When it Comes to Human Flourishing, Forget Rachel Carson & Remember Bruce Ames

Here's a USA Today opinion column by former Democratic Rep. Charles Stenholm and former Republican Secretary of Agriculture John Block, talking about Rachel Carson and Silent Spring (whose 50th anniversary is being marked today).

The authors praise Carson's book for sparking "environmental awareness" but damn it for its "demonization of agricultural technology [which] obscures the overwhelming environmental fact of our times, that such technology — even pesticides — has been an overwhelming good for the environment and human health."

To that end, they cite a 1993 Reason article by University of California scientist Bruce Ames:

Synthetic agricultural chemicals, he wrote, "have advanced public health by increasing the supply and reducing the price of fruits and vegetables." First, pesticides at the infinitesimal levels they are consumed are simply not dangerous. Fruits and vegetables have naturally occurring pesticides in them, and they are not dangerous either. Second, "People who eat few fruits and vegetables, compared to those who eat about four or five portions a day, have about double the cancer rate for most types of cancer and run an increased risk of heart disease and cataracts as well. Thus, pesticides lead to lower cancer rates and improved health."

And there's this:

Because of the advances in agriculture since 1960, we are now using half as much land to grow our food crops than we would without new technologies.

In other words, if we had not embraced new technologies, the farmers of the world would have been forced to raze and plow an area of land equal to the size of Russia, or three Amazon rain forests, to grow the same amount of food. Had we gone back to organic agriculture, which is 30% less efficient, the loss of forest and habitat would also be huge.

Read the full USA Today piece here.

Here's a great 1994 Reason interview with Ames by Virginia Postrel. More on Ames here.

Read Ron Bailey on how Rachel Carson paved the way for highly politicized science policy that plagues us today.

And check out this April 2011 Reason TV vid on "The Top 5 Environmental Disasters That Didn't Happen":

 

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  • Marshall Gill||

    Two words, Norman Borlaug.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Amen. I hope Norm is pissing down from Heaven on Rachel Carson's head in Hell.

  • Tman||

    Glad to see this as the first comment in the thread.

    No conversation about agriculture and feeding the world is even remotely relevant without referencing the greatest man that ever lived.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "People who eat few fruits and vegetables, compared to those who eat about four or five portions a day, have about double the cancer rate for most types of cancer and run an increased risk of heart disease and cataracts as well. Thus, pesticides lead to lower cancer rates and improved health."

    There was...um...more than one flaw in that logic.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Yeah. It was flawed and tortured. Flawtured?

  • FD||

    "The authors praise Carson's book for sparking 'environmental awareness; but damn it for its 'demonization of agricultural technology...'"

    Anybody who needed Carson to provoke an awareness of one's environment was (and is) a simpleton.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Anybody who needed Carson to provoke an awareness of one's environment was (and is) a simpleton.

    In 1962?

    I don't think so.

  • FD||

    Of course, Ken.
    An understanding that one's property and person are effected by the actions of abutters, ambient climate, weather, trespass, defacement, is as ancient as mankind itself.

    The Carson phenomenon (and it applies to all walks of life) is yet another case of persona deification and a ubiquitous human refusal to recognize that celebrity hero worship is almost always misguided and intellectually lazy.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Here's some footage from 1957 you should take a look at...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIxMvUZVRDE

    Those people didn't have the sense to question having their children sprayed with pesticide as part of a propaganda film.

    You think they didn't need anybody to mention to them that maybe stuff can be bad for you--even if the government says it's okay?

  • FD||

    Read what I wrote. You made my point.
    What kind of person needs someone to "mention to them" that a bozo spraying canister-laden smoke-shit all over their peanut-butter-and-jelly munching kids might be bad for them?

  • Ken Shultz||

    What kind of person needs someone to "mention to them" that a bozo spraying canister-laden smoke-shit all over their peanut-butter-and-jelly munching kids might be bad for them?

    Maybe...most people in 1962? Just like most people in 1957?

    Incidentally, there are a lot of other things ignorant people need to be made aware of too, like that free trade and low taxation are key ingredients to economic growth. I meet people every day who seem to think that Anthropomorphic Overspending by the federal government is a hoax!

    Maybe we do need to be ignorant not to know that pesticides can harm our personal property, but there's a whole world of ignorant people out there who think forcing their ignorant choices on the rest of us is what democracy is all about.

    Somebody needs to reach them. I don't agree with what Rachel Carson thought about much of anything, but insofar as informed consumer choice makes the world a better place, Carson should be praised for that--despite whatever else she should be damned for.

    Some people around here make it sound like creating a trillion dollar organic farming industry in response to consumer choice is somehow a bad thing.

  • FD||

    I think that's fair, and well said.

  • FD||

    And that was to your comment, Ken, even though the page alignment seems to indicate I was replying to myself.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Hey farmer farmer, put away the DDT now. Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the malaria, please.

  • MJGreen||

    No! I want all organic food, and more wildlife preservation! I don't care what it takes, it's the only humane state of affairs.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Cannibalism?

  • OldMexican||

    Read Ron Bailey on how Rachel Carson paved the way for highly politicized science policy that plagues us today.


    *cough* Temperature anomaly! *cough*

  • Spoonman.||

    Banning DDT may have allowed millions of Africans to die horribly, but at least it saved some birds white people like.

  • WTF||

    And using corn for motor wehicle fuel will result in millions of brown people starving, but at least smug 'environmentalists' can feel good about themselves.

  • alittlesense||

    I see Reason included a lovely portrait of the fake Native American...What was his name? Luigi "Iron Eyes" Smaccauface?

  • RBS||

    I see someone is unfamiliar with the concept of alt text.

  • WTF||

    Italian-American Tony Cordi, who portrayed 'Iron Eyes Cody', the crying indian.

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