Most political movements and public policies have their good points and bad, so it’s imperative that Americans try to subject everything to hard-headed analysis.
Unfortunately, the environmental movement still basks in the glow of unquestioned praise, so some of the ills that have occurred as the result of environmentalist policies go unchecked.
Perhaps the nation is ready for a more open debate about the topic, if an April 11 New York Times Magazine article is any indication.
Called, “What the World Needs Now Is DDT,” the essay by Tina Rosenberg shatters one of the great myths of environmentalism: that it always improves the lives of the public.
After a heated nationwide debate, the United States banned DDT in 1972. “The chemical was once sprayed in huge quantities over cities and fields of cotton and other crops,” Rosenberg explained. “Its persistence in the ecosystem, where it builds up to kill birds and fish, has become a symbol of the dangers of playing God with nature, an icon of human arrogance. Countries throughout the world have signed a treaty promising to phase out its use.”
What the environmentalists didn’t say is the degree to which DDT saved the lives of impoverished people in Third World countries. In affluent Western countries, it’s easy to ban a chemical that leads to problems for bird species when oversprayed. But in Africa and parts of Asia, DDT’s elimination has meant millions of unnecessary human deaths.
“A malaria-eradication campaign with DDT began nearly worldwide in the 1950s,” Rosenberg wrote. “When it started, India was losing 800,000 people every year to malaria. By the late 1960s, deaths in India were approaching zero. In Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, 2.8 million cases of malaria per year fell to 17. In 1970, the National Academy of Sciences wrote in a report that ‘to only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT’ and credited the insecticide, perhaps with some exaggeration, with saving half a billion lives.”
The article points to a town in South Africa where DDT is still being used, which has mostly wiped out the malaria epidemic.
Here’s a clear case where environmental extremism is leading to an unconscionable loss of life. Yet the environmental community will not relent on DDT.
Conservative and libertarian writers have for years pointed out the results of the DDT ban. It’s encouraging to finally read about it in the nation’s self-appointed newspaper of record.