The 300 page book starts and ends with hopeful fables of a healthy environment full of vibrant flora and fauna. The middle 15 chapters document, in painful detail, the damage that synthetic chemicals inflict on life. The book is famous for exposing the dangers of DDT (and aldrin and heptachlor), but I was shocked and angered by the bigger problem: All knowing bureaucrats over-applying chemicals in places that do not need them, to fight bugs that may not be present, without a clue of the collateral damage that they are causing.
Yes, we're talking about the USDA (and various government "landscaping" bureaucracies).
I took a few notes while reading the book:
- Carson started speaking out about DDT in 1945. It was banned in the US in response to her book.
- She too respected, intelligent and careful to ignore. She died in 1964, of cancer.*
- DDT went everywhere, even hundreds of kilometers from where it was sprayed.
- She wrote, consistently, about the need to be careful about using chemicals and pesticides. She did not advocate bans on chemicals, per se.**
- Monsanto appears as the face of evil -- as they have recently, twice, thrice.
- Western Sagebrush was labeled a "weed" and sprayed with herbicides, with massive bad results.
- Same thing in Maine and Michigan, where they devastated thousands of acres of ALL life, by overspraying for insect populations that were NOT out of control. Spraying frequently led to massive rebounds and much more damage, often by killing predator and competator species.
- California rice growers sprayed their fields. Local insects, fish and migratory birds died.
- Fisheries (salmon, trout, bass, etc.) were destroyed (by direct damage and starvation for lack of insect food), but people were also harmed by eating fish that had bioaccumulated DDT and related chemicals.
- The USDA's campaign against the fire ant is a case-study in the chemical abuse, money waste, and massive environmental destruction [p. 171]:
In 1959... the Agriculture Department offered the chemicals free to Texas landowners who would sign a release absolving federal, state and local governments of responsibility for damage. In the same year, the State of Alabama, alarmed and angry at the damage done by the chemicals, refused to appropriate further funds to the project. One of its officials characterized the whole program as "ill advised, hastily conceived, poorly planned, and a glaring example of riding roughshod over the responsibilities of other public and private agencies."[USDA incompetence made me want to throw the book across the room at this point. I feel the same about corn ethanol. I bet politicians were involved...]
- Many entomologists (bug scientists) worked for chemical companies, either on staff or at universities, because these companies funded their research. Not surprisingly, these "professionals" supported chemical control of insects.
She concludes with [p. 297]:
The "control of nature" is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man. The concepts and practices of applied entomology for the most part date from the Stone age of science. It is our alarming misfortune that so primitive a science has armed itself with the most modern and terrible weapons, and that in turning them against the insects it has also turned them against the earth.Bottom Line: FIVE STARS. Be careful with poisons; they can kill you and everything that you love.
* Scientists suggest that cancer is purely man-made, as in the Egyptians -- old Egyptians -- didn't have it. Mukherjee claims that it's been with us for a long time, but his book summarizes ancient references to "tumors" that may not be cancerous.
** Protecting rainforests and draining hatching sites is more effective controlling mosquitoes (malaria) than DDT.
*** My favorite is pine-scented bug killer. I guess you can spray it on your kids too!