Organized Session

Legacies of Silent Spring II: From Scientist to Nation

Organizer

Sabine Marie Clarke

University of York, UK

Chair

Frederick Davis

Purdue University

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Session Abstract

The publication of Rachel Carson's SILENT SPRING is given a central place in many histories of the use of chemical pollutants and the rise of environmental politics in the twentieth century. While earlier work on Carson had a tendency to suggest that the impact of her work was broadly similar for many places (or in fact, the American experience was also the history of insecticide use and the rise of environmentalism in other nations), more recent work has shown that we need to engage with the multifarious legacies of SILENT SPRING. The papers in the session engage with the different levels, or registers, in which SILENT SPRING exerted an influence. In order to ground our understandings of the legacy of SILENT SPRING firmly in the context of time and place, we consider its impact from the level of the individual, to the discipline, institution and firm, and finally to the level of the nation.

Presenter 1

Applied Ecology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 1970-1990

LLoyd Ackert

Drexel University

Abstract

A new feature of ecological environmentalism inspired in part by Carson's SILENT SPRING appeared during the 1970s-1980s. "Applied ecology" occupied a space that bridged long established institutional units including: departments, laboratories, and collections. Taking the form of satellite laboratories, this space created new challenges that redefined the roles of traditional academic faculty, collection managers, and administrators, leading to a unique application of scientific knowledge and practice to emerging environmental regulations and concerns. Based on a study of the three units at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (ANS)-the Stroud Water Research Center, the Benedict Estuarine Laboratory, and the Department of Limnology (currently the Patrick Center for Environmental Research)-I will discuss the transformations that resulted in a new collaborations with industry, academia, government agencies, and the public. A reading of materials in the ANS Archives and oral interviews with participants it is clear that these changes represent an extension both of research and organizational innovations developed by Ruth Patrick (1907-2012), a response to new EPA regulations and public awareness of environmental issues, and novel collaborations among a generation of ecologists with new methods, skills, and career interests.

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Presenter 2

The Power of the Periphery: How Norway Became an Environmental Pioneer for the World

Peder Anker

New York University

Abstract

Where does Norwegian self-confident environmental well-wishing come from? Spanning thirty years of Norwegian history from the translation of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962 to the Earth Summit 1992, this paper tells a story of how scientists considered outdoor life and environmental research to be superior. The power of the periphery was that of a pristine, ideal natural environment contrasted with the dirty center of society in need of change. At the local level that could manifest as an unspoiled mountain contrasted with an overcrowded city. At the global level it became a beautiful Norway contrasted with a polluted troubled world. The paper is following the footsteps of the ocean explorer Thor Heyerdahl, the Deep Ecology movement that congregated around the philosopher Arne Næss, along with the "shallow" ecologists Jørgen Randers (co-author of The Limits to Growth) who coined the phrase "a sustainable society," the Chair of the Brundtland Commission, Gro Harlem Brundtland, and the United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Change, Jens Stoltenberg. They all provided different visions of how Norway should be an environmental pioneer for the world. And they found a receptive audience among North American scholars on the progressive left admiring everything Scandinavian

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Presenter 3

The Construction of a Sentinel Species: Louis Guillette and Lake Apopka's Alligators

Mark Barrow

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Abstract

This paper examines the work of the American biologist Louis Guillette, a prominent advocate for the idea of sentinel species. While researching the reproductive biology of the endangered American alligator in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Guillette discovered that the population at one of his study sites, Lake Apopka, Florida, was displaying numerous abnormalities, including males with high estrogen levels, females with high testosterone levels, and excessive rates of juvenile mortality. Once a premier bass fishing site, Guillette discovered that the lake's waters were burdened not only with significant run-off from agricultural chemicals but also a 1980 spill from the Tower Chemical Company, which manufactured synthetic pesticides that had become central to American agriculture in the postwar period. After learning of the work of Theo Colburn, he realized that environmental contaminants acting like hormones were responsible for the troubling symptoms he was observing in his study subjects. Guillette's published research and public appearances became a key source of support for the endocrine disruption hypothesis that was being debated in scientific, environmental, and regulatory circles in the 1990s and that became popularized in the bestselling book, Our Stolen Future (1996). Until his death in 2015, the passionate, energetic, and charismatic Guillette also argued repeatedly that the alligator served as a sentinel species, a warning that continued exposure to synthetic chemicals, even what seemed like very low levels, posed a dire threat not only to wildlife populations, but also to humans. In doing so, Guillette provided further evidence for the argument that Rachel Carson had earlier made about the role that wildlife can play in revealing the dangers of modern pesticides.

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Presenter 4

Slow, Mediated and Uneven: Rewriting the History of Pesticide Use in British Farming

Sabine Marie Clarke

University of York

Thomas Lean

University of York

Abstract

In keeping with much of the scholarship on DDT, histories of insecticide use in British farming after 1945 pay little attention to the factors shaping the uptake of new chemicals by farmers. Accounts of DDT use in Britain tell us how wartime use shaped its reputation as a wonder weapon, before moving on to the point at which concerns about the impact on wildlife became apparent. The impression is that the process of adoption by farmers does not require exploration, perhaps as DDT was so potent and so powerful a symbol of modernity.
This paper reports findings from an oral history project that aims to provide a new history of pesticides in Britain. The approach is to capture technology-in-use, rather than focus on moments in which we see actors celebrating the novelty of DDT and related chemicals. Interviews with farmers, and other personnel, show that the uptake of insecticides in British farming occurred much later than previously described. The publication of SILENT SPRING by Rachel Carson did little to slow or impede dissemination of insecticides in the 1960s, and beyond, and in fact was seen as an opportunity by British chemical companies to promote new products in place of DDT. Uptake of chemicals was dependent upon some important factors including various types of intermediaries who helped in the movement of knowledge between chemical companies and farmers (and vice versa). Studies of agricultural change have often focussed on government or NGO advisors who worked on persuading farmers to adopt new technologies. While we often note the importance of business in the history of agriculture, we have less analysis of the ways that the business/government/farmer nexus worked in practice. The paper will consider the work of government experts who tested commercial preparations, crop spraying companies that offered a type of vernacular expertise, marketing literature and farming magazines. It will map some of the key relationships that worked to facilitate the move

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