June 17, 2005
How About A Positive Spin, For A Change?
By Michael D. Shaw
It was back in 1939 that DuPont adopted the advertising slogan “Better Things for Better Living…Through Chemistry.” No one was arguing with this notion, or even making fun of it (as it would eventually refer to hallucinogenic drugs) all through the 1950’s and early 1960’s. From drastic improvement in agricultural yields to the single most important application of science to mankind, the use of chlorine to purify water, praising the chemical industry was really an exercise in stating the obvious.
But, by the mid-1960’s something happened. The baby boomers, luxuriating in a cushy world, not of their making, sought to rebel. Demonstrations started for free speech, for civil rights, and against the Vietnam War; and in 1970 came the first Earth Day.
Suddenly, the chem guys were no longer the white knights, deep as they were in Napalm and Agent Orange. In 1962, the execrable Rachel Carson unleashed her fiction work Silent Spring, catalyzing waves of junk science that got DDT banned. “If man were to faithfully follow the teachings of Miss Carson,” complained an unnamed executive of American Cyanamid at the time, “we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.” So what if he was proven correct, at least in Africa where malaria, once almost eradicated, took about 15 million unnecessary lives? The gliterati felt good about themselves.
Unfortunately, the industry lost a whole lot of self-esteem, and has yet to emerge from its timid public posture. But, guess what? We ARE the good guys. It’s time we acted the part.