Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why does the conservative movement love DDT?

"A political ideology is a very handy thing to have. It's a real time-saver, because it tells you what you think about things you know nothing about." - Hendrik Hertzberg

We (me) here at the Daily Doubter have been saying for some time if you want to understand how conservative movement ideologues such as Michelle Malkin or Rush Limbaugh argue/think spend some time observing the tactics employed by creationists.

Consider evolution. Creationists reject the theory of evolution primarily because they believe it entails atheism and amorality ... they disbelieve because of the perceived consequences. Everything else follows from that. The creationist doesn't care what the facts are or aren't ... he just picks them out to prove to his self what he already knows.

If you spend much time listening to the conservative movement noise machine you would know that it has a peculiar affinity for DDT which borders on obsession that you may find difficult to understand. Difficult to understand, that is, unless you're aware of how DDT relates to conservative movement ideology. As is the case of evolution for creationists, DDT's bad reputation gets in the way of the worldview of the conservative movement ideologues.

And that's because DDT was what Rachel Carson was writing about in her seminal Silent Spring which sparked the environmental movement in the '60s. The conservative movement loves DDT because it hates the environmental movement for imposing restrictions on the "free market". You know, unreasonable restrictions like expecting corporations that dump toxic sludge into the environement to have to clean it up.

And it goes without saying that since the movement hates Silent Spring (which received honourable mention on Human Events list of most harmful books of the last two centuries) it really hates the author Carson. Which is why I didn't pay much attention over the last couple of years when hearing claims from the usual suspects that Carson is responsible for 30 million deaths.

But then I saw Discover magazine's number 29 Top Story of 2006

More than 30 years after the use of DDT was abandoned in many countries, the much-maligned pesticide is making a comeback. In September the World Health Organization openly endorsed indoor spraying of DDT, saying it is not only the best weapon against malaria, it is also cheaper and more effective than other insecticides. The announcement followed a similar move in May by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Remember that 1 million people a year die from malaria and then you'll have before you the entire 1 second of thought that went into the noise machine belief that Carson has the death of 30 million on her hands. DDT was banned abandoned 30 years ago times the (current) death rate of a million a year equals Rachel Carson is one of the worst mass murderers in human history.

Except Rachel Carson never argued in Silent Spring that DDT should not be used in a controlled/limited fashion to combat malaria (the way the WHO is recommending it be used) - and what's more - DDT although banned in most developed countries has remained in use for health purposes in other countries. Then there's the issue that using DDT as an insecticide (the way movement conservatives want to do) leads to resistance in the mosquito population and WORSENS the malaria problem.

Ok, that's the short version. For the full account of the birth of the conservative movement myth that Carson is a killer one should read "Rachel Carson, Mass Murderer?" from FAIR. You'll be surprised (not really) that the myth has been propagated aggressively by the pesticide industry which has engaged in the despicable p.r. tactic of asserting that the rise in malaria which resulted from increased resistance to DDT instead resulted from the cessation of DDT spraying.

The following passage from the article reinforces my point about why the movement loves DDT for ideological reasons.

Perhaps the most vocal group spreading this story is Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM). Founded in 2000 by Roger Bate, an economist at various right-wing think tanks, AFM has run a major PR campaign to push the pro-DDT story, publishing scores of op-eds and appearing in dozens of articles each year. Bate and his partner Richard Tren even published a book laying out their alternate history of DDT: When Politics Kills: Malaria and the DDT Story.

A funding pitch uncovered by blogger Eli Rabbett shows Bate’s thinking when he first started the project. “The environmental movement has been successful in most of its campaigns as it has been ‘politically correct,’” he explained (Tobacco Archives, 09/98). What the anti-environmental movement needs is something with “the correct blend of political correctness ( . . . oppressed blacks) and arguments (eco-imperialism [is] undermining their future).” That something, Bate proposed, was DDT.
Edit -I forgot to mention that Salon also responded to the myth of Carson the killer. The following paragraph says a bunch, doesn't it?

The author filled most of her pages by describing the harm that chemicals such as DDT can inflict on wildlife and human health. She only briefly mentioned DDT's role in fighting diseases transmitted by insect vectors. Yet she allowed that insecticides could play a role in the fight against disease. "No responsible person contends that insect-borne disease should be ignored," she wrote. "It is not my contention that chemical insecticides must never be used. I contend ... that we have allowed these chemicals to be used with little or no advance investigation of their effect on soil, water, wildlife, and man himself."
Spoken like a murderer.

Update: This post would not be complete without a link to Tim Lambert's DDT Ban Myth Bingo.

1 comment:

C2H50H said...

This appears to be consistent with one of the central traits of conservatives, which is an unthinking and stubborn refusal to let the old ways fade and embrace new and better ones, making it generally more cost-effective to simply let conservatives fade into history rather than try to change their minds.

Before DDT was available, Arsenic compounds were used for insect control. There was resistance to the adoption of DDT then, forgotten now, of course. It used to be common in old farmhouses to open a cabinet and find in the back an ancient gallon brown bottle half full of an Arsenic compound. This is stuff you dare not dispose of casually -- as was often done up to the sixties, and which then poisoned nearby wells and the people who drank from them, leaving them with life-long injuries or shortening their lives.

Extrapolating current trends into the future is a chancy business, but I'd suggest that DDT is on the cusp of being replaced as an effective means of mosquito control, due to better compounds being available, developing resistance in the mosquito population, medical advances, and the impending world-wide climate catastrophe.

That won't change the conservatives desire to keep DDT, which will only pass with a generation or two of time.