Sunday, May 27, 2007

Rachel Carson, at 100

Posted by olvlzl.
Rachel Carson did not go gentle into that good night, her words in Silent Spring "forked lightening" and resonate today. They are important enough that even as she has become a widely accepted icon of present day thinking, she is still drawing fire from those whose psychotic attachment to wealth and ingrained custom is stronger than their ability to see that the Earth will not be able to sustain the life that both require.

The centennial of Carson's birth is being commemorated with observances around the country today. Her place in the American imagination is enduring: "Silent Spring," published in 1962, led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and to banning the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT. State and federal office buildings, bridges, greenways, natural refuges, all sorts of awards, and at least four public schools are named after her, from Virginia to California.

But revisionists are busy besmirching Carson's legacy. In Washington, Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, has placed a stop on an innocuous resolution praising Carson on the centennial occasion. The resolution notes her "legacy of scientific rigor coupled with poetic sensibility."

Coburn and other opponents of environmental regulation claim more people die from malaria and other insect-borne diseases, especially in the developing world, than were ever saved by eliminating DDT from the environment. The scientist who introduced DDT in 1943 -- just as a typhus epidemic was threatening Allied troops in Italy in World War II -- received the Nobel Prize, after all. But any fair cost-benefit analysis must take all costs into account, and it is hard to measure the value of the illnesses, species decimation, and toxic pollution that did not happen because DDT was banned.

“ Your money or your life”. When Jack Benny hesitated it was funny. Some idiots in what passes as popular culture are cracking jokes about the dying biosphere, even today. It’s not funny. It never was but reality is about to deliver a deadline that will drown out the punch line.

Sometimes, as in the Daughters of the American Revolution's refusal to allow Marion Anderson to perform in their hall, it is the controversy that proves to be the greater honor. The likes of Tom Coburn dishonoring Rachel Carson only confirm that she is due that greatest of all honors, being taken seriously long after her death. Her words still enlighten the world today.