Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 18, 2007
Silent Spring's truth still screams today
Rachel Carson' 100th birthday signalled the beginning of the prevention revolution
By SUZANNE ELSTON
May 27, 2007, marked the 100th birthday of Rachel Carson. It also marked the beginning of a revolution.
Unlike most good revolutions that start with a slow smoulder and then burst into flame, the birth of this revolution was carefully timed to coincide with Carson's birthday. It had been meticulously nurtured and planned to culminate in the events that took place May 27.
As the revered founder of the modern environmental movement, Carson would have most likely applauded the occasion that so deliberately marked her centennial.
What distinguishes this new revolution is that is it as much about mindset as it is about action. This revolution marks the end of the war on cancer, and the beginning of the battle to prevent it from happening.
Prevent Cancer Now
Under the banner Prevent Cancer Now, a movement has begun based on the belief that cancer, once unleashed, is a difficult enemy to defeat. The warriors of this new revolution are mostly middle-aged academics, activists, scientists and health care professionals, many of whom are also cancer survivors.
Like Carson, they believe that the current cancer epidemic is caused by our relentless chemical pollution of the environment. Also like Carson, they face considerable opposition from the cancer establishment, drug companies and chemical corporations that stand to make billions by maintaining the status quo.
Cancer killed Carson
What makes this new revolution particularly poignant is that Carson herself died of cancer in 1964, two years after her book, Silent Spring, was published.
For those unfamiliar with Carson's famous work, she carefully documented the health hazards of man-made chemicals and nuclear radiation and warned that we should work to eliminate these carcinogens from our food, water and air, or face a cancer epidemic. To date, more than 75,000 chemicals have been registered for use, only 1,500 of which have tested for their safety.
"For the first time in the history of the world," she wrote, "every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death." The year she died, cancer struck one in every four North Americans, and killed one in five.
According to the new book, Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic, "cancer (now) strikes nearly one in two males, and over a third of all females, and one in four will die." The book, co-authored by Liz Armstrong, Guy Dauncey and Anne Wordsworth, was released last month as part of the celebration that marked the official start of the Prevent Cancer revolution.
The book launch, in turn, marked the opening of a landmark conference, Cancer: It's About Prevention. It's About Time! that was held at the Ottawa University. To bring events full circle, it was at this conference when the audience of 200 activists and academics celebrated Carson's 100th birthday.
The message heard throughout the conference was loud and clear. Our government has lost the political will to protect the health of Canadians and it is not likely to regain that will by accident. As Dr. Michele Brill-Edwards, a pediatrician who spent 15 years with Canada's Health Protection Branch, said, "The government exists to serve the forces that propel it."
Deny, delay, divide, discredit
She explained that in the face of opposition, government bureaucracies invoke the four "Ds" - deny, delay, divide and discredit. Brill-Edwards resigned from the Health Protection Branch in 1996 due to repeated irregularities with the drug approval process she believed were jeopardizing public health.
Speaker after speaker echoed Brill-Edwards words, and called upon the delegates present at the conference not to be defeated or accept the status quo, but to recognize the need to rise up and fight for our health and for the health of our children.
"Don't normalize, organize," advised Mae Burrows, executive director of the Labour Environmental Alliance Society (LEAS). Burrows' passion, intelligence and almost encyclopedic knowledge were indicative of all of the conference speakers.
Against mass poisoning
At the conference's closing on Sunday morning - Carson's birthday - poet, scientist, author and cancer survivor, Dr. Sandra Steingraber called the delegates The Committee Against Mass Poisoning, much to everyone's delight.
For me, the most inspiring slogan of the conference didn't come from a PowerPoint presentation, off the pages of a book, or out of the mouth of one of the many revered speakers present. It came off the T-shirt of a retired nurse and simply read, "Older, wiser, stronger . . . and just a little bit dangerous."
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