Kinkela discusses far-reaching impacts of ‘Silent Spring’ on BBC podcast

Roger Coda
Dr. David Kinkela photo

Dr. David Kinkela

Department of History Professor David Kinkela recently appeared as a panelist on the BBC’s “The Forum” to discuss Rachel Carson, a scientist and author whose book, “Silent Spring,” sounded the alarm more than 50 years ago about the damage that uncontrolled use of chemicals can cause to man and the natural world.

Forum host Bridgett Kendall assembled three experts to explore the dangers that agrichemicals pose to both humans and the rest of the world and describe how “Silent Spring,” which became a best seller, transformed how America and perhaps the rest of the world thought about the environment.

The context of the podcast was framed by Dr. Kinkela, an environmental historian, who indicated that America in the 1950s believed that science and technology were solutions to problems, and the chemical DDT, first used in World War II to reduce malaria rates among American forces, was viewed as a miracle compound.

The American public went on to embrace DDT and other new chemicals as ways to deal with complex environmental and public health and related problems with the eradication of gypsy moths and flies and elimination of household pests, Kinkela explained.

As a broad-spectrum pesticide that kills a variety of pests in significant numbers, DDT was used in great quantities in agriculture, but it also had long-lasting effects and was proven to be dangerous to wildlife.

Joining Kinkela on The Forum panel were a United Kingdom historian whose concentration is on the history of synthetic insecticides and the director of a PBS documentary about Carson’s life. Kinkela is the author of “DDT and the American Century: Global Health, Environmental Politics and the Pesticide that Changed the World.” He has also written on the cultural history of insects and the history of plastic pollution.

Department of Communication Assistant Professor Christopher Dahlie worked with BBC producers to support Kinkela’s participation in “The Forum.”

You can listen online on the Forum webpage or download it.

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