Friday, May 25, 2007

Rachel Carson's Lethal Legacy

Tomorrow millions of people will celebrate the 100th birthday of one of the most lethal human beings in history. No, I’m not talking about neo-Nazis recalling Adolph Hitler’s birth. And, I’m not taking about nostalgic communists reminiscing about Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara or Mao Zedong - although all certainly rank among the most murderous despots of the 20th century.
No, Sunday will be dawn with environmentalists lighting candles and reciting poetry in remembrance of Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring.” Silent Spring described a supposedly steep decline in bird populations she attributed to the excessive application of the most effective insecticide man has ever invented, DDT.
Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane, otherwise known as DDT, was deadly to bugs but harmless to humans. DDT was an essential tool for the eradication of malaria from North America and Europe. Malaria was well on its way to becoming an historical footnote worldwide before its use was effectively banned with more inflexibly than any of the “thou shalt nots” found in the 10 Commandments. Recently fear mongering environmentalists have raised the specter of malaria spreading into the North America as consequence of global warming. In truth, before it was eradicated with DDT, malaria was common in the United States centuries before the first SUV hauled kids to soccer games. If and when malaria creeps back up the Mississippi River, environmentalists will have more to answer for than Big Oil.
Silent Spring became the bible for the modern environmental movement and made Rachel Carson the messiah for uncompromising environmental fundamentalism. The religious fervor of the modern environmentalism has stifled progress that would actually make the earth cleaner and its people healthier. Environmental inflexibility prohibits self-defending genetically modified crops from being sown and actually forces farmers to use more pesticides than they otherwise would have to. The only tangible result of r-BST free milk is a higher price. We belch far more carbon into the atmosphere because of environmental fundamentalists’ reflexive opposition to building nuclear power plants.
In noting her upcoming birthday anniversary, The Washington Post earlier this week admitted that “numerous” deaths were directly attributed to the DDT ban and Rachel Carson’s prose. Numerous is a delicate choice of words considering that by the time you finish reading this column, several children will have died unnecessarily from malaria, a disease that was nearly eradicated before DDT was banned. In sub-Saharan Africa, children under the age of 5 years perish unnecessarily from malaria at the rate of about one every 30 seconds. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly a million children under the age of five succumb to malaria annually. Indirectly, malaria kills far more than that. The number one risk factor for premature death around the world is poverty. And malaria imposes a monstrous economic burden on sub-Saharan Africa as even its survivors are left too weak to work.
Without DDT, high tech solutions have turned to genetically modified mosquitoes that out-compete native species, but do not transmit malaria. In addition, the US Army has been investigating novel vaccine regimens. The highly evolved biology of the malarial plasmodium parasite permits it to evade immune defenses and so far frustrated traditional vaccine strategies.
But we should not throw up our hands in frustration until we can relax DDT restrictions or come up with biotech solutions to malaria. There is something we can do today to help. Nothing But Nets is a mission of the United Methodist Church, the National Basketball Association, Sports Illustrated magazine, The Mark J. Gordon Foundation, Major League Soccer, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Nothing But Nets purchases insecticide-treated bed nets and distributes them in malaria-afflicted areas of the world.
While HIV/AIDS gains the greatest media and political attention, malaria kills far more people worldwide. And while most HIV is still transmitted the old-fashioned way, through promiscuous unprotected sex, malaria is contracted during unprotected sleep. A net for a child will greatly improve that child’s chances of growing into a healthy adult.
You can learn more about this worthy campaign by navigating your browser to There you will learn what you can do to help fight this dreaded disease. Every minute you hesitate means that two more children will die.
And, if you are among those shedding tears for Rachel Carson tomorrow, you bear the greatest moral burden to help out.



Blogger Ed Darrell said...

I read that Washington Post article you cite, and there is nothing there to support the calumny against Rachel Carson -- there is no admission that any deaths have resulted from her life's work, let alone "numerous." Especially, the Washington Post's voice does not support such a claim.

Carson said the problem with DDT is that it is a long-lived poison that concentrates in wildlife as we rise up trophic levels -- that is, predators get more DDT (or its daughter products, like DDE) than producers do. This concentration is proven to cause disorders that threaten wildlife, including especially those creatures that help protect us from disease by eating mosquitoes.

There is not really much evidence to support a claim that DDT use was stopped by Carson's work, unnecessarily. Silent Spring was published in 1962. There was no ban on DDT in any nation for another 17 years, an entire generation.

In the interim, it was found that overuse of DDT had caused mosquitoes to mutate, and become immune to the chemical.

It is these hard scientific findings that are the real legacy of Rachel Carson. They are as accurate today as they were then. You could look it up.

1:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have noticed that liberals and socialists also somehow like to explain away the incontrovertible fact that communism tied with atheism killed over 120 million people in the 20th century.

Its a plain as can be fact, but... watch them scurry like rats deflecting it.

7:21 PM  

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