Asbestos, and Pesticides, and Web-links, Oh My!

I’ve recently happened upon a couple different attempts to recreate the history of two sci-enviro-tech villains of the late twentieth century. Each, I think has its merits for passive amusement or even as a teaching tool—although I’ve yet to try either out with students.

First, consider the history of Asbestos, Quebec, as told through the eyes of the world’s largest Asbestos mine, in graphical form. With pleasant drawings and nice-enough background theme, this graphic novel emphasizes the rise and fall of an industrial town, with plenty of pathos, and approaching the right sort of ambivalence about the fire-proofing material (I’m reminded of Don Worster’s mantra from Rivers of Empire: “How in the remaking of nature, do we remake ourselves?”—How in the eradication of fire, do we poison ourselves?) There’s also an affiliated documentary about the town of Asbestos from the Network in Canadian History and Environment.

DDT gets a similarly inventive treatment, but with much more science, thanks to the University of Minnesota’s “SHIPS” resource center. Among the simulation modules (targeted at high school science students, but fun for all, if you ask me), is one focused on the 1963 Advisory Committee on Pesticides, a panel brought into the world by President Kennedy in response to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. My favorite part: you can pick a person who testified to the committee to play act (I think I smell a new party game here). I’d go as George Wallace personally (not that George Wallace)—I long ago wrote an undergrad thesis about his DDT work at Michigan State. But LaMont Cole looks pretty good too (I’d never read his “Impending Emergence of Ecological Thought” essay from 1964. It’s available on the site.)

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