Chemophobia is a real problem among environmentalists. I’m not against organic agriculture, but I’m not against chemicals either. Chemicals are not bad. On this, I side with Paracelsus, who was one of the first to introduce chemicals into occidental medicine. Just like chemicals can have a healthy role in medicine, they can have a healthy or at least ethically justifiable role in agriculture.
I disagree with chemophobic environmentalists, and I also disagree with free market environmentalists who argue that the unjustifiability of chemophobia entails that government regulations on chemical use should be loosened, as if current government regulations are too strict in their application of the precautionary principle. Such an attack on chemophobia appears in the anthology, Crop Chemophobia (2011), published by the conservative think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.
Of course, the chemophobic and free market environmentalist both frame their arguments in terms of an apocalyptic either/or morality. That’s disappointing, to say the least. Equally disappointing is that so little attention is given to the chemicals themselves. Some people dissociate from chemicals in favor of unadulterated organic “nature.” Others assimilate chemicals into relations of economic “development.” Paracelsus might have come closest to a concern for chemicals themselves, but even in his philosophy, individual chemical substances are undermined and reduced to a few underlying elemental principles. If we can’t pay attention to the chemicals themselves, how can we possibly learn how to use and develop ethical relationships with those chemicals? We should wonder more about what it’s like to be DDT or atrazine, or alachlor.