Hang on, my good neighbors. It’s going to be a bumpy ride today with some sharp turns. Some of you may get angry, but that’s OK. It’s good for the circulation.
I don’t know your names, but I’ll wager I know a thing or two about you. If you’re like me and the tailgate of your truck is the workbench you use most often; if you have more pairs of boots than dress shoes; if there is a sharp knife in your pocket, a worn out pair of White Mule gloves on your bench and a fishing pole or a shotgun or both in the corner of your shop, then you might need to hear this.
My unscientific survey of anecdotal evidence and years of observation tells me that you are the ones most likely to buy a jug of weed killer at the Low Depot and apply it generously.
There’s that sharp turn I warned you about, and yes, we’re going there again.
If you’re about to stop reading, please hang on for a little bit longer. Chances are that that no one you know and love has fought a battle with cancer. Yet. If you do know someone who has fought that battle, you may be more likely to take a look at the mounting evidence that glyphosate and a number of other herbicides (and pesticides for that matter) can make you sick.
If you want science, there are scores of epidemiological studies available which point to the hazards of certain chemicals. You don’t even have to go that far. Just read the MSDS or Manufacturer’s Safety Data Sheet that is (supposed to be) available in every workplace that uses chemicals.
No, the problem is not science. The problem is one of marketing and “tobacco science.” How many years did Big Tobacco tell us that smoking was safe? They had the studies to “prove” it too. And the marketing. “More doctors smoke Camel than any other cigarette.”
Who would have guessed that baby powder could have caused ovarian cancer? Johnson and Johnson didn’t lose a multi billion dollar lawsuit because they were simply mistaken. Like Big Tobacco and Bayer/Monsanto, they lost because they knew better and covered up that knowledge.
Successful marketing by huge corporations works because it impacts us at a cultural level, and that kind of manipulation has been making hard working people sick for decades. We walk into the Low Depot in the early summer and the first thing we see is stack after stack of Roundup. It’s everywhere. It’s commonplace. It’s on sale.
Organizations we trust tell us that it’s safe. We love the BRMEMC here. We trust them to keep the lights on and we admire the heroes who climb a pole or go up in a bucket in the wind and rain and lightning. It must be safe if the power company is spraying mile after mile of right of way. They’ve got the scientific studies that tell us it’s safe, provided by the TVA, and the TVA is part of the government, which we all trust.
The DOT and the GDOT believe that widespread spraying of thousands of miles of road right of way is safe too. And the EPA, which is entirely trustworthy and knows better than the courts, hundreds of studies and dozens of nations which have banned glyphosate, also says it is safe.
It’s everywhere. It’s safe and it’s on sale. But just to make sure that those of us who are most likely to be concerned with weeds in the lawn or along the fence line will not hesitate to pick up an extra jug of spray, we are influenced on a psychological level as well. Only a wimp would be afraid of a little spray. It’s always the tree huggers, the hippies, the communists, or the liberals who are concerned about the environment.
Marketing of certain products has long relied on subtle manipulation of our male egos, and sometimes we are easy marks. I’m reminded of the good natured ribbing I took as a young wildland firefighter when I used my safety gear. It was hot. It was uncomfortable. It was wimpy to use it. But today I don’t have emphysema or bronchial asthma or heart disease like some of my former co workers.
The problem with weed killer goes even deeper. My great grandmother “brush broomed” her yard. With a bundle of sticks or a rake, she would scour away any blade of grass or living thing. There was a practical reason for this. The snakes had nowhere to hide.
But for generations now, marketing has convinced us that our lawns have to look like golf courses. Look at the happy children playing on the ChemLawn. One squirt of spray on the evil dandelion and next thing you know, the puppy is chasing the ball. You’ve got clover in your lawn? Aren’t you afraid of the bees that will come? You know there’s a spray for that, right?
We do things a little differently at home. We encourage native plants to grow. Native plants build and stabilize soil. When it rains, our creek runs clear, but a couple of miles down the valley it turns brown with sediment. We let most of the leaves lay where they fall in October. The leaves add organic material to the soil and we have many times the number of butterflies every summer than can be found on the golf course. Thousands of lightning bugs light up our cove in the summer. Hummingbirds patrol the jewel weed, the joe pye weed, the larkspur, the ironweed and the succession of native blooms that cover the meadow.
Keep spraying that creek bank and you may not need the fishing pole in the corner of your shop. Even corporate science admits the danger to fish posed by certain weed killers. Now we’re hearing that the honeybees are threatened too. Glyphosate impacts their gut bacteria and lowers their immune systems, but corporate science has a good corn syrup to replace the honey on your biscuit.
We live in, arguably, a free society. We still have the right to smoke, but not the right to blow it in someone’s face. We can still buy Roundup and any number of lawn and agricultural chemicals, but the battle lines are drawn and the tactics are similar to the tobacco battle our parents fought. Is it possible hundreds of scientists, dozens of nations and several juries are wrong, and the chemicals in question are safe, or less dangerous than some people think? Sure it is. But how much are you willing to gamble on that possibility?