Ok, so I didn’t complete the posts like I wanted to, although I did barrel through the last 150 pages of Silent Spring and have picked up The Jungle where I left off (about 1/3 of the way through). Now that I’ve finished Carson’s book, however, I can get that DDT post out, as well as some thoughts on her book. I would have thought that newer editions would be updated with new science about DDT and its connections to cancer (which seems rather dubious at the moment); even though the book is a classic, we shouldn’t accept everything Carson says as still being true. I was especially surprised to see her support for introducing invasive species to control other invasive species, which has indeed backfired before. Likewise, she mentions the disease milky spore as a way to control beetles, but through my work with biopesticides milky spore is a crop problem in and of itself. The closing chapters, focusing on repellancy and confusing insects with pheromones without putting heavy selective pressures on them, seemed to hold the most promise, but as much as Carson is right about the abuse of pesticides, there are some things that no longer seem to be true. While some may see this as a reason to abandon the book, I don’t feel that way. No, rather than an assault on DDT alone, Silent Spring addresses the ecological destruction and potential human harm abuse of pesticides has caused, especially when we don’t think twice about introducing toxic chemicals into our homes (and subsequently, into our bodies). Lots of people who are for “free enterprise” may despise Carson’s book, but she makes it quite clear that unrestricted and foolish pesticide applications do as much harm to livestock as wild animals, and bringing back toxic chemicals like lindane and DDT may hurt farmers just as much as local ecology.
I’m actually quite surprised that so many journalists have pinned Carson as being an anti-DDT fanatic and nothing else; one has to question whether they even read her book at all.