But this relationship is troubled. Countless authors since Thoreau have decried the man-made deformation and disappearance of that thing we call nature. In particular, Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac (1949) stands out as a powerful warning of the impending loss of the beauty and complexity of our natural environment as a result of human activity. In many ways, environmental health sciences are the academic manifestations of this lament. Scientists attempt to understand the effects of toxic agents on our natural surroundings and, of course, on humans. For many of us, the decision to pursue environmental sciences was inspired by powerful books we read at impressionable times in our lives. Now we work to reveal the complexities of the natural environment and to discern the impact of the human footprint. Many of us consider research to be our primary contribution to a sustainable society. Popular writers recognize the power of literature to captivate and mobilize; they tell stories more compelling than best-selling mysteries. The contributions of these books, although sometimes overly alarmist and occasionally incomplete or inaccurate, have been enormous. To these authors we owe—directly and indirectly—expansion of the federal research agenda to address environmental quality, and public support for measures to reduce the impact of human activity on the environment. It is difficult to contemplate the history of the environmental movement without crediting the impact of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), which was first published in 1962 after having been serialized in The New Yorker. Silent Spring made a powerful argument that the overuse of pesticides (particularly DDT) had an enormous, complex impact on wildlife and human health. Carson’s influence was rooted in her passionate presentation; her readers linked the overuse of these chemicals to changes in the natural world around them that they could perceive and regret. Silent Spring transformed America by illuminating, as never before, the trade-off between unfettered development and nature; the environmental movement grew from those who demanded a reevaluation of that trade-off and fostered a powerful movement to reevaluate that trade-off. At the time Silent Spring (Carson 1962) was published, the federal government’s research on pesticides and other environmental toxicants was scant and unfocussed. In response to the outcry the book engendered, President John F. Kennedy tasked his Presidential Science Advisory Committee to examine the use of pesticides. The committee report (Presidential Science Advisory Council 1963) called for the eventual “elimination of the use of persistent toxic pesticides” and for greatly augmented federal research. The formal response to these recommendations, however, was not swift. Silent Spring (Carson 1962) helped trigger the remarkably sudden rise of the environmental movement, resulting in the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the rapid enactment of laws that have become the foundation for national efforts to clean our air and water. The movement was nourished by books written for the general public by scientists concerned with the impact of modern industry and commerce on humans and our environment. Among the most memorable of these are The Closing Circle (1971) by Barry Commoner, Only One Earth by Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos (1972), and The Politics of Cancer by Samuel Epstein (1979). Federal funding of research into the health effects of electromagnetic fields can be attributed in large part to The Zapping of America (Brodeur 1987) and Currents of Death (Brodeur 1989), in which Paul Brodeur made dramatic assertions about the effects of exposure to microwaves and electromagnetic fields associated with power transmission. Brodeur captivated the public by linking the results of scientific investigations with heart-breaking anecdotes of cancerstricken children. Congress responded by funding a 5-year $60 million research initiative through the Energy Policy Act of 1992. The lessons of Silent Spring (Carson 1962) were not lost on the authors of Our Stolen Future (Colborn et al. 1996), who explained in nontechnical terms the scientific evidence on the health effects of “endocrine disruptors.” Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers, the book’s authors, presented a compelling case that these chemicals are the cause of developmental and reproductive abnormalities in wildlife and humans. Although this evidence was already familiar to many in the scientific community, the text transformed the scientific discussion into a public policy debate. Our Stolen Future (Colborn et al. 1996) played an important role in congressional passage in 1996 of amendments to the Food Quality Protection Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, the impetus for the U.S. EPA’s Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, a major research initiative focused directly on the issues the book raised (Krimsky 2000). Scientists are reductionists; as we study the cells of the twigs, many of us forget about the trees, to say nothing of the forests or the biosphere. Popular literature increases the social impact of the work of environmental scientists while reminding us why we selected this field in the first place. This literature shapes our lives directly through inspiration and recruitment of new colleagues, and indirectly through influencing public consciousness and setting federal research priorities. EHP ’s new Book Review section is a most welcome addition to the journal; it will help us keep up with a literature we often do not acknowledge, but which has an enormous impact on our work and on the world.
Environmental Health Perspectives