Decades later: Tyrone Hayes repeats the warnings of Rachel Carson

This blog is a reflection of the beginning of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a book that eloquently depicts the miracle of nature and its suffering at the hands of humans; Silent Spring and Carson’s passion and knowledge catalyzed the modern environmental movement and the call to end the widespread use of toxic pesticides.

“Have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental, as though having lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good? If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problems.”

Carson had an undeniable love for nature in her articulate and vivid descriptions of the colors, sounds and interactions of her natural environment. In the first chapter alone, her words captivate the reader into a state of empathy for all the  plants and animals which suffer from the careless dumping and spraying of pesticides and toxic chemicals in the air and on our land.

As a long-time scientist, Carson’s poetic words beg the people to wake up to question the harsh consequences that these chemicals will have on human civilization. Reading this book in 2014, over 50 years after its publishing, is eye-opening. Carson accurately predicts the crises we face today as bee populations “mysteriously” decline, vast amounts of soil lose agricultural viability, and humans fall ill to a growing host of defects and illnesses.

Just last month, Dr. Tyrone Hayes, visited Hawaiʻi to hold talks on atrazine, a pesticide tested widely in the U.S. and on our islands. With Hayes’ published studies proving that atrazine turns male frogs completely into females, the toxin is still permitted for testing and use on our lands at more than 20,000 times the dose given to the frogs that experienced a complete gender switch. Shown to cause infertility and illnesses for multiple generations of exposed people, this dangerous pesticide is already banned in the very country it originated from.

Alluding to Silent Spring, Tyrone Hayes titled his talk Silent Spring to Silent Night: A Tale of Toads and Men. Just as Carson described the sudden silence of the birds who gave constant song to the spring, Hayes read the audience an entire page of a book written a few decades ago; dedicated solely to describing the piercingly beautiful, reliable sounds of the frogs in a California town, this quote from the novel intricately shares the essential nature the frogs’ song had to the town – a town that is now shockingly silent.

Both Carson and Hayes warn the people to question the unnatural methods of conventional habits while providing the scientific expertise and data to emphasize the growing urgency of this inter-generational problem: our dependence on and complacency towards the rampant spraying of hundreds of millions of pounds of pesticides (or biocides, as Carson recommends we call them).

And just as the chemical industry attempted to discredit Carson upon the popularity of Silent Spring due to her direct exposure of the health and environmental dangers of pesticides, Hayes faces a similar fate today. Before Hayes’ talk at UH Mānoa, I googled his name for some background on the issue, and saw multiple paid ads discrediting the doctor, shown below.

Screenshot 2014-06-01 22.21.35

Published in the most prestigious scientific and academic journals, Hayes is attacked by paid attempts of the chemical industry to perpetuate peoples’ docile attitudes towards the poisonous substances entering the air we breathe, the oceans we enjoy, and the food and water supplies we rely on. And, with very little digging, one can find the paid ads trace directly to companies and organizations who have a financial stake in industrial agriculture and GMO crops.

Can we, as a society with more access to information than ever before, heed the warnings of Carson, Hayes and hundreds of others who have shared the potential fate we all face if we do not take action? Will we tell our kids and grandkids that we resisted and overcame the irresponsible actions of humans, or will we wonder why we let it continue?

Though Hawaiʻi faces some of the most intense testing of dangerous pesticides, we are also leading the way in radical policies and grassroots organizing against this uncompassionate, unsustainable way of growing food and interacting with Mother Earth. May we all harness the same sense of urgency Carson and Hayes speak with and demand a new way of doing things that puts people, plants, animals and the planet above the desire for profit.

What you can do:

  • Empower yourself: read a book, article or background about a pesticide used in your neighborhood.
  • Vote with your dollars: words only go so far. Corporations and agribusiness thrive on irresponsible and detrimental practices only as long as we allow them to. We, as their customers, have complete control of the choice to support or oppose these practices through our purchases. When you channel your hard-earned money into companies and products you trust and believe in, you are casting your vote for the kind of changes you want to see in your community. Buy organic, and ask your store’s produce guy or the growers at the farmers market if and what they spray on their produce. Walk away if you don’t like their answer!
  • Go to a meeting or event with an organization working on issues of pesticides, sustainable agriculture and environmental sustainability. (e.g. The Hawaiʻi Center for Food Safety just opened, and many opportunities are out there to get involved)
  • Start a meaningful conversation with your friends, family, classmates or co-workers about the effects pesticides and toxic chemicals are having and will continue to have on our own health and the health of the environment we live in. Discuss the solutions to these problems.

Remember: hundreds of millions of dollars go into marketing and damage control to convince people that pesticides, genetic modification and industrial agriculture will “feed the world” and drive global sustainability. Seek your own answers by doing research on both sides of every argument, and always consider who profits off of your beliefs.

At the very least, be aware and stay positive. With both awareness and optimism, all of us who envision a healthier future for the humans and non-humans of this planet will be unstoppable.

And, finally, always remember the bigger picture. As Rachel Carson puts it: “We have allowed these chemicals to be used with little or no investigation of their effect on soil, water, wildlife and man himself. Future generations are unlikely to condone our lack of prudent concern for the integrity of the natural world that supports all life. This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits. It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged. When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth. We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts. It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate. The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts. In the words of Jean Rostand, “The obligation to endure gives us the right to know.”

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