Positively Green | November 19, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - November 19, 2010

Positively Green

Environmental movement: a blessing and a curse

by Iris Harrell

As a child of the '50s, I remember chasing the city trucks that came by our streets at dusk spraying chemicals to kill the mosquitoes. All the kids on the street would run behind the truck for as long as our lungs would let us.

Can anyone imagine that scenario happening today? Our loss of innocence and naiveté has been replaced with the burden of knowledge gained from some rather awful unnatural occurrences due to our chemical attempts to improve our environment over the last six decades.

Rachel Carson, author of "Silent Spring," ended the ignorance of those times. Her book was not the first research that revealed the dangers of chemical treatments to both Earth and its inhabitants, but her book spread like wildfire when it was published in 1962. The book was so widely read that it has become the symbol of the beginning of the environmental movement. The last book I can remember with that much power was "Uncle Tom's Cabin," written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, which helped end slavery in America during the Civil War.

Rachel Carson was raised with a sense of wonder and love of nature and the environment. She wanted to write about the lovely awe-inspiring things about nature and the sea, in particular. She was a busy woman, burdened with supporting her family (her mother, her sisters and then one of their sons). Besides all that, she was very ill and died of cancer at the early age of 57.

She had wanted to be a writer from childhood. But since she had to support her mother and her sister's child, she became a scientist and got a "real job," which she kept for 16 years as a marine biologist. As she later said, the subject of her books found her. Her second and third books about the sea became popular; she began to receive multiple speaking engagements, which paid handsomely. This gave her the courage to quit her job as a scientist to write fulltime.

A friend wrote to her in distress about her bird sanctuary that became devastated by the government spraying DDT there to kill the mosquitoes. It killed a lot more than the mosquitoes. When the government insisted on coming a second time for more spraying, Rachel's friend begged Rachel to write and speak about this serious problem. Rachel did not want to write her next book about this. She talked to other friends and authors whom she thought might do this better than she could. No one else accepted the cry in the wilderness. Ultimately she felt compelled to do extensive research and trudge through writing a book that was depressingly full of bad news. She found herself shocked to find that there was no agency of the government looking out for our health and the Earth's health by testing these chemicals before widespread usage in public places.

The outcome was world changing. Big corporations who had a lot invested in these chemical businesses went after Rachel Carson with a vengeance, trying every trick in the book to discredit her and her findings.

Fortunately she lived long enough to see President John Kennedy help pass bills against widespread DDT usage, and the Environmental Protection Agency was born.

So the environmental movement began because of the love and conscience of one busy woman who received the calling to speak up, no matter what the sacrifice or consequences for her personal comfort and safety.

We are all busy either trying to survive or manage our careers and family life. Each of us has a calling, no matter how busy, burdened or distracted we are. What is our individual and collective responsibility to preserve and protect the very Earth and air we have been given? Our calling and duty to act is both the blessing and the curse of the environmental movement Rachael Carson dutifully started.

I resisted feeling any obligation for a very long time. I had other interests and priorities and family burdens. But I now have a sense of urgency to be proactive about keeping this planet habitable. There are actions, no matter how big or small, that each of us can take ... if we accept our calling.

Iris Harrell is CEO and president of Harrell Remodeling, Inc. in Mountain View (www.harrell-remodeling.com). She can be reached at 650-230-2900 or irish@harrell-remodeling.com.


Posted by Frank Niccoli, a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I can only comment on the lackadaisical and casual attitude we as a society have towards the chemicals that are in constant use. We receive a letter from our child's school that they are spraying and we assume that someone has done their homework and that our child is safe. We read about a new chemical that will be used in the production of strawberries and we assume it is safe. We are a society of assumers. If we all just took a stand in at least to question these "experts" that we assume are protecting our children and our food we would continue the legacy of Rachel Carson. Though that book was published in 1962 its relevance is still with us. Thanks Iris, for shining a spotlight on a topic that we assume someone is taking care of for us. Obviously you are not an assumer.

Posted by Chemistry for Better Living, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Ah, Dah, where to begin?

DDT did NOT kill the birds (it is a complete myth). It also did not kill people. In fact, it saved millions of people. The BAN on DDT has, in fact, killed millions of people, especially in Africa, although mosquito-borne diseases are now coming back in the USA, incluiding Palo Alto. The ban on DDT, as well as other similar chemicals, is a moral outrage. Rachel Carson is a mass killer. There is no way to defend her, if one has an ounce of moral feelings, or even moral thinkings!

Posted by DDT This!, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Wow, as soon as it was posted, a Ditto-Head pounced to re-write history once again conerning DDT.
Sorry, bud, but a toxic chemical is a toxic chemical.
Web Link

Posted by Chemistry for Better Living, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2010 at 5:03 pm

"(Reuters) - Six years after the insect killer DDT was globally outlawed on grounds of environmental damage, two researchers say there are new reasons for doubting the chemical is harmful and are urging its use against malaria." Web Link

Those who support the ban on DDT are guilty of a holocaust worse than Hiter and Stalin and Pol Pot and Castro. In fact, it is not even close. Rachel Carson and her buddies, like Paul Ehrlich, are in the same camp with the above-named monsters. Actually, they are are even worse, because thir victims are primarily children.

When are we going to become rational about chemicals for better living? If we do, we will finally have become moral human beings.

Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 24, 2010 at 8:16 am

C4BL ... and the DDT revisionism ... all based on ... "two researchers say there are new reasons for doubting the chemical is harmful"

2 researchers that probably bought futures in DDT and tried to get it sold again. 2 researchers do not create scientific consensus or even reasonable doubt, particularly if you do not know who they are, who they are working for and who is funding their "doubt".

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