Posted by: Annabel Ascher | June 11, 2011

Reclaiming the Commons Part V

Trouble in the Garden

David W. Orr writes in Orion magazine in January 2004, that:

“Each of us Americans, on average, has 190 potentially toxic organochlorine compounds in our fatty tissue and several hundred other chemicals that may be harmful to our health”[i]

The knowledge that there is something deadly to humans (and other living things) inherent in our way of life predates David Orr by several decades. Steingraber states, in Living Downstream, that:

“All types combined, the incidence of cancer in the United States rose 49.3 percent between 1950 and 1991. This is the longest reliable view we have available. . at mid-century a cancer diagnosis was the expected fate of about 25% of Americans- a ratio Rachel Carson found so shocking it inspired the title of one of her chapters- while today, about 40% of us (88.3 percent of women and 48.2 percent of men) will contract the disease sometime within our lifespans. Cancer is now the second leading cause of death overall and the leading cause of death among Americans thirty-five to sixty-four.[ii]

Of course there is enough anecdotal evidence floating around that most of us don’t need to read a book to realize there is a cancer epidemic. We can read it in the stories of our lives and the lives of our friends and acquaintances.

There were other troubling developments as well. Steingraber states: Carson studied the failed attempt to prevent the Japanese beetle from invading Iroquois County, a rural community located due west of my home county. After intense and repeated spraying pesticide bombardments by air during the mid 1950s, many insect species, sickened by the spraying became easy prey for insect eating birds and mammals. These creatures became poisoned in turn, and, in ever-widening circles of death, went on to sicken and kill those who fed on their flesh, leaving a landscape devoid of life- from pheasants to barnyard cats.”[iii]

It doesn’t take a lot of thought to jump from barnyard cats to a Kafkaesque vision of the future for humans, but not many were willing to make the leap, at least not yet.

Then there was the matter of deforestation, northern style. The housing market boomed after the war, and hasn’t slowed down since. In the eyes of the free market capitalists the chemical explosion was fine, the housing boom was wonderful, and the best thing of all was the birth of the consumer culture, which was in fact engineered by the corporations themselves. Any nagging doubts, any questions, were just the wild talk of somewhat suspect, possibly communist doomsayers. Absolutely any and all problems (if any) would be handled by the miracles of technology and the invisible hand of the market.

Ironically, the actual communists, being every bit as devoted to the treadmill of production as their western counterparts, were having many of the same problems. We had our Three Mile Island, they had their Chernobyl.



[i] David W. Orr, The Law of the Land, Orion magazine, Page 19

[ii] Sandra Stiengraber, Living Downstream ,Page 40

[iii] Sandra Steingraber, Page 17


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