"In Praise of Localism": From American Pests

Following up on yesterday’s post about James McWilliams’s American Pests: Losing the War on Insects from Colonial Times to DDT, here is an excerpt from the book that was posted on Celsias, which was recently named one of the top environmental Web sites by the Times of London.

In the book’s final chapter, McWilliams argues that the decision to move away from locally derived solutions to insect and pest control to centralized federally controlled responses, buttressed by powerful industrial and agricultural interests, has been a recipe for “environmental disaster.” McWilliams writes:

The scale and scope of this government-industry conglomerate had no tolerance for the genuinely democratic debates that had characterized insect management under more decentralized circumstances. As a result, a number of possibly effective control tactics – many nonchemical – were pushed to the periphery, while a single, simplistic, and widely applicable approach culminating in the use of DDT became standardized as the only viable way to survive as a profit-minded commercial grower in the United States. Rachel Carson could change the way we think about ecology, but her work, for all its impact, had little infl uence on the perspective and practices of the federal agencies that continue to oversee and promote an influential and largely monolithic approach to insect control. . . . This behavior, seen from a benign angle, is consistent with the main currents of American history – a history of innovation, entrepreneurship, ambition, greed, and a belief that happiness comes through a better material standard of living (however superficially conceived). But, from a more ominous perspective, it also points to a discouraging and persistent view of the environment.

The solution, McWilliams suggest is a return to the methods developed in local contexts where innovation, civic involvement, and entrepreneurship are allowed to thrive.

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