Rachel Carson's legacy of death in Africa
This week, the world celebrates the 100th birthday of environmental icon Rachel Carson, author of the 1962 book, "Silent Spring." To mark the event, a Senate resolution offered by Sen. Ben Cardin, Maryland Democrat, would honor Miss Carson for what its sponsor says is a "legacy of scientific rigor coupled with poetic sensibility." Another proposal offered by Rep. Jason Altmire, Pennsylvania Democrat, would name a post office in Miss Carson's home town of Springdale, Pa., after the author. Both these measures are on hold because one senator objects. According to Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, Miss Carson's work does not pass the test of "scientific rigor." Instead, the needlessly alarmist tone of "Silent Spring"has produced tragic results.Indeed. Most environmentalist appear to be in denial about the devastation wrought by their patron saint. However her campaign against eh use of DDT has resulted in more deaths than Pol Pots genocide in Cambodia and it continues today.
Mr. Coburn is right, yet he is among few lawmakers with the courage to step up. In "Silent Spring," Miss Carson used explosive rhetoric to condemn the pesticide DDT and other man-made chemicals, which she described as "elixirs of death" that would eventually cause "one in four people" to die from cancer. Such claims generated enough fear to prompt nations to outlaw the use of the pesticide.
Unfortunately, DDT use was discontinued in many places even though it had proven to be one of the world's greatest public health tools. It played a vitally important role in the eradication of mosquitoes carrying malaria in the developed world and was making progress in other nations.
This success was so great that DDT's discoverer, Paul Herman Muller, earned a Nobel Prize and the National Academy of Sciences declared in 1970: "To only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT... DDT has prevented 500 million deaths due to malaria that would otherwise have been inevitable."
Today, hundreds of millions of people -- mostly African children under 5 -- get seriously ill and more than a million die every year from malaria in large measure because many nations stopped using DDT.
Mr. Coburn is right to challenge the conventional wisdom. Miss Carson was wrong -- and millions continue to pay the price. Why should anyone honor that legacy?