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“The Sixties Rebellion: The Search for a New Politics” You will find the answer for the response on pp.148-158Describe the organizational structure and leadership that facilitated the first Earth Day in 1970. What were the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of structure? Compare it with organizational structures in the CWM.
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Chapter 3
The Sixties Rebellion:
The Search for a New Politics
“ e l i xe r s o f d e at h ” a n d t h e q ua l i t y
o f l i fe : r ach e l c a r s o n ’s l e g ac y
“For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception
until death.” With this warning, an exploration was launched thirty years ago
into the world of synthetic pesticides, particularly chlorinated hydrocarbons
such as DDT that had been “so thoroughly distributed throughout the animate
and inanimate world that they occur virtually everywhere.”1 While the words of
Rachel Carson were perceived by the chemical industry and others as directly
challenging this technology, they also anticipated a new language of environmental concern. The publication of Silent Spring in 1962 and the ensuing controversy that made it an epochal event in the history of environmentalism can
also be seen as helping launch a new decade of rebellion and protest in which
the idea of Nature under stress also began to be seen as a question of the quality of life.
121
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Born in the small western Pennsylvania town of Springdale on the Allegheny
River, Rachel Carson developed two related passions: nature writing and science
research. While teaching biology courses in the evening, Carson took a job with
the Bureau of U.S. Fisheries (which later became the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service) in the late 1930s and began writing about undersea life. Though her first
book, Under the Sea Wind, failed initially to generate interest, she continued to
write about the oceans and other science-based environmental topics. During
World War II, as editor of the Bureau of U.S. Fisheries publications, she became
familiar with new research about the ocean environment. This research became
the genesis of her 1951 book The Sea Around Us, which first appeared under the
title “Profile of the Sea” as a three-part series in The New Yorker.
The Sea Around Us combined Carson’s knowledge of oceanography and marine
biology, her passionate concern for the harm that had been done to the sea and its
life, and a readable style that made her work appealing and immediately accessible. The book was an extraordinary success. It stayed on the best-seller list for eightysix weeks, sold more than 2 million copies, and was translated into thirty-two
languages. (Under the Sea Wind was reissued at this time and also climbed to the
top of the best-seller list, as did a follow-up book entitled The Edge of the Sea.)
Although Carson was a private person who shunned the celebrity of a best-selling
author, she was not as surprised as some about the book’s public reception and its
indication of a popular interest in science. In accepting the National Book Award
for The Sea Around Us, Carson defined this interest in science as reflecting daily life
concerns.“Many people have commented on the fact that a work of science should
have a large popular sale,” she said to the National Book Award audience. “But this
notion, that ‘science’ is something that belongs in a separate compartment of its
own, apart from everyday life, is one that I should like to challenge. We live in a scientific age; yet we assume that knowledge is the prerogative of only a small number
of human beings, isolated and priestlike in their laboratories. This is not true. The
materials of science are the materials of life itself. Science is part of the reality of living; it is the what, the how, and the why in everything in our experience. It is impossible to understand man without understanding his environment and the forces
that have molded him physically and mentally.”2
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Carson’s environmental curiosity, her willingness to pursue “the what, the
how, and the why” in daily experience, made her a logical candidate to investigate the most striking petrochemical technology success story of the postwar era.
By the late 1950s, when she began her work on Silent Spring, pesticides had
already become a fixture in both agricultural production and other commercial
uses. The pesticide explosion, including the development and use of chlorinated
hydrocarbons such as DDT, largely dated from World War II, although a range
of poisonous and potentially harmful insecticides—inorganic chemicals and
heavy metal products such as lead arsenate—had been widely used prior to the
war. These insecticides had also been controversial: a series of insecticide-related
food poisonings during the 1920s, for example, generated significant public
protest, including demands for product bans and stronger regulatory actions by
the Food and Drug Administration. One best-selling book of the 1930s,
100,000,000 Guinea Pigs, focused on the hazards of consumer and industrial
products and specifically singled out lead arsenate for a possible product ban.3
Prewar and postwar pest control technologies, however, differed significantly
both in their volume of use and their environmental impacts. During the late
1940s through the 1950s, the pesticide industry grew at a phenomenal rate. In
less than a decade, sales increased by more than $300 million and continued
thereafter to increase geometrically. Such a rapid expansion of the industry also
had political dimensions. In states such as California, the agricultural and chemical industries became strongly interconnected, forming a potent agrichemical
industrial complex that heavily influenced state legislatures and regulatory and
administrative agencies. By the late 1950s, pesticides had fully supplanted all
other pest control methods and insect eradication campaigns. Their use was of
such magnitude that significant episodes of harm to wildlife and immediate
health impacts on farmworkers began to be recorded throughout the country.
One such episode drew Rachel Carson into what became her final mission.
In 1958, as part of a mosquito eradication campaign in the Duxbury,
Massachusetts, area, state officials decided to spray the area with DDT. This occurred
near the home of Olga Owens Huckins, a good friend of Carson’s. Huckins’s private bird sanctuary was immediately impacted by the DDT, bringing about the
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“agonizing deaths,” as Huckins put it, of several of her birds. Distraught, Huckins
asked Carson if she could help find someone to research the issue. Carson was then
developing new material for a series of articles on ecology but felt compelled to put
aside her project temporarily to make some initial inquiries about this matter. It
didn’t take her long to realize that independent, critical research of pesticides was
nearly nonexistent.4
By the late 1950s, pesticides were being touted as a kind of miracle product,
supported by advertising campaigns (“Better Things for Better Living Through
Chemistry”), government policies designed to increase agricultural productivity, and a media celebration of the wonders of the new technology. Farmers were
receptive because pesticides reduced labor costs and production risks. Public officials appeared ready to unleash, at a moment’s notice, massive spraying of DDT
and dozens of other synthetic organic chemicals on forests, roadways, grassy
areas, and anywhere pests were seen as a threat. Although scant information was
available on the environmental and public health impacts of these chemicals,
enough fish and birds were being killed and farmworkers poisoned to cast doubt
on industry and government claims about the pesticide revolution. These problems had also led to some initial protests against spraying campaigns, including
a DDT-related lawsuit filed on Long Island that served as Carson’s research point
of departure.
As Carson gathered her information, she quickly realized that pesticides had
far greater environmental impacts than commonly assumed. In an interview prior
to the publication of Silent Spring, Carson told the Washington Post that while pesticide impacts shouldn’t be considered directly equivalent to nuclear fallout, that
other major environmental hazard of the period, the two were still “interrelated,
combining to render our environment progressively less fit to live in.”5 Carson
anticipated her information might be explosive, given the petrochemical industry’s power and willingness to attack any criticisms. As a result, she built her case
methodically in the form of a writer’s brief in which the questions and findings
of science could be used to educate and ultimately empower the public.
It is striking to read Silent Spring three decades after its publication. The book
resonates with the continuing debates about pesticides still relevant today and
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reflects on issues currently facing the environmental movement. In a period
when the question of pollution was only just beginning to receive significant
public attention, Carson argued that public health and the environment, human
and natural environments, were inseparable. Her insistence that expertise had to
be democratically grounded—that pesticide impacts were a public issue, not a
technical issue decided in expert arenas often subject to industry influence—
anticipated later debates about the absence of the public’s role in determining
risk and in making choices about hazardous technologies. Carson’s powerful
writing style wedded a dispassionate presentation of the research with an evocative description of natural and human environments under siege from a science
and a technology that had “armed itself with the most modern and terrible
weapons.” This technology, she declared, was being turned “not just against the
insects [but] against the earth” itself. Such writing aimed not simply to present
but to convince. The mission of Silent Spring became nothing less than an
attempt to create a new environmental consciousness.6
To a great extent, this indomitable nature writer was successful in her task. First
published as a three-part series in The New Yorker, Silent Spring generated enormous
interest and controversy even prior to its publication in book form. One pesticide
manufacturer, the Veliscol Corporation, even attempted to prevent the book’s publication by threatening a lawsuit against the publisher. Carson’s attack against the
chemical industry, Veliscol’s corporate counsel wrote her publisher, sought “to create the false impression that all business is grasping and immoral” and was designed
“to reduce the use of agricultural chemicals in this country and in the countries of
western Europe, so that our supply of food will be reduced to east-curtain parity.”
The Veliscol lawyer concluded that “many innocent groups are financed and led into
attacks on the chemical industry by these sinister parties.”7
Though the publisher, Houghton Mifflin, decided to proceed with the book’s
publication after bringing in an outside toxicologist to review Carson’s material,
the attacks against the book only increased in number after the book was published. These attacks, voiced by book reviewers, scientists, consultants and other
pesticide “experts,” and most prominently the chemical industry, were often bitter and sharp. Anticommunist innuendos were accompanied by hostile references
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to the sex of the author, ranging from suggestions of lesbianism to assertions that
a woman was incapable of mastering as scientific and technical a subject as pesticides. Carson was accused of inaccuracies and bias and of being “hysterically
overemphatic,” while allusions were made to her presumed “mystical attachment
to the balance of nature.” A reviewer for Chemical and Engineering News asserted
that her “ignorance or bias” threw doubt on her “competence to judge policy.”8
Edwin Diamond, a Newsweek senior editor and its former science editor, complained that “thanks to a woman named Rachel Carson, a big fuss has been stirred
up to scare the American public out of its wits.” Diamond then likened Carson’s
book and the public concerns it generated to the “paranoid fears” of “such cultists
as the anti-fluoridation leaguers, the organic-garden faddists, and other beyondthe-fringe groups.” One favorable reviewer reported how Carson had been compared to “a priestess of nature, a bird, cat, or fish lover, and a devotee of some
mystical cult having to do with the law of the Universe to which critics obviously
consider themselves immune.”9
The author’s thesis about reducing pesticide use was deemed controversial
even among members of conservationist groups. In letters to the Sierra Club
Bulletin, several club members employed by the agrichemical industry complained that a favorable review of Silent Spring in the publication did not bode
well “for the future of the Sierra Club as a leading influential force in furthering
objectives of conservation.” The Bulletin editor, Bruce Kilgore, defended the
review while acknowledging that “some members of the Club would disagree”
since the book’s subject matter was controversial within the club.10 Privately,
David Brower complained that some of the club’s board members, including
those tied to the chemical industry, were skeptical of Silent Spring.11
The period following the release of the book was a difficult and tempestuous
time for the shy and reserved nature writer, who was also going through a debilitating bout with the cancer that caused her death eighteen months after Silent
Spring’s publication. The book received enormous attention from politicians and
policy makers as well as scientists and had a wide and passionate following among
the public. In the process, Carson became an imposing figure in her own right. She
strongly countered her critics by continuing to elaborate the key elements of her
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argument: that science and specialized technical knowledge had been divorced
from any larger policy framework or public input; that science could be purchased
and thus corrupted; that the rise of pesticides was indicative of “an era dominated
by industry, in which the right to make money, at whatever cost to others, is seldom challenged”;12 and that the pesticide problem revealed how hazardous technologies could pollute both natural and human environments. Carson saw these
environments as interrelated ecological systems, an analysis she had hoped to refine
in the book she was never able to complete. Recognizing that some threats to the
environment could be traced to an earlier period of industrialization, Carson still
emphasized how many environmental hazards had first been introduced in the
post–World War II period. Thus, while an earlier critic of the chemical industry,
Alice Hamilton, laid the groundwork for discussing environmental themes in an
urban-industrial context, Rachel Carson, with her evocative cry in Silent Spring
against the silencing of the “robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other
bird voices,” brought to the fore questions about the urban and industrial order
that a new environmentalism prepared to face.
g e r m i nat i n g i d e a s : mu r r ay b o o kch i n ,
pau l g o o d m a n , a n d h e r b e rt m a rc u s e
While the publication of Silent Spring was greeted with anticipation and controversy, other lesser-known critics of the postwar order were laying the intellectual seeds for a new kind of environmental approach to be embraced by the
new kinds of social movements of the 1960s. During the early 1960s, diverse
social theorists, ranging from social critic and author Paul Goodman to German
philosopher Herbert Marcuse to the anarchist ecologist Murray Bookchin, developed a small but intense audience of students, intellectuals, and activists who
sought to challenge what Marcuse called the “advanced industrial society.” While
addressing a wide assortment of topics, few of which were directly tied to the
themes of the management or protection of Nature, they nevertheless focused
on certain core issues of production, consumption, and urban growth that would
become central to contemporary environmentalism.
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One of the most developed environmental critiques of the advanced industrial society, which both paralleled and contrasted with the arguments of Rachel
Carson, was put forth by Murray Bookchin. Writing under the pseudonym of
Lewis Herber, Bookchin, in books, essays, and pamphlets he wrote during the
1950s and 1960s, sought to examine the new environmental problems of the
postwar years. These included most prominently “new methods of food pr …
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