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From Ecocide to Eco-ally: Picloram, Herbicidal Warfare, and Invasive Species, 1963-2005

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Picloram is a powerful, persistent herbicide that has been in use since 1963. It has been used around the world for brush clearing, forestry, and maintenance, and was a key part of Amazonian deforestation. The United States and probably Portugal used picloram in wars in Vietnam and in Africa. Its use in war prompted strong censure and led to picloram's association with 'ecocide' - ecological destruction. After Vietnam, US environmentalists continued to be highly critical of picloram's use domestically, but in the 1980s, in response to world-wide problems with invasive species as well as changes in the understanding of ecological health, many environmentalists came to embrace the use of herbicides as necessary for maintaining and restoring ecosystem health - as an eco-ally. The radical re-orientation of some North American environmentalists toward toxic chemicals like picloram as a way to combat invasive species shows the ecological contingency of environmentalism. Controversy between environmentalists about herbicides and invasive species revealed latent tensions between human health and ecosystem health, long-term and short-term environmental goals.
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Keywords: Silent Spring; Tordon; ecocide; environmentalism; herbicidal warfare; integrated pest management; invasive species; picloram

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 April 2014

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  • The half-yearly journal Global Environment: A Journal of History and Natural and Social Sciences acts as a forum and echo chamber for ongoing studies on the environment and world history, with special focus on modern and contemporary topics. Our intent is to gather and stimulate scholarship that, despite a diversity of approaches and themes, shares an environmental perspective on world history in its various facets, including economic development, social relations, production government, and international relations.
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