Friday, April 20, 2007

Short deconstruction of the Rachel Carson myth

Millions of people have died in the Third World due to the chain of events that started with Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring. Despite 45 years' passage since its publication, the overwhelming testimony before the EPA more than 30 years ago that debunked the foundation of Carson's work, and scientific fact, DDT is basically banned throughout the world.

In 1972, the US banned the use of DDT, a popular agricultural pesticide. The decision came after seven months of testimony and evidence presented to an administrative law judge in the EPA. The ALJ , Edmund Sweeney, found that DDT should not be banned and ruled "“DDT is not a carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic hazard to man. The uses under regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on fresh water fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds, or other wildlife[;] there is a present need for essential uses ofDDT." EPA Administrator William Ruckleshaus overruled that decision; he did not attend a single day of the hearings.

Ruckleshaus was a member of the Environmental Defense Fund, which lobbied against the use of DDT. After his decision, Europe banned the chemical as well. Europe then pressured African countries to stop using it, which they have done.

The effects of these events have been horrendous. Malaria affects 300,000,000 - 500,000,000 people annually and kills about 1,000,000. The use of DDT in a concentrated campaign to DDT is by far the least expensive and most effective pesticide ever developed. A concentrated campaign to wipe out malaria, including using DDT, in the 1960s effectively eliminated the disease in the developed world and dramatically lowered the incident rate in the Third World. Since the US ban, malaria has rebounded in the Third World, pesticide usage has increased and the costs to both malaria zone nations and the environment has risen exponentially. The amount of DDT needed to neutralize malaria by spraying every house in Guyana is the same as farmers used on one cotton field in the 1960s.

In other words, smart use of DDT saves lives; non-use has killed millions and debilitated billions throughout the nations least able to sustain such economic and physiological harm. The epicenter of this set of events is Rachel Carson's book. Remember that when the environmental movement celebrates the 100th anniversary of her birth this year.

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