The book “Silent Spring” set in motion the banning of DDT and needlessly cost millions of lives. The Washington Post chose to mark author Rachel Carson’s 100th birthday by barely mentioning that her actions “have remained controversial.”
That’s quite an understatement.
The American Council on Science and Health shows millions of reasons why the banning of DDT was more than just “controversial.” “The results were disastrous: at least 1-2 million people continue to die from malaria each year, 30-60 million or more lives needlessly lost since the ban took effect,” wrote the council’s Todd Seavey in 2002.
Late last year, the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) finally admitted Carson and her followers had been wrong all along. On September 15, WHO green-lighted indoor use of the pesticide DDT for malaria control in poor nations.
"We must take a position based on the science and the data," commented Dr. Arata Kochi, director of WHO’s Global Malaria Programme, in the WHO release. “One of the best tools we have against malaria is indoor residual house spraying. Of the dozen insecticides WHO has approved as safe for house spraying, the most effective is DDT.”
But the May 18 Post story made no mention of the World Health Organization.
It focused on Carson’s legacy and included seven different voices – five affiliated with her work, one Maryland legislator who criticized it, and Carson herself. The article included nearly 1,300 words on this “icon” of the environmental movement. Only 78 words were devoted to a critic – just 6 percent.
According to the Post’s David A. Fahrenthold, “Carson is still cited as an inspiration across the environmental spectrum, by endangered-species advocates and anti-pesticide groups and researchers concerned about hormone-mimicking pollutants.”
Her attack on DDT was included as one of her achievements. “Carson's book ‘Silent Spring,’ published in 1962, led to the banning of the pesticide DDT, the launch of modern environmentalism and her enshrinement as a kind of patron saint of nature,” wrote Fahrenthold.
The story’s one critic wasn’t an international expert or member of the World Health Organization. It was a local Maryland legislator. “This year, during a hearing meant to honor Carson in Annapolis, State Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Baltimore County) said her book had helped scare people away from a pesticide that could have saved numerous human lives.”
At least Harris got it right: “‘In the end, you know, people are dying of malaria that don't need to die’ because of bans on DDT, Harris, a doctor, said in an interview this week.”
The remaining people quoted in the story included: two authors of books about Carson, though only one was identified as such; the president of the Rachel Carson Council Inc.; a historian who maintains her writings on a Fish and Wildlife Web site, and the executive director of the Rachel Carson Homestead Association.
Ironically, Mark H. Lytle, a Bard College professor who wrote about Carson, said the book had “an impact on Gore’s audience as well.” According to Lytle, “this,” meaning climate change, is “‘Silent Spring’ all over again.”