Increase Your Brain Power
Sonia in Vert
Shared Idea
Interesting Excerpts
Awards and Honors
This Week's Puzzle
Last Week's Puzzle
Shared Idea
Rachel Carson and Her Sisters
       This past month I read Rachel Carson and Her Sisters, which was written by Robert K. Musil. I received the book as a gift from John Seager, the president of Population Connections, to which I have belonged for half a century. He thought I would appreciate the book, and he was correct. It displays the impact made on the environmental movement and Rachel Carson other women, such as Martha Maxwell, Ellen Swallow Richards, Dr. Alice Hamilton, Florence Merriam Bailey, Terry Tempest Williams, Sandra Steingraber, Devra Davis and Theo Colborn. I read Silent Spring when I was thirteen and it had a definite impact on me. The only other woman in the book I had previously heard of was Ellen Swallow Richards, the first woman to attend MIT, but I had known little she actually did. Reading this book has made me aware of just how much of an impact each of these women has had upon our lives.
       There are many important individual topics covered in this book. I plan to include a number of them in “Interesting Excerpts” during this month. For now, I wish to address a broader issue that is included in the book. To start these are two quotes from the closing two paragraphs in the book’s epilogue. The first notes that “our problems lie with those who seek short-term profit and power at the expense of the rest of us.” That relates to medical, economic, environmental and ethical issues. The other is the opening of the final paragraph: “Those who pollute and plunder have huge resources at their command. They challenge serious science, real reform, and claim to care about people and the planet even as they block every reasonable effort to build a better, healthier environment for our children and generations yet to come.”
       A major influence on climate change was the short-term profit goals of industry. As Musil notes from Devra Davis’ book, When Smoke Ran Like Water, “…as early as 1921, American car sales had gone flat; major cities were served by 1,200 electric intercity railways and street car lines. There were forty-four thousand miles of track and three hundred thousand employees serving some 15 billion passenger trips, which generated more than a billion dollars in revenue each year. Nine out of every ten vehicle trips were by streetcar. Then, in 1922, Alfred P. Sloan of General Motors created a special unit charged with eliminating street cars and other electric rail. Within a few decades, a consortium of GM, Goodyear, Phillips Petroleum, Firestone Tire and Rubber, Mack Truck, and others set up shell companies in major cities and bought up rail lines and replaced them with buses and cars. These companies had been investigated and found guilty in 1947 during the Truman administration under the Sherman Antitrust Act. But it already was too late. The penalty? A fine of $5,000….” [As an aside, Sloan was a graduate of MIT and the Sloan School of Management honors him.]
       Drawing from Having Faith by Sandra Steingraber, Musil states “Both Ellen Richards and Alice Hamilton warned and campaigned against lead. But, in each turn, companies like General Motors and the Ethyl Corporation and the National Lead Company…won exceptions and delays, and denied the science….the National Lead Company fought product labeling, not to mention bans; and finally, when the danger was undeniable, blamed the children…who consumed lead paint chips….One industry representative went so far as to suggest that the problem was not that lead paint makes children stupid, but that stupid children eat lead paint.” In The Secret History of the War on Cancer, Devra Davis likewise addresses the efforts of industries to hide known influences of lead while placing blame elsewhere.
       Similar aspects influenced the infusion of pesticides into our lives after World War II. “Because DDT undoubtedly saved many lives during the war as an easy and effective pesticide used in the control of typhus and malaria, its subtler and long-term dangers were ignored. After the war, with huge stocks and production capacity on its hands, the DuPont Corporation, the main producer of DDT, pushed its miracle chemical into the domestic market with a skillful and powerful advertising campaign.” Shirley Briggs, Roger Tory Peterson and other American scientists had already warned of dangers before the war ended. Musil explains how a careful plan was worked out to get out Silent Spring before it could be blocked by industry. In addressing endocrine disruption in Our Stolen Future, Theo Colburn notes how polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) “are part of a group of POPs, or persistent organic pollutants, that include DDT, chlordane, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, toxaphene, heptachlor, and dioxin, which will become the subject of international treaty efforts.”
       It would be easy to go on, listing other chemicals and other industries that have consistently made our world more dangerous. These are problems that need to be resolved to improve conditions for future generations. We also need to be more aware so that we may better avoid future reoccurrences. I urge everyone to be concerned and to take an active role. Reading this book might help, but just becoming more educated and more concerned citizens is a critical beginning.
  Website by Avi Ornstein, "The Blue Dragon" – 2009 All Rights Reserved