TOM PUTNAM: Good afternoon. I’m Tom Putnam, the director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and on behalf of John Shattuck, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and all of my Library colleagues, I want to welcome you to this centennial celebration of the life of Rachel Carson.
Let me begin by thanking all of you for coming, acknowledging those of you who are watching this program on CSPAN, and expressing appreciation to the sponsors of the Kennedy Library Forum Series, including lead sponsor, Bank of America, Boston Capital, The Boston Foundation, the Lowell Institute, the Corcoran Jennison Companies, as well as our media sponsors, the Boston Globe, WBUR and NECN.
This past Sunday, on the hundredth anniversary of Rachel Carson’s birth, I awoke in a sun-filled room on the Maine coast to the sounds of the sea that Ms. Carson loved so dearly, and of the birds who, because of her efforts, continue to sing. It was not inevitable that it be so. At a press conference on August 29, 1962, President Kennedy was asked the following question: “There appears to be growing concern among scientists of the possibility of dangerous, long-range side effects from the wide-spread use of DDT and other pesticides. Have you considered asking the Department of Agriculture or Public Health Service to take a closer look at this?” “Yes, and I know that they already are. I think particularly, of course, since Miss Carson’s book, but they are examining the matter.”
Just as President Lincoln once described Harriett Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as the little lady who started the Civil War, President Kennedy might have identified Rachel Carson as the woman who launched the modern environmental movement. As he stated in his press conference, in response to Silent Spring President Kennedy asked members of his administration to examine Ms. Carson’s case against synthetic pesticides. In the spring of 1963, his science advisory committee released its findings, noting that, “Until the publication of Silent Spring, people were generally unaware of the toxicity of pesticides.” The report substantiated Ms. Carson’s conclusions concerning the detrimental effects of pesticide spraying and recommended the orderly reductions of persistent pesticide use. Pages of the official committee report that was submitted directly to and handled by President Kennedy, housed here in the Library’s archives, are on display at a table outside this hall.
Rachel Carson was well positioned to raise this alarm to the American people, for few have written so eloquently about the natural world or so fluently translated complex scientific concepts for the general public. In response to an article she wrote for The New Yorker Magazine, one reader wrote, “Please let me know in a hurry who that Rachel Carson is. That girl keeps me awake night after night.”
We are honored today to have assembled a distinguished panel to let us know just who Rachel Carson was and how her elegant prose woke the conscience of a nation. Edward O. Wilson is considered to be one of the world’s greatest living scientists and one of the most important thinkers of our time. As a professor at Harvard and author of numerous award-winning and ground-breaking books, he’s received many of the world’s leading prizes in science and conservation. He will recount to you how he came to know Rachel Carson in the early 1960s, stemming from their mutual interest in a failed attempt to eradicate fire ants from his native state of Alabama. But my favorite detail of that story is the fact that it was a young Ed Wilson who as a thirteen-year-old Boy Scout was the first to record the presence of the fire ant. It most likely entered the U. S. in cargo shipped from Argentina near his home by the Mobile docks. His recent books sound a new clarion call, concerning how human activity threatens the bio-diversity of our world.
Roland Clement was a staff biologist and then vice president of the National Audubon Society and a key player in the scientific debate over the use of pesticides. In describing how Rachel Carson came under attack from representatives of the chemical industry, one of her biographers describes Mr. Clement as “the best of Rachel Carson’s public defenders.” In 1963, he was called to testify with Ms. Carson before the Senate Commerce Committee, as Congress considered legislation to limit federal spraying and to require stronger warnings about the hazards of pesticide use. He now lives independently in New Haven having, in his words, escaped the retirement home in which he was residing to return to the fray. [Laughter]
Perhaps as a reminder to us all on the perils of relying on modern technology, the plane that was to bring Linda Lear to Boston this morning was grounded, preventing her from being here with us this afternoon. She sends her regrets and has asked Roland Clement to share some of her insights.
“Seeking wild places has been a life-long quest,” writes Annick Smith, an award-winning writer and film producer, who will moderate today’s conversation. Born in Paris, she grew up in Chicago and first experienced the wild in the dunes near a summer home bordering Lake Michigan, and later when she moved as a young mother to a patch of back country in Montana’s Blackfoot River Valley, where she raised her four sons. She’s the author of numerous books, including Homestead and In This We Are Native. Her personal essays and nature writing have been widely published, and her short story, It’s Come To This, won the National Magazine Award for Fiction in 1992. She’s also produced a number of films, including Heartland and A River Runs Through It.
Given that the Kennedy Library is convening this centennial celebration, we are deeply honored to have with us President Kennedy’s Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall here with us today. When Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, it was fortunate that Secretary Udall, perhaps our nation’s greatest conservationist, was serving in the Kennedy cabinet. A four-term congressman from Arizona, during his term directing the Department of the Interior, Stewart Udall was a passionate advocate for the environment. He worked to pass numerous laws, such as the Wilderness Bill, to conserve our country’s most majestic landscapes and to dramatically expand our National Parks. In 1963, he wrote The Quiet Crisis, one of the first books to articulate an ethic of land stewardship, and he continues to contribute to the conservation of our national resources as an author, activist, and citizen of the outdoors.
Secretary Udall will provide opening remarks, assisted by his grandson, Bryce Townsend, followed by a conversation amongst our panelists, and he will return to the stage when it comes time to answer questions from the audience. Please join me in welcoming Stewart Udall to the podium to open the Kennedy Library’s centennial tribute to Rachel Carson.
STEWART UDALL: I have lost a major part of my vision, and I’ve asked my grandson, Bryce, who’s a drama student at Boston University to coach me a little bit. And I’m going to read, at the end of my remarks, something … well, I might as well tell you about it because some of you here, I’m sure, have heard this story. Rachel Carson had written, or taken from her writings about the sea, a statement that she wanted read at her funeral services. You know she had cancer, and she knew that her time was short. And she had -- I’ll describe him as a stubborn and maybe stupid brother -- who said, “No, we don’t need anything like that.” He didn’t respect her wishes. I was a pallbearer. There were no honorary pallbearers. Two of them were Abe Ribicoff, the Senator from Connecticut, and myself. And after the service, one of Rachel’s friends handed me a piece of paper. And she said, “I want you to have this, because this is what she wanted read at the services, and her older brother said, “No.” And I stuck it in my pocket. I kept it for nearly a half century. I’m sure some of you, because this is from, I think, The Sea Around Us, have read this, but I’m going to conclude my remarks, with a little help from Bryce, maybe, by reading what Rachel wanted read at her service. It is supremely fitting, in my opinion, that the most important celebration of Rachel Carson’s centennial is being held at the Kennedy Library. It is not only fitting, because the President himself used his science advisory committee to support her work and her findings, but this came. The book was published seriatim in The New Yorker Magazine in the summer of 1962. It was a sensation, of course. And the question immediately was, “Well, what is the attitude of the government going to be?” And a wonderful person a lot of you knew, Jerry Wiesner -- he was president of MIT -- was the President’s science advisor.
In fact, he recommended to Kennedy that he make all of his cabinet officers have science advisors. And he got Roger Vail, a great oceanographer to be my first science advisor. And I took my courses in science from him at lunch. I’m going to just be very blunt and express an opinion. And I hope Dr. Wilson will not argue with me about this; he’s published many wonderful books himself. I believe that Silent Spring -- the title is a bit misleading, by the way, and I’ll demonstrate that in a moment -- I believe Silent Spring was one of the two or three most influential books on science published in the 20th Century. That’s a very big statement. I’m leaving out Albert Einstein, of course. But this book had an enormous impact not merely in this country. We, too, are in a global warming era; we’re too self-centered as a country. Rachel’s book ultimately -- Linda Lear, if she were here, could fill this in -- was published in over thirty languages. It had a particular effect in Western Europe. And she wasn’t just the inspirer of the beginning of the environmental movement in this country. She was the inspirer world-wide. This is an extraordinary, extraordinary influential book.
And there are still some dumb people -- I’m sorry to have to use such blunt language -- that say, “Rachel Carson -- oh, she’s the woman that tried to stop the spraying of poisons that killed birds. But she didn’t stop the spraying. She failed.” She didn’t fail. And the interesting thing to me about Rachel -- because she started writing that book in 1938, and it took her four and a half years -- she was going to write a short article for The Reader’s Digest, or some other, on the DDT spraying. And she could have done that in short order. Why did she take four and a half years? Because she was a scientist. I said her book was a science book. It was a science book. And she established contact -- Dr. Martin is one example -- with scientists, biologists all over the world, all the way from New Zealand and Newfoundland and beyond Europe. That’s why it took her four and a half years to finish this remarkable book. The reason it was an influential book is that she was summarizing the beliefs and findings of other scientists. And people have tried to diminish her. “Oh, she was just a biologist. She didn’t succeed.” Well, you know what happened when we finally got an Environmental Protection Agency? DDT had severe restrictions put on its use. So that is the reason that I wanted to be here today. To give Rachel the tribute that I think she deserves. She was not Paul Brooks. Some of you knew him -- wonderful man, who was her editor. And he said, “She was not, by nature, a crusader.” She was a shy person. I got to know her. She came to my office. I gave her counsel. And I was able to get the people in the agricultural department -- get the Secretary of Agriculture -- to make them shut up so this could go forward. But Rachel summarized, after her book came out. She went on CBS -- I understand they may have run this a few days ago, an excerpt from this. She was interviewed because the book attracted immense attention. And I think Eric Severeid, my friend, was interviewing her and he finally said at the end, “Well, but can you summarize this in one sentence?” And here’s what she says, “Man’s attitude toward nature is today critically important, simply because we have acquired a fateful power” -- she meant technology -- “to alter and destroy nature. But man is part of nature and this war against nature is, in effect, a war against himself”.
This was the great impact the book. It kept the title, Silent Spring, but the book had a breadth. Rachel Carson had vision. I used to talk about Teddy Roosevelt as a man with distance in his eyes. He wanted to think a generation or two down the road. And her subject became, at the end of the book, not just the spring that was going on. It became the capacity that was growing. In 1958, as she started writing what was happening, bomb tests in Nevada sprang radiation over the whole country. And the Atomic Energy Commission, who was god then or so they felt they were, said, “There’s no danger. There’s no danger.” Well, there was danger. They were killing children, for one thing, of leukemia. Rachel was watching that with concern. She was watching what the chemical industry was doing. Their slogan was, “Better Living Through Chemistry,” and the agriculture people increased their production. And so, there it was. But she had the capacity to look beyond. And I cannot honestly say, today, that she anticipated global warming. But she saw the smog over Los Angeles, and she saw the pollution belching from electric power plants. Of course, that was a period when atomic energy was the future. That’s what we were told. I even wrote a few stupid things about that, because that’s what Kennedy inherited from the Eisenhower administration. The future will be great. We’ll have nuclear power. And it will be so successful you won’t have to have meters in your house. That’s what was going on right while Rachel was writing. And I think that’s what we needed to understand.
I hope, as we go down the road, and I’ve always described myself -- Dr. Wilson -- as a troubled optimist; I’m now a troubled pessimist. I’m talking about global warming. And we have had in the government of the United State, essentially anti-science people. First time in history this has happened -- people that are against science. And as I look at some of the foreign policy decisions, and the lies -- I’m going to use that term -- that they’ve put out where global warming is concerned -- that this is what’s holding the country back. We’re not going to get real leadership unless global warming gets in to the presidential campaign and we have a president who talks straight to the American people. Now, what we have had, to use a simple, devastating word, is mendacity. Mendacity -- if you know what that word means -- means we’re not getting the truth. Well, I’ve gone on long enough, and I’ve said what I really came here to say. Because Rachel was a friend. I gave her a little advice on the side. She was a courageous woman. She stood up by herself. She didn’t come running to me and say, “You’ve got to speak up, you know.” She spoke up, and then the President’s science advisory committee spoke up. But the thing that Rachel wrote, that she wanted read at her services -- and the services were, as far as I was concerned, very ordinary. There was no recognition of her greatness that day. And so, here is what she wrote. With a little help from Bryce, I’ll see if I can read it. I’ve enlarged the print.
“On all these shores, there are echoes of past and future -- the flow of time obliterating and continuing all the things that went before, the sea’s eternal rhythms, the tides, the beat of the surf, the pressing rivers of currents shaping, changing, dominating the stream of life, flowing as inevitably as ocean currents can pass through an unknown future.”
And this is the summation. I’ve eliminated a little bit and, if you want -- it’s pure poetry. If you want to read a short poem, maybe Amy will give you a copy, or you can get it somewhere. Or you’ll simply be directed to go to her. “Contemplating,” this is her ending, wonderful, mystical ending, in my opinion. “Contemplating the teeming of the shore, we have an uneasy sense of the communication of some universal truth that lies just beyond our grasp. What is the message, signaled by the hordes of diatoms?” Here is the expert on the sea: “The hordes of diatoms, flashing their microscopic lights in the night sea. And what is the meaning of the tiny being that is a transparent wisp of protoplasm, that is a sea lace, existing, for some reason, inscrutable to us. A reason that demands the presence of the sea lace by the trillions in the walks and weaves of the shore.” And then we come to the summation. “The meaning, the real meaning, alludes and haunts us. And in it’s pursuit” -- and in our pursuit of the meaning, that’s what she meant – “we approach the ultimate mystery of life itself.” Thank you. [Applause]
ANNICK SMITH: Now that’s a hard act to follow. I just want to thank the Kennedy Library for the honor of inviting me to participate in this wonderful celebration of Rachel Carson,and to share the stage with such luminaries -- really great writers and scientists and public people. I’m really honored. I’m very sad that Linda Lear, the biographer of Rachel Carson, the most recent, fullest biography of Rachel Carson, could not be here with us. If you are interested in Rachel, I highly recommend that you get this book. I thought I’d give you a very capsule thumbnail background sketch about her life, in case you don’t already know it.
She was born, of course, in 1907, in Pennsylvania, in a small town that was quite an idyllic, lovely little town. And she saw it become changed, transformed by industrialization. She was a bright young girl who liked to write, but was also interested in science and wanted to be a scientist. And at that time, when she was going to school, there were very few women scientists. And she went to Johns Hopkins, and got a Master’s Degree in zoology there, and then couldn’t find work, and ended up working for the government, doing public information -- writing brochures and explanations of natural phenomena for the Department of Interior. And she was in the government bureaucracy for 18 years. So she understood very well what goes on in a bureaucracy, and that sort of hardened her to what was going to come later.
In Pennsylvania, she had never seen the sea, but she fell in love with the sea and she finally went to the sea, and her sea was the Atlantic Ocean. And she wrote a brilliant book about it called The Sea Around Us, which won the National Book Award and became a best-seller. And she was just thrilled and knocked out. She’d had no idea that this was going to happen. And that enabled her to quit working for the government and start writing full-time. She wrote, then -- going from the sea into the land -- a book called The Edge of the Sea, about the land that the sea makes and the animals that come on to the land out of the sea.
And, you know, I think if you look back, there is a progression, from the sea, to the edge of the sea, and then came the fire ants in Alabama, and the insistent spraying of fire ant populations around the country with DDT, and more DDT, and more DDT. And what happened is that the fire ant survived, and everything else died. You know, that’s sort of a broad statement, but pretty much true. And so that woke her up to the dangers of pesticides, and she started to go deeper and deeper into that subject, about what pesticides were doing. And it was the same time that we were testing atomic bombs and, as Stewart said, atomic energy became kind of a way to save our lives. But then people began to realize the dangers of fall out, and I think she connected the dangers of pesticide with the dangers of fall out, nuclear fall out. To sort of awaken the American public to what they were facing in terms of destruction of the life of not only our country but the earth.
And she said, after Silent Spring became the huge controversial best-selling, world-changing book that it became, she said … Somebody asked her why she wrote it, and she said, “It was simply something that I believed in so deeply that there was no other course. Nothing that ever happened made me even consider turning back.” And, you know, she worked for years on this book and tried to get as much scientific verification for what she described at the dangers of pesticides as she could. And she was a perfectionist.
A small woman, never married, quite attractive. And then she started having recurrent cancer, breast cancer that metastasized. And while she was writing Silent Spring, and especially at the time it was published and she was in great demand to be on television and everywhere else, she was dying of cancer. And nobody could tell. Nobody except her intimate family knew it. It had gotten to her bones, her vertebrae. All of her was very sick and very much in pain. And then she had angina on top of that. And she would go on and do as many public appearances as she could to try and get this message across, because it was so important for people to know what was happening in this country. So there.
Now I want to address some questions, maybe, and get some discussion going here. And then we’ll open it up for you to ask us questions, if we can answer them. Dr. Wilson, Rachel Carson was attacked, not only by the chemical industry spokesmen, as you can imagine, but by government scientists and other academic scientists for not being scientific in her research and her conclusions. So I wanted to ask you how does her work stand up today, scientifically? Is it good research? Has it got problems? What are the problems? And the next thing I wanted to ask is how does that groundwork that she did, or popularized -- because she was not an original scientist, she was a popularizer. How did it influence the next generation?
EDWARD O. WILSON: Her work has proved out to be factual, straight from the shoulder, as Secretary Udall has already stated, and has held up very well for the reason that she did not form opinions of her own and then seek evidence to support them, but rather the reverse. She was meticulous in gathering that data base, if I might call it that. And it was, incidentally, the time on the fire ant problem that I had a very brief contact with her, regrettably. She wanted to come to Harvard and talk to me about fire ants and I said, “Yes, come ahead.” I looked forward to it, although I had no idea, of course, that this lady was going to turn the world upside down. She wrote and said later, she’s sorry she had to cancel because she was feeling too ill. And fool that I was, I did not go up to Maine to conduct that meeting. And she then proceeded to research the fire ant problem thoroughly, and she understood it very well. And what she said of it and of the problem is accurate even though, as you say, it flew in the face of established authority.
ANNICK SMITH: What about her influence on other scientists, and writers, and science writers?
E.O. WILSON: It created a new field of environmental ecology -- one aspect of it -- and made popular the study of toxicity of substances and pollution, chemical pollution of the environment, which began then and has flourished now to something approaching a mature scientist. About that time, in the early sixties, there was a major advance in the science. A micro-chemistry called mass potromocy (?) gas comotography coupled that allowed the benefication of trace amounts of substances for the first time, down to a millionth of a gram and even a billionth of a gram. That’s a technique still used in forensic science, for example. And that vaulted the field forward, as well, in connection with the -- or powered by the influence of Carson’s book.
ANNICK SMITH: I’ll get back to you, but I wanted to ask Roland Clement -- who is one of the best and earliest champions of Rachel Carson’s work when he was with the Audubon Society as their staff biologist and then later as a vice president -- Roland, you were the guy who took up her defense in debating Robert White-Stevens, who was a chemist for American Cyanimid and represented the interests of the chemical manufacturers fighting her. Could you tell us a little bit about those three debates?
ROLAND CLEMENT: At seven o’clock this morning, Linda called me from Washington to say she wouldn’t be here, and I’m sorry you’re not meeting her. But she said, “I want you to tell the story about your debate of this issue with White-Stevens, who spoke for the industry.” I was foolish enough to tackle him, first of all, on radio. Twice. And my difficulty is, was, that he would not talk of the issue. The issue was the question of the destruction of birds being caused by the widespread use of DDT for Dutch Elm Disease control. White-Stevens was an impressive speaker, but he wanted to talk only about the food production needs of the world, not about the side effects, perhaps, of the use of DDT. So I felt frustrated twice on radio, because we did not discuss the issue I came to address. So another organization invited me to speak to a Sigma Psi audience meeting at Bryn Mawr and in Poughkeepsie, New York with White-Stevens again. And I said I would accept on one condition, and that is that I speak first. So this gave me the opportunity of telling the audience what White-Stevens would tell them, because I had heard this twice before in great detail. And then, of course, I was able to suggest what was wrong with what he would tell them. And I was told that I was using a velvet stiletto on Mr. White-Stevens. He spent the first ten minutes complimenting me on my approach and couldn’t get back on track. So there was no debate that evening. [Laughter]
ANNICK SMITH: Well, that’s a good story. I’m wondering -- I’ll just throw the question out to whomever -- Rachel Carson sort of started the environmental movement, the scientific movement in this country, and I’d be interested to hear your opinions of where it’s gone and if there is anyone who is our 21st century Rachel Carson, who’s emerging to wake us up to what we need to be waked up to.
ROLAND CLEMENT: I have a friend at Yale, John Wargo, who studies the impact of chemicals on children. And he tells me that the situation today is worse than 40 years ago when I was arguing the case in public. So we have a problem and it’s not going away. And so we’re going to have to learn to ask a lot of questions. It’s not just the attitude of people. Some who defend DDT, for example, are true believers. Others are obfuscators. They’re simply covering up an embarrassing truth. And even today you will hear many times on radio and elsewhere, in the Congress itself, that it’s a shame that DDT was banned because it has led to the loss of millions of people from malaria. I don’t know whether to call this a lie, because someone might sue me for libel. It’s happened before. But I will call your attention to the fact that in the early 1970s, the World Health Organization warned that the use of DDT in mosquito control for malaria control purposes, was diminishing rapidly because DDT continued to be used in agriculture. And Dr. Wilson can explain to you, maybe, why these things happen. The insects develop resistance to a chemical if you use it too often. And so this is why we lost the use of DDT in public health where it might have been useful, if we had been conservative in our application. Instead, the people in agriculture broadcast it, and the insects became resistant. So this is the dilemma we face. The problem is still with us.
E.O. WILSON: You articulated an important principle, and I think it could be summarized, not inappropriately in these wartime circumstances, as we selected carpet-bombing instead of rifle shots. In other words, at that time, at least, in the early days of the DDT Revolution, we chose to simply hook the entire environment with it, to get one insect. And the result was, of course, we wiped out a large part of that living environment. And the insect itself, being very resistant to start with, since it was beautifully adapted to living with people, around people, and on people’s products, quickly developed the resistance. Had we gone the other way, to repeat your argument with a metaphor, and simply selected those areas where it was very critical, critically needed, and then used pesticides very selectively targeted on precisely those points where the mosquitoes or the pests were breeding, then the resistance would not have developed and we actually could have used, for emergencies anyway, to continue with the pesticide.
So let me try to answer that last question. Where are the Rachel Carsons, or is there a Rachel Carson? There are hundreds of Rachel Carsons. She cloned herself and, as a result, of course, we now have a vigorous and growing science of ecology, and we’ve already suggested -- you have, sir -- the intricacies of the problem are beginning to be revealed to us. And the science itself to investigate exactly what does happen when you take out this species or that part of an eco-system, we’re beginning to see just what does happen and why it happens. We are a long way from having all the answers, but at least now, to a degree undreamed of in Rachel Carson’s writing period, we have a science. And it’s growing rapidly. And we’re fortunately getting some of the best talent among new people coming in to it. It’s broadly the study of ecology, and particularly of community ecology, but includes within it a very large sector, which is being brilliantly pursued, of addressing these problems that were first identified by Silent Spring and identified widely in the public.
ROLAND CLEMENT: Dr. Wilson is an optimist. I’m not the opposite, but in 1950, when I graduated from Cornell, David Pimentel, the entomologist at Cornell, said to me, “Roland, we’re training a whole host of young entomological entomologists who will address this problem in a new way. I met David Pimentel some months ago, and I said, “David, what happened to that crew of people you trained to change the system?” And he had to admit that somehow we hadn’t gotten there yet. So that’s our dilemma.
In fact, when I went to Cornell, it was to round out my background as a naturalist. I knew birds and I’d studied botany at Brown, and so I decided it was time to take a course in entomology to get the big picture on orders and families and so forth. So I enrolled in the basic entomology course. To my dismay, the professor, in his first talk to our class, said, “Gentlemen, this is usually an introduction to the great diversity of insect groups, but this year, we’re going to change the focus because now we have the opportunity of telling you about a silver bullet to control insect pests. And that’s the new DDT that was made available after World War II. And so, of course, it was a great disappointment. I never got that perspective on the insect groups that I was hoping to find. And I didn’t have much use, as a non-practitioner, for the tricks of using DDT. And later on I learned that I had to argue against the use of DDT.
E.O. WILSON: I guess I should respond to that by defending science. [Laughter]
ROLAND CLEMENT: I’ve gotten old enough; I’m criticizing science, too.
E.O. WILSON: Of course, your point is well taken. Our dreams are never fully realized but, you know, there’s a parallel here between the fight against cancer, the war on cancer, and the development of the science of ecology and toxicology that could meet the needs of a society that has to have high productivity and protection. And in both cases there are silver bullets. We now can take out some cancers and we can also take out, and have taken out, some serious insect pests. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re not going to get all the way there, or even most of the way there, until we continue to develop the science that has grown up -- in this case, much of it traceable to a single cause; in the case of cancer or other deadly diseases, multiple sources. But we’re on our way. So I’m optimistic. Yeah, I think we’ll get there.
ANNICK SMITH: Is there some kind of danger in believing in the silver bullet? I mean, I have an instinctual sort of say, “Wait a minute. Any kind of silver bullet solution is not going to work because it’s too simple. And things are always more complex than the lone ranger can deal with.” But I would like to mention a couple of names that people who are doing this work, and wonder if the question is, Rachel Carson was both a wonderful writer and a good scientist. And she was able, because of her use of language, to put over a message that really did, if not change the world, change it somewhat. Nowadays, it seems to be a popularizer the words are not enough -- that you need to be a TV star, or a movie star, or have some kind of great celebrity status in order to get the message across. Am I being too cynical? What do you think?
ROLAND CLEMENT: No, you’re speaking of a modern dilemma. John Cronin, who’s another great historian of the environment -- John is at the University of Wisconsin -- spoke at Yale about two months ago and he pointed out that Rachel Carson was one of the great prophets of the 20th century, environmentally speaking. The other two, Aldo Leopold before Rachel Carson, and after Rachel Carson was my neighbor, Ed Wilson. So the three of them helped wake up America and the world to the complexities of the realities we face. And, unfortunately, we have a one track mind in this generation, in this country. We are devoted to making money. And we have allowed the corporate world to dominate policy making. And it’s going too take several years to get over this hang-up, unfortunately, because these people now have a grip on the system, and it’s very difficult to have an alternative point of view aired and discussed.
The general public, for example, knows of these things only through television. And the people who run television don’t want people to know too much about the complications. They simply want people to buy what they’re offering for sale. And so we amuse the crowd. We don’t inform the people. But it’s prophets like Leopold and Carson and Wilson who wake up enough of us hopefully to make a difference when the opportunity comes along. And that opportunity will come when the system loses its grip because of a natural catastrophe or because of the breakdown of the economy, which we’re stressing just as much as we’re stressing the environment at the present time.
So I’ve had to try to sum up a whole lifetime of addressing these questions in the last few months. And this is why I seem a little more positive than my friend, Ed Wilson, about the implications. We’re going to have to broaden our approach. We’re going to have to realize that it’s a system that’s destroying the world, not just people. People are either ignorant or inadvertently creating damage. A few, of course, are willful in approach. And we reward the more aggressive people. This is part of the system at the present time. And so we’re going to have to rebalance our books, and we will be forced to do. And maybe global warming will wake us up. Rachel only woke up a handful of us.
ANNICK SMITH: Yes, it’s a global problem because the corporations are also global. Well, let’s see. It’s 2:02. You think we should have some questions from the audience, addressed to various of us? Okay. I guess there are two microphones there. Okee-Doke. Let’s see. I think this gentleman was up first.
QUESTIONER: Anyone understand the widespread use now, in certain tropical areas, of DDT-impregnated -- what do you call those -- mosquito netting? Is it the netting that’s effective or is it the DDT that’s effective?
E. O. WILSON: Did you say defective?
ANNICK SMITH: He said effective.
E. O. WILSON: Oh, effective. Sorry. I was about to respond strongly. I think both are. You know, this is an example of sensible use of a pesticide, I think, as I first said, you know, that’s the silver bullet approach. It’s been estimated that, in Africa alone, sub-Saharan Africa, the use of bed nets -- essentially mosquito nets over the bed at night, protecting against the Anopheles Gambi group; that’s the group of mosquitoes which has specialized to feed on human blood. It doesn’t just come in feeding on cattle, or rabbits, or something, and then take a human meal. It lives off human blood. That that protection would be attained against this formidable insect, sufficient with just bed nets to drop down, or eliminate most of the millions of deaths annually, including many, many children in sub-Saharan Africa. Incidentally, the cost of a bed net is ten dollars. The cost of protecting the people of sub-Saharan Africa, and saving ultimately millions of their lives, including children … Now I’m not going to make one of those stupid comparisons with how much we spend in Iraq each month -- [Laughter] -- and DDT added to it, of course, makes it more effective.
QUESTIONER: Yes. A concern that I sometimes have today involves not just the misuse of pesticides, as Rachel Carson advocated against, but the genetic engineering of crops and other species that are introduced to the environment without sufficient testing. And I wondered if you saw any parallels between genetically engineered crops and the abuse of pesticides, like DDT?
ANNICK SMITH: Genetic? Well, I’m not a scientist. I was going to ask a similar question with regard to Monarch butterflies -- in this latest disappearance of the bees -- if there was any connection to genetically engineered crops, and also the problems of the green revolution, which is dependent on pesticides and fertilizers and so on, and changing world agriculture?
E.O. WILSON: Boy, there’s a package of questions for you. [Laughter] And they’re not too closely related, either, unfortunately. Let me dispose of these, first of all. The latest word on the honey bees is that these little mites, these little spider-like creatures which multiply like bacteria in a colony of bees, do destroy some colonies and do weaken colonies. But there’s now another cause, which is being investigated, which may be bacterial. And so there’s no answer to that, right now. And the use of pesticides is open.
On genetically grown foods, I will take a controversial position. On the matter of genetically modified crops, I don’t see a relation between that and the misuse of pesticides because we can keep them under a tight control in terms of how they’re developed and how they’re used. And having looked through literature a lot, myself -- having even interviewed corporate industry people -- I came up with a conclusional list of advantages and disadvantages for a good way of doing this and arrived on the side of the use of genetically modified crops. On the one side, we have the potential to use these crops to restore damaged eco-systems, wastelands essentially. And producing crops that can be perennial, can be saline (?) resistant, drought resistant, and so on, we can enormously increase crop productivity, including particularly parts of the world where agriculture remains critical. On the negative side, of course, there is the escape of genes into native species. That’s a possibility. But it’s not a huge one. That's were I think we mean to have a very alert and vigilant status. But so far, whereas there have been cases of pollution, gene pollution, from modified strains into native kinds, including the, you know, the moderates (?) food plant, milkweed.
ANNICK SMITH: Milkweed.
E.O. WILSON: So far, this is not yet developed into a big problem. So it’s a matter of being alert, keeping our eyes open, using ecology as a science. And I think we’ll work our way through. And I predict that genetically-modified crops -- this is a personal opinion, and I’m sure there are a lot who disagree, who have studied the problem, also -- are going to be an enormous boon to humanity, providing we stay on top of it and have the kind of regulation we expect of our food supply, generally.
ANNICK SMITH: Yes, sir?
ROLAND CLEMENT: Let me add a word about the complexity of this problem. Two days ago, in Europe, the European Community announced that for the first time it would require the registration and a definition of thirty thousand chemicals that are now in use. For the first time there will be a book that tells you what this is about and what, unfortunately, the industry itself thinks about the pros and cons of using it. There is no independent assessment, because we’re not up to putting up the money for that. In this country, we don’t have such a register. So the road ahead is still very steep.
ANNICK SMITH: Thank you, Roland.
QUESTIONER: Thank you all for your great comments. I have a book here which I treasure. It’s called Animal Machines by Ruth Harrison. It came out about 40 years ago. It was the first protest against factory farming, and it has a forward by Rachel Carson. That’s what makes it so wonderful, in addition to everything else. I’m not going to read you everything that Rachel Carson said, but I would like to read just a few lines and have you comment on it. She wrote, “As a biologist whose special interests lie in the field of ecology or the relation between living things and their environment, I find it inconceivable that healthy animals can be produced under the artificial and damaging conditions that prevail in these modern, factory-like installations where animals are grown and turned out like so many inanimate objects. Diseases sweep through these establishments, which indeed are kept going on by the continuous administration of antibiotics. Diseased organisms then become resistant to these antibiotics. The question then arises, how can animals produce, under such conditions, safe or acceptable food.” I don’t have to tell you that they’re still being produced under these conditions 40 years later. The menace to human consumers from the drugs, hormones, and pesticides used to keep this whole fantastic operation going is a matter never properly explored. And I would like to ask the panel why it is not explored? Why every discussion on the breakdown of the environment and global warming does not take in the issue of what is happening with animals when, in fact, you know that the whole agricultural system is really an industrial system and contributes as much to global warming as your cause? Thank you.
ANNICK SMITH: Stewart, would you like to respond to that?
STEWART UDALL: No, no. [Laughter]
ANNICK SMITH: That’s okay.
ROLAND CLEMENT: That’s not fair. Stewart has been out of office too long.
ANNICK SMITH: Would you like too respond to that?
E. O. WILSON: Well, she’s mostly right.
ROLAND CLEMENT: The crux of the question is why have we not done something about it in these last 40 years? The reason is as a society we are not educated to understand the implications of what we’re doing. And so that’s the dilemma. And we’re close to the brink right now in global warming, for example. What else is down the pike we don’t know. So we have a lot of catching up to do.
ANNICK SMITH: And also, we’ve become addicted to cheap food and cheap energy. And that kind of hunger is hard to stop. Although I think the growing organic foods movement, which is true for animals as well as for vegetables and fruit, is a sign that people are becoming aware. And they do have to pay a little more, but they can do it. And then the local food movement, which is even newer and, I think, going to grow. And I think there is a change of consciousness and a change in some of our agricultural techniques. But still, the poorest people are getting the worst food. As always. Okay.
QUESTIONER: Well, the Roman emperors did it with bread and circuses. We do it with television and politics and economics. I especially liked your comment, Mr. Clement, about having to come to some environmental or economic disaster before we do something about it. My name is Stosh Horowitz, and I’m from the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods, and what’s happened in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is we now have something they call smart growth, which is a pro-business strategy to give us back the so-called jobs we’ve lost as housing and other expenses have become so high here. And what we have is a movement to make environmental regulations, at least on the state level, the Commonwealth level, where they were initially pretty good, weaker and give the public less opportunity to intervene and appeal on the argument that these are troublesome, bothersome, hold up development, and allow these large corporations to move out of state, and move elsewhere. And it’s rather disheartening to see this as a local, Commonwealth response to our problems, economic and otherwise. So I wanted to ask you what’s a good argument to use against that now? I mean, we are citizens, we’ve appealed things through the courts. Sometimes we have victories, but the playing field is so unequal in front of the legislature, in front of the executive branch. What are your suggestions? Do we need to alarm them and terrify them with global warming and, in between, is there some strategies that the average citizen could use to get our legislators and our executive branch to pay more attention to these problems of over-development and growth, at the lack of all environmental, open space and quality of life issues?
ROLAND CLEMENT: This is the kind of question you get only in Massachusetts. [Laughter]
ANNICK SMITH: No, you get it in Montana, too.
ROLAND CLEMENT: It’s a fascinating dilemma. We know bits and pieces of the larger puzzle, and we have devoted most of our energies to controlling nature, not to understanding it. And this is a crisis for our day. Carl Woese. of the University of Illinois, a foremost microbiologist, wrote two years ago that we need a new biology for the 21st century, because the old biologists -- except for people like Ed Wilson here, for example -- have become engineers. They are lending themselves to using biology to manipulate nature to make it produce more return, without necessarily understanding they have only enough control. So this is a civilization of dilemma.
We’ve been going up the wrong track for 3,000 years. I speak forcefully because I’ve only just recently given a series of five lectures on this dilemma of the man-nature relationship. The pre-Socratic philosophers misled us, for example, by focusing on the individual instead of on the community that produces and sustains the individual. And we in America are the most individualistic people who’ve ever lived. And we think we’re rugged individuals, and we can do anything if we set our minds to it. But it’s obvious that there are a lot of things that we don’t know. So global warming is just a warning.
And I think I come back to the notion that the system is so entrenched right now that you cannot change it, you and I, as individuals. But we need to discuss alternatives, so that when the grip of the system lessens, which it will in a few years, and there’s several prophets telling us what’s down the line, then we may have an opportunity to step in and say, “Look, somebody suggested a different way of doing things. Let’s try this.” This is what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did in the 1930s. He rescued the system simply by doing experiments on it.
ANNICK SMITH: Thank you, Roland.
QUESTIONER: Okay, I think I’ve changed what I’m going to ask now since I’ve been standing in line, but first I want to thank you all for your wonderful work and the profound impact it’s had on so many people. I’ve been very aware of environmental issues for 20-plus years now, and it seems like, on the edges or in little small ways like local food and all that, some positive things are happening. But overall, I think things are worse than they used to be. Sometimes you can get really disheartened about that. And I’m wondering how do you feel? Whether you feel hopeful for the future, or whether you really think things are just going to continue to get worse until there is a catastrophe? And then my other thought that I had was, what do you think might actually help? And I’ve been thinking lately, maybe making some connections with religions, with the religious community and, from that angle, might make some difference.
E.O. WILSON: Well, let the optimist answer.
QUESTIONER: Okay, thank you.
ROLAND CLEMENT: I have a simple answer. To be an optimist like today a pessimist is to be a positivist. I don’t know the answer, but I’m living and I’m healthy and, therefore, I’m hopeful. And I’m going to work on this problem, and do what I can to help people understand the dilemma we face. There’s no need getting upset. This is not a real crisis, for example. It’s going to hurt. Global warming is going to squeeze us a lot, but it won’t destroy civilization. Civilization depends on the attitudes of people, and so all of you can take a little bit of this responsibility of reaching out and making more people aware of the fact that we need to reexamine a lot of commitments.
E.O. WILSON: You know, I’m surprised that education has not yet …
ANNICK SMITH: Aha, good. [simultaneous conversation] You’ll go after you.
E.O. WILSON: I’ll hurry up because I’m afraid when Stewart Udall speaks that there won’t be anything left for me to say. [Laughter] Anyway, let’s address the question of education. Education in this country is lagging, badly. I don’t need to go into that -- what the problems are. They’re getting better and better understood. I think science education is critical and we’ve made extremely little progress. We haven’t learned how to teach science. We can’t even teach it properly at Harvard College, much less grammar schools around the country. So we need to work very hard to get science, and science not just built in the traditional manner from physics upon physics comes chemistry, and upon chemistry comes biology, mechanistic, biolitical-oriented biology. We have to come into science from the opposite direction, and that is from the eco-system and the mind and the understanding of what humanity is. And then unpack these big questions as they can be grasped for each age group in turn with the instruments of science. And then they will have the motivation to learn the hard science as they go along. And they will be educated. In a sense, they will mentally put hands upon the problems of which they are intrinsically most interested. We need to experiment a lot with that. And then along with that goes the great problem, which seems intractable, which is how to get sciences more involved in the political system.
Now, we’re by nature purists. I mean, you know, the authority of science and scientists remains its objectivity and the ability to present, as Rachel Carson so brilliantly showed, what the facts are. And lay them out in a form so that the conclusion is inescapable to the public. That is one way. But we also need people who have strong training in science, not necessarily continuing in science, but who then go into politics and address the question raised a little bit earlier about what to do in Cambridge. We have to understand that the political system, particularly in this country, is the one system more complex than a tropical rain forest. [Laughter] And it is precisely where we need analytic minds familiar with scientific realties, so that the scientists themselves don’t have to come out of the labs and classrooms any more than they need to and fight through issues. It should be obvious to anyone with even an elementary training in science, though one has to ask how many scientists or people well-trained in science are there in the U. S. Congress?
STEWART UDALL: I just want to throw in a few comments from a retired pessimistic politician. You know, what one individual can do. I’m going to give you three examples. One of them is the president that just passed away, Gerald Ford. Did you know the great thing about the environmental movement in the 60s and 70s is that we all worked together? There was no partisanship that I could see that was serious. And Gerald Ford, as President, 1964, he was working on the problem that we refuse to address today: energy and dependence. We’re dependent on foreign oil, and we’re going in deeper all the time. And we’ve created a transportation system that is not sustainable. What did Gerald Ford do? Fifty-five mile an hour speed limit. It stayed all through the Carter administration.
The other person was one of your neighbors, Ed Muskie, of Maine. Tremendous accomplishment. He never got full credit for what he did. At the time Rachel Carson was writing Silent Spring, the politics in Washington was that clean air and clean water were local problems. The government shouldn’t get into it. Ed Muskie, I went to Maine with him the second year he was a Senator, and he hated the polluted rivers in Maine. And he said, “I’m going to take this on as a project.” And he worked ten years. By the time Nixon was president, it looked like he might be his challenger, but he had had hundreds of hearings. And he came up with a plan to clean our rivers of sewage. And it worked and the Clean Air Act. Industry doesn’t like it. They’re always arguing with it, and so on. But these laws were put on the books. Richard Nixon was a good president on the environment. He was. He went along for the ride. At least I can say that.
ANNNICK SMITH: I’ve been notified by the powers that be that we need to sort of speed things up. So one way to do that, I think, is that everybody who is waiting in line to ask a question, we would like to hear you sequentially. That’s what they’re suggesting to me. I don’t know if we old folks can keep all that in our heads at once, but we’ll try. So would everybody who’s in line, there’s five of you there -- state your question. And address it, if you feel like it, to any one particular panel member or to the panel in general. And then we will sort of pick and choose. And respond to whatever rings the most bells. Okay?
QUESTIONER: Hi. I’m Leslie Coranash (?). This isn’t quite a question, but it’s an important concern. I came to this through the back door as a medical social worker at the ALS Association chapter here in Massachusetts and, within a year, realized that the incidence of ALS in the state was much higher than both CDC and NIH had projected. And more specifically, the incidents seemed to be occurring along our industrial rivers. In fact, somebody came in, looked at our state map, and said, “All your pins are following the course of your state rivers.” We soon discovered that there were other clusters of neurological disease in the same areas where we found ALS.
Beyond that, we discovered that people’s pets -- their dogs and cats -- were getting cancers that are not typical of animals at that age. We started doing work to get funding from CDC and the Department of Defense to start doing research. And just now, there is data coming out indicating the increase in incidents. The insect DDT, the insect poison DDT which kills insects, can do the same thing to people. It takes longer, but what we were seeing on the ground were the effects of 20 years of exposure to things like DDT.
ANNICK SMITH: Do you have a question? This is leading …
QUESTIONER: No. No. It’s just that I’m really concerned about the phenomenon.
ANNICK SMITH: Right.
QUESTIONER: Thank you.
ANNICK SMITH: You’re welcome. Thank you for expressing your … We’re all concerned about those kinds of problems. Yes, sir?
QUESTIONER: I actually hope this is a (inaudible) question. It’s getting back to what Mr. Clement and Dr. Wilson discussed.
ANNICK SMITH: Lift your mike a bit.
QUESTIONER: Getting back to what Mr. Clement and Dr. Wilson discussed when you were talking about aggressive, dominant sections of society taking over. I didn’t know whether there was any parallels within the ant world [Laughter] that you could discuss. Or that we might be able to learn from. And my second question was about bio-diversity. There’s a lot of talk about industrial logging in the tropics and other great stressors destroying species. We continue to hear about new species being found in the deep undersea and also in the tropics. Is there reason for optimism there or should we continue to be pessimistic about bio-diversity shrinking?
ANNICK SMITH: Thank you.
QUESTIONER: Yes. Last night, I attended a symposium at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Lab in Rachel Carson’s honor. There was a group of wonderful scientists. Their frustration is in dealing with the high technology, fast pace of the media, getting their point across to the general public, because then, at that point, this is how public policy can be changed for the good. What do you recommend? And they could have a better agreement or liaison with the media to inform the public as a whole?
ANNICK SMITH: Good question.
QUESTIONER: I’d like to probe a bit further some of the later writings of Rachel Carson, which were articulated a while ago. About the agri-business problematics, which were despoiling land, our water, our sky. And I’d like to, in particular, see if some of you might particularly address, not just say, “I agree there’s something wrong.” Because there was a very interesting articulation of that kind of position by the, I guess the eminence grise that floats around here -- the gray eminence of Al Gore in his speech when he spoke about his inconvenient truth. There’s an inconvenient truth, I believe, behind Al Gore’s inconvenient truth. When he spoke to the issue, and I believe commendably, I’d like to make it clear, I believe that part of what he did is to be commended and is helping set the tone for our country, if we do pick up the ball, as some of you feel we may or may not. But when he introduced his take on the system, he said something which, when I spoke to many people around the greater Boston area about,
… that he set aside, I believe, the entire depredations that are involved, that the Union of Concerned Scientists have, at great elaboration, told us has been around now for many years: the agri-business despoliation of the way in which we raise and deal with cattle, pigs, chickens; the way we raise our crops; the way we use pollutants all over the place.
ANNICK SMITH: So what is the question?
QUESTIONER: The question is how do you respond to a guy who follows a lot of what we’re talking about now, Al Gore, when he says, “I will not deal with the [inaudible] of the earth.” I believe he made a sad mistake in separating apart what’s going on in our despoliation of the earth today. That’s my question. What do you think?
ANNICK SMITH: We’ll get to it as we do. Yes, ma’am?
QUESTIONER: My name is Rita Deety (?). I am one of the founding members of the Women’s Community Cancer Project in Cambridge. Our motto is written in our button that says “Rachel Carson was right.” I want to point out the similarity between the attacks that the Monsanto Corporation did to Rachel Carson with the fact that Monsanto, today, is the primary corporation pushing for genetic engineering. I see there an interesting similarity between pesticides and genetic engineering products. The truth is we don’t know the risk of these many genetically engineered products. So my question to the panel is that I would like them to comment on the precautionary principle -- a public health principle widely used in Europe -- that deals with prevention and that states that prevention doesn’t need to wait for final proof. That indication of harm, not final proof, should lead us to action. And that corporations and industry need to be held responsible for the actions toward the environment. And that we have to stop them before they start. Like we need to stop cancer before it starts. So I want to hear the panelists’ views on the cautionary principle. And I also want to thank them for their life long work around these issues.
ANNICK SMITH: Thank you very much. Well, panel?
E.O. WILSON: Okay, yeah. Let me take my pick of questions, and I’ll see how fast I can answer them. Precautionary principle: good. Ants as models for humans: not good. Males are allowed to subsist for one purpose, for a brief time before being killed or driven out. Ants are extremely aggressive and war-like, the most of all animals. And if ants were to get nuclear weapons, the world would end in a week. MBL (?) involvement: very big, in the way that Roland Clement has just suggested -- namely, in expanding biology. They are a charter group of the newly-founded and fast-moving encyclopedia of life, which will provide information (inaudible) access on command, eventually, of all species on earth and will allow us to move quickly. And the final question that was asked concerning … What? I’ve forgotten. Three is enough. I turn it over now to my distinguished colleagues.
ROLAND CLEMENT: I’m lost.
ANNICK SMITH: Okay. How do you respond to Al Gore? How do you get these kinds of scientific questions and information out to a broad public via the media?
ROLAND CLEMENT: It’s very easy talking at each other to confuse the issue further. What we need to do is sit down together and listen to each other. It’s very difficult to pose questions across the distance that separates us here. I lost track of some of the discussion, for example. So all we can do is learn to love one another. In other words, we are all human beings who are trying. But some are not trying very hard. They’ve made up their minds that they can make money doing something different. So it’s the human dilemma of learning to work together and to agree that if a problem arises, we ought to work together to solve the problem. Or at least diminish its implications. So if there is any wisdom in age, all I can do is to tell you that we still have a long way to go and we better start talking.
ANNICK SMITH: There is wisdom in age, and we just heard it. Would you …
STEWART UDALL: Well, we need, too, to accept a change in our society, so that … I could lecture on the automobile on and on, for example. We’ve got to learn to be more efficient; energy efficiency is the key to so many things. I think, if we turn technology loose, instead of dreaming about hydrogen, which is ridiculous because it’s a manufactured … It would be very costly. This country’s got to dedicate itself to efficiency. We’ve got to create a new energy system, renewable energy system. We’d better begin. The sooner we begin … Scientists who are friends of mine -- and even if they’re only half right -- think that out in the Atlantic Ocean, because it’s a shallow counter (?), there may be enough wind energy to provide energy for the whole east coast. Well, let’s get busy on it. Let’s stop talking about ridiculous things. I’m not talking about Nantucket. Put them out twenty miles. Twenty miles out there’s a wind build that is one of the most phenomenal in the world. That’s what these scientists that I’m talking to right now are saying. And I say, even if they’re only half right, that would be worth it, and we can accomplish a lot. And every increase in our country, or in any country, in population is going to make the problem more difficult. Accept that.
ANNICK SMITH: Well, I want to thank this wonderful panel for being here and sharing your wisdom with us and honoring Rachel Carson by speaking in the way that she would speak, if she were here. And I just wanted to thank you personally for involving me, to let you know that, after we’re through here, there will be copies of Silent Spring for sale in the lobby. And I think maybe some of the people who are here might sign your copies, if you’re very nice. And I just wanted to end with a quote from John Muir, who actually was before Rachel Carson, and maybe did start the whole thing rolling, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it is hitched to everything else in the universe.” And that’s what we’re dealing with now, with global warming. Our next big problem.