Sunday is Earth Day.
What? You didn't know?
It seems that every April 22nd, we're supposed to celebrate our planet. Personally, I 'celebrate' it every day considering it provides for my very existence, but what do I know?
What we're actually celebrating, though it's not really described as such, is the birth of the environmental movement.
It all started in 1970:
Earth Day 1970 capitalized on the emerging consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement and putting environmental concerns front and center.Yes, Silent Spring, a book that in 1992 had been named one of the most influential books of the past 50 years. In case you're not familiar with it, the book 'detailed' all the alleged horrors of modern chemicals and the damage they would do to the planet and its inhabitants. Its main focus was the pesticide DDT.
At the time, Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. “Environment” was a word that appeared more often in spelling bees than on the evening news. Although mainstream America remained oblivious to environmental concerns, the stage had been set for change by the publication of Rachel Carson's New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962. The book represented a watershed moment for the modern environmental movement, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries and, up until that moment, more than any other person, Ms. Carson raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and public health.
The American military began testing it in 1942 and it quickly became the cardinal weapon used by the military to protect troops in areas laden with vector-borne diseases such as typhus and malaria. It was so effective at halting the spread of these diseases that it was hailed as "the wonder insecticide of World War II." (Bailey)The use of DDT is credited with eliminating malaria in the southern states and the World Health Organization says its prevention of malaria is responsible for saving between 50-100 million lives. But Carson put forth another perspective, as this article from 2002 explains:
After the war was over, farmers adopted the use of the pesticide. It was both cheaper - as low as $0.25 per pound - and less damaging than previous arsenic-based insecticides which had absolutely disastrous consequences.
Memorably, she painted a scenario in which birds had all been poisoned by insecticides, resulting in a "silent spring" in which "no birds sing."But there were serious problems with Carson's position:
The scientific controversy over the effects of DDT on wildlife, especially birds, still vexes researchers. In the late 1960s, some researchers concluded that exposure to DDT caused eggshell thinning in some bird species, especially raptors such as eagles and peregrine falcons. Thinner shells meant fewer hatchlings and declining numbers. But researchers also found that other bird species, such as quail, pheasants, and chickens, were unaffected even by large doses DDT.
On June 14, 1972, 30 years ago this week, the EPA banned DDT despite considerable evidence of its safety offered in seven months of agency hearings. After listening to that testimony, the EPA's own administrative law judge declared, "DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man...DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man...The use of DDT under the regulations involved here [does] not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife." Today environmental activists celebrate the EPA's DDT ban as their first great victory.
To bolster her case for the dangers of DDT, Carson improperly cited cases of acute exposures to the chemical as proof of its cancer-causing ability. For example, she told the story of a woman who sprayed DDT for spiders in her basement and died a month later of leukemia. In another case, a man sprayed his office for cockroaches and a few days later was diagnosed with aplastic anemia. Today cancer specialists would dismiss out of hand the implied claims that these patients' cancers could be traced to such specific pesticide exposures. The plain fact is that DDT has never been shown to be a human carcinogen even after four decades of intense scientific scrutiny.Of course, any good scare tactic is only better when you include children. Carson claimed in her book that "Today, more American school children die of cancer than from any other disease." But even that was a distortion.
It turns out that the percentage of children dying of cancer was rising because other causes of death, such as infectious diseases, were drastically declining.The article continues (emphasis added):
In fact, cancer rates in children have not increased, as they would have if Carson had been right that children were especially susceptible to the alleged health effects of modern chemicals.
The Great Cancer Scare launched by Carson, and perpetuated by her environmentalist disciples ever since, should have been put to rest by a definitive 1996 report from the National Academy of Sciences, Carcinogens and Anticarcinogens in the Human Diet. The NAS concluded that levels of both synthetic and natural carcinogens are "so low that they are unlikely to pose an appreciable cancer risk." Worse yet from the point of view of anti-chemical crusaders, the NAS added that Mother Nature's own chemicals probably cause more cancer than anything mankind has dreamed up: "Natural components of the diet may prove to be of greater concern than synthetic components with respect to cancer risk."
Meanwhile, Carson's disciples have managed to persuade many poor countries to stop using DDT against mosquitoes. The result has been an enormous increase in the number of people dying of malaria each year. Today malaria infects between 300 million and 500 million people annually, killing as many 2.7 million of them. Anti-DDT activists who tried to have the new U.N. treaty on persistent organic pollutants totally ban DDT have stepped back recently from their ideological campaign, conceding that poor countries should be able to use DDT to control malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
So 40 years after the publication of Silent Spring, the legacy of Rachel Carson is more troubling than her admirers will acknowledge.
Along with other researchers, she was simply ignorant of the facts. But after four decades in which tens of billions of dollars have been wasted chasing imaginary risks without measurably improving American health, her intellectual descendants don't have the same excuse.
Or, as Tom Blumer of BizzyBlog wrote at Newsbusters:
The real "lesson" is that "Silent Spring" was perhaps the first successful use of junk science paired with corporation-bashing media hype to fool the general public.Today, the same people who refuse to acknowledge the truth about DDT have embarked upon another 'junk science' premise - that humans are responsible for global warming that is going to devastate the planet. From the Earth Day web site:
Earth Day 2010 came at a time of great challenge for the environmental community. Climate change deniers, well-funded oil lobbyists, reticent politicians, a disinterested public, and a divided environmental community all contributed to a strong narrative that overshadowed the cause of progress and change. In spite of the challenge, for its 40th anniversary, Earth Day Network reestablished Earth Day as a powerful focal point around which people could demonstrate their commitment. Earth Day Network brought 225,000 people to the National Mall for a Climate Rally, amassed 40 million environmental service actions toward its 2012 goal of A Billion Acts of Green®, launched an international, 1-million tree planting initiative with Avatar director James Cameron and tripled its online base to over 900,000 community members.Considering how wrong these people were about DDT, it is any wonder so many (including prominent scientists) are skeptical about their global warming claims? The fact that they had to change the name to 'climate change' should tell you everything you need to know.
The fight for a clean environment continues in a climate of increasing urgency, as the ravages of climate change become more manifest every day. We invite you to be a part of Earth Day and help write many more victories and successes into our history.
Earth Day is not a celebration of this magnificent, wonderful, beautiful planet that provides all the things we need to live and survive. It's not a thankfulness for the riches in the ground and in the sea. It's certainly not an appreciation for the innovators and entrepreneurs who created the methods to allow us to use these resources to make our lives better. But it should be.
Instead, it's a political ploy to advance an agenda - based originally (and continually) upon junk science that has caused untold misery and millions of death.
So tomorrow, when they tout all the feel-good, care for the earth, sustainability news, remember that this is what they want you to celebrate.