The Silent Spring That Won’t Shut Up

September 18, 2012

Multiple Pages
The Silent Spring That Won’t Shut Up

If the Democrats lose in November, the party’s supporters will likely initiate another one of their semi-regular rebranding exercises.

“Liberal” became a curse word during the Reagan years, so they started calling themselves “progressive” and insisted the rest of us use that word, too.

Yet “progressive” never really caught on for two reasons. One, as everyone who survived high school knows, only losers try to give themselves cool nicknames. Attempts to do so make you look like an even bigger loser. Like trying to tickle yourself, it doesn’t work.

Secondly, “progressive”—like every word these people want the rest of us to employ (see “diversity,” “fairness,” and “gay”)—means the opposite of what it’s meant to connote. As any casual observer can’t help but notice by now, “progressives” live in the past.

“As any casual observer can’t help but notice by now, ‘progressives’ live in the past.”

Observe the ostentatious hand-wringing over old “injustices” such as McCarthyism (i.e., that time when a handful of Hollywood screenwriters had to leave their names off their scripts but got paid for them anyhow) and the endless stream of movies about the Civil Rights movement (i.e., that time when stunt protesters got the federal government to make private lunch counters serve hamburgers to people who didn’t want to eat there anyhow).

Brace yourself, then, for The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson.

This movie’s been in development for a while. The Hollywood Reporter started writing about it in 2010, and according to IMDb, it is still “in development” and due for release next year.

This “biopic” will focus on Carson’s campaign to ban the pesticide DDT, which she claimed was killing wildlife and endangering humans. Her widely celebrated 1962 book Silent Spring is a seminal text of what we now call “environmentalism.” It prompted a national, and eventually international, ban on DDT.

This is the part where I’m supposed to write, “...which in turn prevented the irreversible devastation of natural habitats around the globe and saved millions of lives.”


This year, the Cato Institute put out its own book called Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson.

According to Cato, Rachel Carson was a critic rather than a scientist. For one thing, she didn’t have a doctorate. She was a talented freelance nature writer and popularizer when she wasn’t “writing radio scripts [?!] and press releases for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Cato adds that even “[m]easured against the scientific standards of her day, her work is deficient.” (See, for instance, this scathing contemporaneous review in Chemical & Engineering News.)

Carson didn’t even pretend to be objective. She served on the Audubon Society’s board of directors, which gullible supporters considered a feature rather than a “conflict of interest” bug. According to Cato, the trouble is that Carson must have known that Audubon’s annual bird census didn’t support her theory that pesticides were responsible for declining bird populations. In some cases, those declines had begun years before DDT was introduced. Worse, other “declines” Carson reported on were fictional. The facts didn’t fit her preconceived apocalyptic narrative.

If Carson was a right-wing villain, her reliance upon research conducted by a contemporary doctor who also claimed smoking didn’t cause cancer would be fodder for dark, snotty satire. I suspect this “inconvenient truth” won’t make it into the Carson biopic, though.

The fact that noble, selfless humanitarians such as Rachel Carson are typically smug, self-satisfied misanthropes has been a truism since Dickens invented Mrs. Jellyby. Yet in the case of the DDT ban, good intentions didn’t pave another liberal road to hell. They bulldozed the way for an Audubon autobahn to Hades on Earth.

The Ford Foundation had pretty much wiped out malaria in the 1950s by funding the spraying of DDT to kill mosquitos that carried it, especially in Africa. However, that campaign ceased in the wake of Silent Spring hysteria. The millions of deaths Carson had predicted came true all right, but not because of pesticide—because of its absence.

One estimate puts the post-DDT-ban malaria death toll at “tens of millions dead—mostly pregnant women and children under the age of 5” and cites the ban’s economic cost at “$1 trillion dollars [sic] in lost GDP in sub-Saharan Africa alone.”

If you’re asking yourself, “Hey, isn’t it weird that the folks who bullied us into ‘donating’ billions of dollars to poor Africans are the same ones whose policies killed off a few Holocausts worth of ’em during that exact period of time?” then you haven’t been paying attention.

Don’t bother wondering where you can go to get a refund.


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