making others pay the costs of the product.

So logically, rationally we have to be careful how we use pesticides. That means more research into both the effects of the pesticides and into the food chains the pesticide is to be injected into. But that kind of research requires scientists who understand the ecosystem, know how to collect data, and can both apply and understand the results of statistical processes. Such people are seen as barriers to action by the wingnuts who elect such politicians as Tom DeLay ("The Bug Man" - he hates the Environmental Protection Agency) and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

With all that as background, look at this relatively new website. Rachel Was Wrong.

So Rachel doesn't get a Senate bill to honor what would have been her 100th birthday.

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