Silent Spring’s 50th anniversary: What would Rachel Carson say now?

By Paul R. Ehrlich
June 26, 2012

When I was a graduate student at the University of Kansas, the pesticide DDT was very much on my mind. My assistantship in 1953 involved research on the evolution of DDT-resistance in fruit flies. It quickly became clear to all of us in this research group that the broadcast use of pesticides was a losing and dangerous game. When I attempted to raise butterflies in New Jersey in the 1940s, bringing food plants in from nature usually resulted in the caterpillars dying. In those days, widespread spraying of DDT to control mosquitoes coated much of the countryside with poison. In the lab it was easy to use selection to make flies impervious to DDT in some 10 generations, or, in contrast, so susceptible that they would drop dead at a whisper of that “miracle” chemical’s name. Evolution of resistance tended to make continuous use of any pesticide inefficient. The usual response of the chemical industry was to recommend increasing the dose or to substitute more toxic compounds, making pest control even more expensive and dangerous.

That was well understood by evolutionists early on, but it took a marine biologist and talented writer, Rachel Carson, to bring the pesticide problem to public attention and, incidentally, to launch the modern environmental movement. Silent Spring, published in September, 1962, was a brilliant book, but also one that appeared when the time clearly was ripe. The public seemingly had been primed by publicity about radioactive fallout, fears of pesticide residues on cranberries and the thalidomide scandal, the latter enhanced by pictures of infants born with distorted limbs. Carson suffered from the drawbacks of being a female scientist before science’s gender gap began to dissolve, and from lacking a PhD and a professorial position. Despite those “handicaps,” she had the science about as right as it could be at the time.

Carson was subject to a storm of vicious attacks by the combined public-relations machines of the chemical industry and agribusiness, and even from scientists in the industry and entomology departments of some universities. Typical was the much quoted statement of Professor Robert H. White-Stevens, a poultry scientist of Rutgers University: “If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.” The assault began even before Silent Spring was published. A public-relations campaign against Carson and trumpeting the safety of pesticides was bankrolled by the National Agricultural Chemical Association (NACA). Virtually all of the attacks were without merit. Carson withstood them all, even though she was struggling with metastatic cancer. I met her once only briefly, and then she was gone.

Rachel Carson’s legacy looms huge today. Many people have the impression that climate disruption is the worst environmental problem humanity faces, and indeed, its consequences may be catastrophic. But the spread of toxic chemicals from pole to pole may be the dark horse in the race. Carson may have started environmentalism by illuminating exactly the right issue. This is especially the case as recent research has shown that many synthetic chemicals, called endocrine-disrupting compounds, may do nasty things to you at high doses but can have different harmful effects at very low doses. These low-dose effects can increase the probabilities of altered sex determination, behavioral changes, developing cancers and more.

A mass of evidence should alert humanity to the risks of toxifying Earth from pole to pole with synthetic chemicals. For instance, Tyrone Hayes of the University of California, Berkeley, has suffered Carson-like abuse by flacks for the chemical industry for demonstrating nasty low-dose impacts of the near-ubiquitous herbicide atrazine in both the laboratory and in nature. Atrazine is manufactured by Syngenta, which has bankrolled a multimillion-dollar campaign hiring pundits to lie about atrazine and besmirch Hayes. The campaign resembles that of the well-funded fossil-fuel industry assault on climate disruption and also the tobacco industry’s perpetual storm of lies about the safety of smoking. Hayes has been, as was Rachel Carson, scientifically vindicated, and like Carson, is one of my heroes.

Infant mosquito fish exposed to small doses of 4-nonylphenol, a widely used industrial chemical, produced adults all with the female phenotype although the normal 50-50 male-female ratio persisted in the sex organs. In the wild, a high frequency of alligators in a Florida lake polluted with an endocrine-disrupting pesticide had developmental abnormalities leading to sterility. A recent, thorough review of the literature documented the pervasive evidence for low-dose effects in populations of human beings and of wildlife. One of its conclusions (conservative in my view) is that “regulatory action to minimize or eliminate human exposures to endocrine disruptors could significantly benefit human health.” Today humanity is faced with a series of epidemics in which toxics may be involved: asthma, autism, hormone-related cancers, ADHD, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and learning disabilities, just to name a few. Of course, toxics may be found innocent in many cases, but is it wise to keep releasing them ad lib into the environment on the assumption they are not involved?

Carson was properly concerned about the problems of unknown interactions among mixtures of novel chemicals in the environment. Today, with the potential for millions of possible synergisms among the tens of thousands of compounds already released, just identifying the culprits would be an enormous challenge. And if they were identified, removing them from the environment could be an even more monumental task, or most likely prove impossible.

What should be done? In my view there are two basic solutions to situations where the activities of a segment of the human population, often an industry, present a clear and present threat to the human future as once the manufacture of chlorofluorocarbons did in threatening the ozone layer. One answer lies in society finding ways to alter the behavior of the industry to minimize the impacts on those involved. Society needs energy, but it can no longer afford to mobilize it by burning fossil fuels. John Browne had the right idea when he changed British Petroleum Corporation into BP Corporation and gave it the slogan “Beyond Petroleum.” Society needs some synthetic materials, but it can no longer afford to manufacture and distribute them as incautiously as it now does.

Browne’s approach didn’t last at BP, but perhaps converting the toxics producers to “green chemistry” could be a permanent step forward. The idea would be to make the basic ingredients of American prosperity less toxic or non-toxic. This would shift the environmental issues in molecular design upfront. Green chemistry has great promise as a path toward inherently safer materials, but it faces serious impediments. One of the biggest and most immediate is that the field lacks the capacity, in terms of trained people, to ask the right questions and generate workable solutions. At a time when American science education is on the wane and when U.S. industrial jobs are fleeing overseas, this scientific industrial revolution could breathe new life into a sector of industry that may otherwise be doomed to obsolescence and decay.

In an era of exploding populations and escalating resource scarcities, the pressure to produce many substances with known or possible toxicities will probably grow, and grow much more rapidly than scientists can even estimate the risks. This is especially so in view of the myriad potential but unknown synergies possible in the global stew of toxic substances. One solution is to invoke the precautionary principle, by prohibiting all discharge of persistent organic pollutants and rapidly phasing out production of the most dangerous classes of compounds, such as organochlorines. This would shift the burden of proof from having to demonstrate that a chemical is dangerous to requiring it be shown to be safe, although admittedly, criteria would be difficult to establish.

The second and more fundamental answer, I believe, is that the global system needs to be rescaled. It is now in serious overshoot, with more than one Earth now required to support just today’s population indefinitely. Humanity seems to be moving fast away from sustainability, and symptoms of collapse are becoming common. To see that, one need only compare the first oil well, which went down 69.5 feet from Earth’s surface to strike oil, with Deepwater Horizon, which started a mile under the sea and drilled a couple of miles deeper. A gradual, humane reduction of human population, and a reduction in over-consumption by the rich, would greatly alleviate pressure on the chemical industry to keep churning out dangerous chemicals. I imagine that Carson, with her population-oriented discussion of pesticide problems, would be very sympathetic to such a rescaling. “Populations are kept in check by something the ecologists call the resistance of the environment,” she noted, “and this has been so since the first life was created.”

Of course, as Carson’s critics realize, this would have serious financial consequences for the chemical industry, and could result in considerable inconvenience for consumers. To avoid that, one possibility is to pursue business as usual and count on luck to save civilization. Maybe no truly lethal synergies will turn up, or no new chemical will become global before it is discovered to cause untreatable cancer. Maybe the poisoning of nonhuman organisms will not collapse ecological systems – as appears to be happening with bees today – and bring down civilization. Perhaps advances in molecular biology will identify and neutralize any dangerous new compounds or cure any serious diseases that appear.

And perhaps they won’t. Is it wise to sit by and not take substantial measures? In democracies, the decision rests ultimately with the citizens; I think it is crystal clear what Carson would have recommended.

This article originally appeared at www.environmentalhealthnews.org on June 25, 2012.

PHOTO: Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, published 1962 by Houghton Mifflin.

10 comments

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Thank goodness we have the Environmental Working Group (http://www.ewg.org/) to help regular folks muddle through all the science. However, given Reuters’ article on US LNG export potential receiving far more reader comments than this one, it is clear that Americans are still far more concerned with getting cheap energy than keeping a healthy earth.

Posted by LEEDAP | Report as abusive

Thank you, Professor Ehrlich. An informed electorate would . . . (Oh, what am I saying? Sorry, that was a reverie.) In this particular democracy (U.S.), the citizenry has its attention on the latest shiny object: “Oh, look over there!” If full citizenship is partly defined by intelligent and engaged participation in elections, we don’t have very many who fill that category, so the conclusion I draw is that the conclusion isn’t too far away.

Posted by PartyZova | Report as abusive

Most Americans have been educated to believe that it is their God-given right to rape the Earth and all that is in it for their own benefit. They haven’t learned one of the first lessons of all life is don’t soil your own nest. American culture makes it easy for them to look the other way. The current addiction to technology enforces the belief that they can do whatever to the environment and their bodies, and then run to the doctor for a regiment of pills to take care of it. Instead of looking to the source of the problem, we treat symptoms, and our whole economic prosperity is tied up in treatments. Any attempt to break the addictive cycle is quickly crushed by the current powers; energy, medical, pharmaceutical and the industrial war machine.

My hope has been for the last twenty years or so that space travel would be far more advanced by now and that huge populations would be leaving the Earth for far away colonies to seek their fortunes, thus helping the Earth to heal itself from the effects of too many people living like a cancer on its surface. My assumption has always been that those colonies would not be naturally life-sustaining so that humans there would have no choice but to live in an environmentally conscious way. So much for hope. However, works like Rachel Carson’s and now Mr. Ehrlich’s help to stem the tide from time to time.

Posted by lhathaway | Report as abusive

Dr. Ehrlich makes a number of assertions that clearly are relevant. We are introducing synthetic substances at an increasing rate, some of which may be harmful. In addition, there is no doubt about the some of the negative impacts on the environment by humans – the most severe is the dramatic increase in species extinctions over the last century. However much of what he says, and in fact, much of what what Rachel Carson wrote in Silent Spring, flies in the face of reality and logic. Their claims do not appear valid when you consider the incredible increase in human life expectancy over the last 100 years. Several of the illnesses that Dr. Ehrlich lists are actually behavior related and have little to nothing to do with synthetic chemicals. If you eat sugar and fat rich foods in large amounts and live a sedentary life style, you will become obese, which leads to the development of diabetes and heart disease. Throw in a pack of cigarettes a day and you dramatically increase your odds of developing cancers (and heart disease). None of this has to do with synthetic chemicals introduced in the environment, but are behavioral related illnesses – a different issue altogether.

The fact is that modern technology has and is improving our lives in many ways. It is pretty easy to point fingers at industry and the government for societal ills, health issues and environmental destruction, but I don’t see any of those finger pointers giving up the benefits of modern life: advanced healthcare, automobiles (and the fuel they use), fresh fruit during the winter (imported via modern transportation), computers, cell phones, the internet, cable TV, etc, etc. I also do not see any of these finger pointers providing realistic solutions to the real world problems.

Talking about “humane population reduction” is BS – do you want what the Chinese did during the Cultural Revolution? Just how would you do it without destroying civil rights? The truth is that societies tend to reduce their birthrate as they become more affluent – there is a tendency for populations to stabilize as they become richer, which is a strong argument for expanding the middle class and increasing wealth world wide. Installing solar panels that use more energy and resources to build than the energy they actually produce is another useless pseudo-solution. We are stuck with carbon based energy sources for now, but we could and should move forward with modern nuclear electrical generation and hydrogen mobile energy solutions. Until and unless somebody can provide a solar cell that has at least 50% efficiency, I don’t think solar (or wind either) is a viable solution. Forget biofuels – if we convert all farmland globally to only biofuel production, it still would not supply the current global energy requirements. Nuclear and hydrogen are the only viable long term energy solutions on the horizon and neither produce greenhouse gases.

I could easily go on about the lame “non-solutions” offered by people who never have to actually have to get things done. Ideas are important, but getting from the theory to reality is the hard part that many environmentalists just don’t seem to understand. Does conservation of resources have a role – of course. We can do much better at how we use resources. Should we be more careful with the introduction of new synthetic chemicals – absolutely. Should we have a proactive approach to health care, fitness and diet – without question. But you also have to realistically address the millions who still suffer from malnutrition and lack of basic services. The billions who simply do not care about this discussion because they are living from day to day, scrambling to provide food and shelter for their families.

Real solutions. Not just finger pointing and writing your congressman because you’re against the latest pipeline that supplies the oil (oil that you are using right now) or a mine that will provide copper (to supply you with electricity for the computer you are using right now) or a nuclear power plant that produces clean electricity. Real solutions, please.

Posted by AuAgExpl | Report as abusive

AuAgExpl,

Life expectancy varies country to country. Yes, developed nations have seen it increase, usually at the expense of the less developed, with the associated increase in care facilities for the elderly, the increase in Parkinson’s and dementia, and the added economic cost to the health and social welfare systems.

We are also exporting our problems to nations like China and India, exposing them to the toxic waste associated with recycling our electronics. But that’s their problem….

Throwing in a pack of cigarettes has everything to do with the introduction of synthetic chemicals into the environment, especially if you include the petrochemicals used to fertilize the tobacco fields. And since the tobacco industry can’t market their products so easily in the U.S. anymore, they sell them very cheaply to yes, China and India.

The Cultural Revolution lasted from 1966 until 1976, when Mao died and the Gang of Four were imprisoned. Its purpose was to impose Maoist orthodoxy, not population controls. The Family Planning Policy was introduced in 1978. “It was created by the Chinese government to alleviate social, economic, and environmental problems in China….”

Yes, affluent societies tend to see population stabilization or reduction, but the U.S. is seeing a decrease or stabilization in the white population, but an marked increase in the black and Hispanic populations. I’m all for expanding the Middle Class world-wide, but not for an increase in population to 10.5 billion by 2050. The potential tax revenues won’t alleviate the problems associated with the increase in population density.

Nuclear power doesn’t produce greenhouse gases, true, but it does produce nuclear waste. (It’s like Clean Coal, a BS marketing ploy. The coal industry’s solution for all the mercury they’re dumping into the environment, is to ignore it.) Do we continue to bury nuclear waste in our back yard and hope that nobody digs it up sometime over the next few thousand years? Do we continue to ignore the hazards of Hanford and Rocky Flats sites like we do for so many of the current and abandoned mining sites? And what of Fukushima…?

Posted by Andvari | Report as abusive

Dr. Hayes’ work on atrazine has not been vindicated, it’s been discredited. The only people that believe his research are ideological types that are already committed against pesticides and are desperate for validation. As for Rachel Carson’s legacy, I guess it’s the continued prevalence of malaria around the world, which reportedly kills about a million people every year.

Posted by Calfri | Report as abusive

Andvari,

I appreciate your comments but obviously disagree on a couple of points:

Silent Spring and Dr. Ehrlich’s discussion are about small levels of synthetic chemicals introduced into the environment by humans and their potential impact(unsubstantiated in most cases) – not about tobacco, which has been cultivated and used for hundreds of years. We KNOW this is a toxin. We as individuals decide whether to consume this toxin or not – it is a conscious choice, which is very different than the issues discussed in Silent Spring. My point is that behavioral based illnesses are not part of this discussion and Dr. Ehrlich was implying that these sort of illnesses are due to small levels of synthetic chemicals in the environment by bringing them into the discussion – definitely not the case with tobacco or obesity which are clearly linked to some of the most significant illnesses throughout the world. Very serious but a different issue.

It is a fact that birthrates decline as a society becomes more affluent, so what is your point? Nothing else except force has ever lowered the birthrate so what is your solution for the perceived problem of over population? There also is absolutely no doubt that the average lifespan for humans has dramatically increased, mainly due to technological developments that improve healthcare and food production. I say that is a good thing and I still don’t see you (or Dr. Ehrlich) offering a viable solution to reining in population growth. The only real solution is bringing the poor of the world into the middle class and you cannot do that by wealth redistribution or force – it has been tried before without success. That is what will stabilize the world population growth – nothing else will work short of global war or a pandemic. I do apologize about the incorrect reference to the the Cultural Revolution. The point is that the Chinese government forced people to limit their families – in what sense do you find that good or acceptable? I don’t. That is not the way to approach the problem. Again, what is your solution??

As far as nuclear power and hydrogen mobile energy are concerned, I did not say it was without issues or problems. But there are solutions, including reprocessing of spent nuclear waste. Politics, more than technology, has limited progress in this area. As a scientist, I think it would be great if every solution was easy and without consequences, but that is not the real world. In the long run, what other energy processes will actually provide the energy needs of 7 billion people currently on this planet? What about 10.5 billion by 2050? Seriously, can you provide any real answer?

Basically, I am optimistic about the future. We have a lot of problems, but we have addressed problems in the past and will do so in the future. I know that there are many people in positions of power that only care about their wealth and power – that will never change. But there also is arrogance, inflexibility, scientific bias and a lack of professionalism from the environmental movement. Not only does this solve no problems, it often perpetuates problems. In addition, the arguments by the environmental movement that automatically dumps on all the current technologies/industries and only offers weak, or worse yet, completely useless concepts to solving our problems is frustrating. You want no mines, no oil wells, no chemical plants, no steel mills, no power plants, etc, but where do you think everything you use every day comes from? If you want solar panels, wind mills, tractors for cooperative farms and hybrid cars, you will need all those so called “dirty” industries you trash. Besides being completely unrealistic, that is purely hypocritical. We have a chance to make a better future but not with that narrow-minded attitude.

Posted by AuAgExpl | Report as abusive

Insects and the parasites they carry develop resistance or tolerance to pesticides. Perhaps Bill and Melinda Gates have the better solution: developing a malaria vaccine.

Short of a nuclear conflagration, war has and will not curb population growth. Think if there were no infectious diseases, no cancers…what would curb population growth?

As we grow in numbers, the earth’s finite resources will decline. We will eventually fight over water, arable land or living space, just as we wage war for oil today.

Posted by Andvari | Report as abusive

@AuAgExpl, I completely agree with your views regarding the hipocracy demonstrated by the average environmentalist. I generally believe that our beliefs are revealed much more accurately by our actions than by our words. However, there are a few issues in your posts which I believe deserve a bit more research.

You say that “Several of the illnesses that Dr. Ehrlich lists are actually behavior related and have little to nothing to do with synthetic chemicals. If you eat sugar and fat rich foods in large amounts and live a sedentary life style, you will become obese, which leads to the development of diabetes and heart disease.” While there is no doubt that diabetes risk is greatly increased by behavior your assertion that it has “little to nothing to do with synthetic chemicals” may be a bit premature. In a 2009 Scientific American article titled “Should DDT Be Used to Combat Malaria?” “The 15 environmental health experts, who reviewed almost 500 health studies, concluded that DDT “should be used with caution, only when needed, and when no other effective, safe and affordable alternatives are locally available.” and “The scientists reported that DDT may have a variety of human health effects, including reduced fertility, genital birth defects, breast cancer, diabetes and damage to developing brains.” Contrary to the beliefs of many and to the ignorant, morally repugnant comments from people like @Calfri, DDT is still used throughout the developing world for vector control and, according to most malaria experts the significant reduction in it’s use as an agricultural pesticide has dramatically extended is effectiveness due to reduced development of resistant strains in mosquitoes. Carson’s own advice regarding DDT was not an outright ban but rather “Practical advice should be “Spray as little as you possibly can” rather than “Spray to the limit of your capacity.”

I do agree that it’s much easier to demonize DDT when your own children sleep in an air conditioned house at night, particularly in a country which has essentially no incidence of malaria.

And, @Andvari, life expectancy has increased throughout most of the world with the small exception of several sub-saharan african countries whose shorter life expectancies are a result almost entirely of HIV. I have never seen a reputable source that supports your claim that “developed nations have seen it increase, usually at the expense of the less developed.” If you have I’d be interested to see it. I do agree that the tobacco industry has been a significant contributor to global pollution due to fertilizer and insecticide use. But I certainly hope you don’t endorse China’s population control methods. If you do, I think you might want to learn a bit more about them and their effects on society and individuals.

@AuAgExpl, you actually discredit your own claim that “Talking about “humane population reduction” is BS” by offering one of several solutions in your following sentences. Affluence is certainly a predictor of birthrates, but so are women’s rights (actually a better predictor) and access to birth control, all very humane and proven methods of population control. And I do agree that the Chinese solution was draconian and led to significant human rights abuses.

Your comment on solar panels “Installing solar panels that use more energy and resources to build than the energy they actually produce is another useless pseudo-solution.” is simply a myth, and it’s irrelevant to boot. It also makes me very wary of your sources. Perhaps you could provide a source for this claim? A simple internet search brings up a number of scientific studies that refute this claim and none that support it. Most claim an energy payback in one to four years, far less than the 20 – 30 year lifetime of modern solar panels. It is entirely irrelevant, however, because the energy used to manufacture solar panels is not delivered to my house where I need it. In fact, plants that produce silicon used in solar panel manufacturing, like nearly all energy intensive manufacturing processes, are typically located near cheap sources of electricity such as hydro power. No, I’m afraid that hydrogen is the real psedudo-solution. It’s incredibly dangerous, phenomenally expensive to transport and store and requires more energy to produce than it can ever return in use. Just a bad idea all around.

“Forget biofuels” you say? I’m afraid that’s a bit of a challenge for me as I’m currently working on a project to completely replace a businesses diesel fuel demands with biogas produced entirely from agricultural waste products generated at the site. A quick search on anaerobic digestion will show that this is already being done at agricultural processing facilities around the world. The technology is certainly still in it’s infancy but I think it rather unfair to call it a “lame “non-solution” simply because you happen to be ignorant of it’s potential. I’m afraid I happen to be one of those people who “actually ha[s] to get things done.”

Hopefully this gives you reason to be even more optimistic about the future and maybe a bit less critical of technologies you don’t fully understand. Just because it sounds “green” doesn’t make it bad, you sound far too intelligent to fall into that ideological trap.

Posted by jtfane | Report as abusive

Rachel Carson’s Way?

Locating “a road less traveled by”…. a path Rachel Carson would likely have recommended to one and all. At least we have one example on the planet where “the superhighway” was at least momentarily abandoned. Does anyone know of other similarly organized communities with economic constraints and population caps?

http://www.okotoks.ca/default.aspx?cid=4 6

Sustainable Okotoks – The Legacy

“Not far from my hometown of Calgary, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, there is a beautiful little town called Okotoks. About 10 years ago, the folks there decided they were going to live within their local environmental means. Today Okotoks can fairly call itself the greenest community in Canada”…..Prime Minister Stephen Harper
In 1998, Okotoks made a decision about its future, becoming one of the first municipalities in the world to establish growth targets linked to infrastructure development and environmental carrying capacity when it adopted a Municipal Development Plan – ‘The Legacy Plan’. In 1998, the town faced an intersection in its evolution. Dependant on the Sheep River for its water and its ability to treat and dispose of effluent, Okotoks could choose to continually “grow without limits” and align with regional development and access to regional infrastructure, or take the “road less traveled” and intentionally choose to live within the carrying capacity of the local environment.
Informed by extensive public consultation, the high cost (a regional pipeline) of exceeding carrying capacity, and a preservation of a small town atmosphere value system expressed in a community survey, a community driven vision was created that chose to respond to rather than manipulate the environment to sustain our standard of living. A population cap at the licensed limits of the Sheep River aquifer (approx. 30,000) became a key feature of Okotoks’ development path. A build-out municipal boundary for 30,000 people was established. Sustainable Okotoks rests on four pillars that guide and shape a comprehensive and holistic approach to sustainable development:
1. Environmental Stewardship
2. Economic Opportunity
3. Social Conscience
4. Fiscal Responsibility
The pillars work together to nurture what Okotokians have expressed desire for – a town that is safe and secure, maintains small town atmosphere, preserves and protects a pristine river valley, provides housing choices, employment opportunities and quality schooling, and caters to all ages and cultures.
A comprehensive set of targets and initiatives were defined to ensure that our build-out population would be reached in an environmentally, economically, socially, and fiscally responsible way. Since 1998, more than 100 sustainability initiatives have been undertaken.
The road Okotoks chose to travel was pragmatic, unique, and daring – and about much more than just a population cap. Today, whether it’s a more balanced tax base, broader housing choice, a composting sewage treatment plant, a reduction in water use, or the Drake Landing Solar Community, we can all be proud of our collective accomplishment: becoming ‘better’ not just ‘bigger’. Along the way, be it through several awards, acknowledgment by the Prime Minister, or the featuring of our community on CBC National, the sustainability torch we have carried with ambition and purpose has become a guidepost for others to follow.

Posted by stevensalmony | Report as abusive