People and the Environment
Chris Chiu and Kat Chisholm
And No Birds Sing
By Rachel Carson
In 1930, Dutch elm diseases, a
fungal disease which attacks elm
trees arrived in America and quickly
Elm bark beetles, after coming into
contact with spores of the invading
fungus, carry the disease from tree
In an attempt to solve the problem,
elm trees were sprayed with DDT at
Michigan State University in 1954.
When the robins migrated back in
spring, people started noticing dead
and dying birds turning up on
“Dead and dying robins began to appear on
campus. Few birds were seen in their normal
foraging activities or assembling in their usual
When other animals were inadvertently fed earthworms and
died, Dr. Wallace, a graduate student studying robins at the
University began to suspect that the cause of death was due to
indirect poisoning by the birds consumption of a contaminated
DDT is not only effective in killing pests (although over time
insects do become resistant) it also kills birds and other species
that come into contact with it as well.
A tree spayed with DDT is covered in a film which does not wash
away in the rain.
DDT stays on the leaves, and in autumn they fall to the ground
and become one with the soil, where they are then consumed by
earthworms that eat the leaves
“Undoubtedly some of the earthworms themselves
succumb, but others survive to become ‘biological
magnifiers’ of the poison.”
It only takes 11 contaminated
earthworms to effectively kill a
Robins eat approximately that
much in as many minutes .
With a 86-88% mortality rate,
the robins had a real possibility
of becoming extinct.
Robins that weren’t killed off
were unable to reproduce.
Records show nests with no
eggs, while others, witch did
have eggs these did not hatch.
“Not all robins received a lethal dose, but another
consequence may lead to the extinction of their
kind as surely as fatal poisoning.”
Evidence was found of DDT in the testes and ovaries
of male and female robins.
The robin made up only a small part of the chain.
Heavy mortality occurred among 90 different
species of birds.
Mammals, such as raccoons, shrews and opossums
that ate earthworms as well were also affected.
“…Dr. Wallace saw no chickadees or nuthatches at his
home feeding station for the first time in many years. Three
nuthatches later provided a sorry little step-by-step lesson
in cause and effect: one was feeding on an elm, another
was found dying of typical DDT symptoms, the third was
Treetop feeders, birds that glean their insect food from the
leaves disappeared from heavily sprayed areas as well.
All parts of the food chain become a target for poisoning as
the poison passes from one level to the next. Predators such
as owls and hawks too died from eating contaminated prey.
Birds, such as woodpeckers and chickadees act as a protective
force for certain trees against beetles and worms. As their
numbers, unlike their prey, the insects don’t recover as
quickly, the prey once again takes over with increased
numbers with the absence of a policing force.
Are there any benefits of DDT?
Despite continual use for 6
years, the University lost
86% of their elm trees.
Half of the trees lost were
victims of Dutch elm disease.
Other places in the Midwest
experienced similar results
“Spraying is killing the birds but it is not saving the elms.
The illusion that salvation is at the end of a spray nozzle is
dangerous will-o’-the-wisp that is leading one community
after another into a morass of heavy expenditures, without
producing lasting results.”
Spraying DDT killed the birds
and did not effectively save
DDT did not solve the
problem. In actuality it made
In New York, where there has been
great success in controlling Dutch
elms disease without the aid of
spraying they have relied on a
vigorous sanitation program or the
prompt removal of all diseased or
infected wood. This means all
infected fire wood had to be burned
before spring, when a crop of fungus
carrying beetles would be released.
These practices reduced loss to 2/10
of New York’s 55,000 elm trees by
In Buffalo, these practices reduced
loss to 3/10 of 1 percent of 185,000
elm trees. It would take 300 years to
eliminate all of Buffalo’s elms.
Are You an Environmentalist or Do You
Work for a Living?
By Richard White
Title of article comes from a bumper sticker. It
poses an interesting question; why does it seem like
Environmentalist are opposed to work? Also, how is
it that work has come to play such a small role in
Environmentalist take two equally problematic
positions, the first one is that productive work in
nature is seen as a destroying of nature. The second
is that only archaic forms of work provide a
knowing of nature
Although it cannot be argued that
centuries of human labor have left
nature changed, work that has
changed nature has simultaneously
produced much of our knowledge of
Modern Environmentalism lacks an
adequate consideration of this
Distrust of work by
Environmentalist, particularly hard
labour leads to a larger tendency to
define humans as being outside of
nature, and to frame environmental
issues as a choice between humans
Most Americans celebrate nature as
being a place where things remain
in their natural state.
The boundary between the natural
world, and the world of artifice is
becoming blurred. An example
would be of the cows and crops we
breed, the fields we cultivate, and
the genes we splice. Which are
they? Natural or unnatural?
The argument becomes a debate
between leisure and work.
Leisure, which is associated with
the protection of nature, but
separate from work, which
destroys. When saving a old-
growth forests, there is certainly a
victory for the creatures who live
and occupy these spaces, but no
doubt it is too a defeat for the
logger who earns an income from
logging of that same forest.
“A logger’s tools extend his body into the trees so that he
knows the texture of their wood and bark differs and
varies, how they smell and fall. The price of this knowledge
is the death of a tree.”
There would be no problems if the world were
cleanly divided between work and play, as
Environmentalist, who like to focus more on
nature, but not so much on humans and their work
seem to believe.
Work provides a fundamental knowing of
nature, and perhaps our deepest connection
“If I sat and typed here day after day, as clerical
workers type, without frequent breaks to wander
and look at the mountains, I would become
achingly aware of my body…My body, the nature in
me, would rebel.”
The segregation of nature leads
to a set of dualisms where work
can only mean the absence of
nature, and nature can only
mean human leisure. This
segregation will ultimately
leave humans much poorer.
Technology serves to mask the
connection to nature that
modern work and machines
have, even though there are no
technologies that can remove
us from nature
“…If we do not come to terms with our work, if we fail to
pursue the implications of our labour and our bodies in
the natural world, then we will return to patrolling the
borders. We will turn public lands into public playground;
we will equate wild lands with rugged play; we will
imagine nature as an escape, a place where we are born
again. It will be a paradise where we leave work behind.
Nature may turn out to look a lot like an organic
Disneyland, except it will be harder to park.”
Modern work, unlike logging, farming or
herding does not come face to face with
what it alters. Nothing can be learned from
it, the connection modern work makes flows
in only one direction.
“Work, then, is where we should
If environmentalism focused on
work a whole series of angles
on the world might be possible.
Instead of irresponsibly
removing ourselves from
nature and pretending to be
the innocent, we could become
more linked to one
another, and become once
again linked to nature. We need
to give up our hopeless fixation
on purity, and begin our focus
on our work.
Economic Globalization Has Become a
War Against Nature and the Poor
By Vandana Shiva
Punjab used to be the most
region in India. Today every
farmer is in debt
The trees have stopped
bearing fruit due to the
heavy use of pesticides that
kills pollinators – the bees
and the butterflies
“The native seeds have been displaced with new hybrids
which cannot be saved and need to be purchased every
year at a high cost. Hybrids are also very vulnerable to pest
Corporations lured farmers into
buying seeds they described as
“white gold”. These
seeds, which were supposed to
millionaires, instead they
ended up worse off. These
same pesticides farmers spray
their crops with are being used
to commit suicide. It is a means
to permanently escape their
debts. The situation has
become an epidemic.
Mining of scarce groundwater in arid regions to grow thirsty
cash crops, are creating “man-made” drought.
The exploitation of the poor in the name of globalization is
“brutal and unforgivable” in the words of Shiva
Contrary to the dominant assumption, it is actually women
and small farmers working with biodiversity in developing
nations that are the primary food providers.
Monocultures produce a high yield of one specific crop. Mixed
fields of crops have a lower yield, but have a high total output of
food. Yields have been defined in such ways as to make the food
production on small farms by small farmers, disappear.
From the biodiversity perspective, biodiversity based productivity is
higher than that of a monoculture.
Diversity is the best strategy for preventing drought and
Chemical intensification and genetic engineering does not produce
more food, and often leads to yield decline. It should not be
promoted as the only answer to feeding the hungry.
By doing so, nature’s diverse gifts and women’s knowledge of how
to use this diversity to feed their families is being negated.
“While patriarchal divisions of labour has assigned women the role of
feeding their families and communities, patriarchal economics and
patriarchal views of science and technology magically make women’s
work in providing food disappear. ‘Feeding the World’ becomes
dissociated from the women who actually do it and is projected as
dependent on global agribusiness and biotechnology corporations.”
In India, 90% of food processing
is done by women at the
household level, or by small
cottage industry. This has been
done intentionally. Pseudo
hygiene laws are pushing food
processing out of the
home, and into the global
agribusiness sphere. This take-
over is putting millions into
new poverty. It is a recipe not
for feeding the world, but for
stealing the livelihoods of the
poor to create markets for the
“…Global law has enshrined the patriarchal myth of creation to
create new property rights to life forms just as colonialism used the
myth of discovery as the basis of the take-over of the land of other
The knowledge of the poor is being converted into the property of global
corporations. Poor will have to pay for the seeds and medicines they have evolved,
“The imperative to stamp out the smallest
insect, the smallest plant, the smallest peasant
comes from a deep fear – the fear of everything
that is alive and free.”
We can only be fed when
everyone else is has too been
fed. This means feeding the
worm and cow, we feed the
soil, which supports the plants,
that we then eat.
There needs to be a shift in
thinking. A focus on abundance
and sharing, diversity and
decentralization, and respect
and dignity for all beings is
needed in order to become
There are very clear themes that arise out of the three readings.
From the first reading, Economic Globalization Has Become a War
Against Nature and the Poor by Vandana Shiva, the idea that what is
being done to the poor is inexcusable, and that there is a need for an
equal sharing of resources is apparent. This connects very nicely to
the idea we get from Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for
a Living? By Richard White, that in order for Environmentalism to
survive and remain tangible we must change our views of work being
something separate from nature. That being said, those working in
blue-collar industries are very much like the farmers of India. Do you
believe that if we as a society operated in a way more like the model
of India, that we could become more prosperous? Do you think it is
even possible for us in North America to do things such as process
our own food on a smaller scale or at home, and what steps would it
take to convert to this model, which would seem to be capitalisms
Discussion Questions cont’d.
In the article And No Birds Sing by Rachel Carson, they
used DDT to get rid of insects. Diminished bird
populations, and damage to the ecosystem through the
killing of top predators has proven that the risks far
outweigh the benefits. In the article Economic
Globalization Has Become a War Against Nature and the
Poor by Vandana Shiva, it discusses the use of BT GM
crops to eliminate weeds and insects as a way to replace
dangerous pesticides such as DDT. Since both have the
same effect as one another in that they harm other
insects besides the pests that come into contact with
them, such as pollinators like bees and monarch
butterflies, should genetic engineered crops be banned
just like DDT, or do their benefits outweigh the risks?