Thursday, December 28, 2006

Kill the Cats (National Review Online)

Let's start with the big picture. If you know anything about American environmentalism, you know that Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, is a secular saint. Time magazine named her one of the "100 People of the Century." In 1992 a highfalutin panel of distinguished experts named Silent Spring as the most influential book of the last half-century. "More than any other (book), it changed the way Americans, and people around the world, looked at the reckless way we live on this planet," writes Philip Shabecoff in A Fierce Green Fire, his history of U.S. environmentalism.
As the name suggests, the thesis of Silent Spring was that the birds were dying from the ravages of DDT and other pesticides. The chemical was found to thin the eggshells of some species of birds, most notably eagles and falcons — which, a pedant might add, are not particularly known for their contributions to melodious springs.
Carson's science was deeply flawed, partly because we've learned a lot more since then and partly because she was interested in scoring ideological points. She asserted, for example, that DDT was a carcinogen in humans, which isn't true. For a thorough debunking of the Rachel Carson myth, see Ronald Bailey's "Silent Spring at 40" in the June 2002 issue of Reason.
Anyway, while Carson's cancer scare was a big deal, the part of the book which has kept Silent Spring on the shelves is the bit about how spring would no longer bring a symphony of songbirds.
Well, the inconvenient truth is that cats kill more American birds, particularly songbirds, than DDT and pesticides ever did.

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