Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rachel Carson, DDT, and her mixed legacy...

Was Rachel Carson wrong?
Yes and no. Rachel Carson was not totally wrong (nor did she call for the outright banning of DDT).  DDT did impact certain birds, especially raptures such as hawks and eagles, and caused their numbers to decline significantly. That we now have bald eagles in abundance again is due to a combination of protection and discontinued use of DDT in the United States.

The decline of effective mosquito control in the developing world (and banning DDT contributed to that decline), however, have doomed millions to malaria and other mosquito borne diseases.  Some have questioned whether home DDT spraying in Africa itself is harmful, but given the choice of over 800,000 deaths a year in Africa (mostly children), if it was my children and family I would go with the spraying.

As Michael Crichton noted on the banning of DDT in parts of Africa: "We knew better and we did it anyway, and we let people around the world die and didn't give a damn."  While her science was questionable, this all cannot be blamed directly on Rachel Carson, she died in 1964 and she made clear in testimony that there was a moral basis for controlling disease carrying mosquitoes (her argument was DDT was over sprayed in agricultural applications in the United States, which was correct). But her subsequent supporters (Al Gore wrote the introduction to the republishing of Silent Spring) definitely have culpability.  As Crichton noted:
"I am thoroughly sick of politicized so-called facts that simply aren't true. It isn't that these 'facts' are exaggerations of an underlying truth. Nor is it that certain organisations are spinning their case... in the strongest way. Not at all — what more and more groups are doing is putting out lies, pure and simple. Falsehoods that they know to be false. This trend began with the DDT campaign and persists to this day."

Crichton notes: Westerners (Environmentalists) don't care about third world people dying. Their religion is more important that people's lives.  
Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.
Environmentalists care a lot more about eagles than Africans...unless of course the eagles get in the way.


  1. Sorry for nitpicking. We agree on the general direction of this. But the ban on DDT is getting credit it does not deserve for saving raptors. Those species were already experiencing a resurgence before DDT was banned.

    Sadly, it has become an article of faith in the environmental movement so everyone has to say this is true or be excommunicated.

    1. I disagree.Crichton acknowledged that Peregrine falcons were especially susceptible to DDT building up in their systems (and egg thinning). The same was true for eagles and pelicans (and those tests were confirmed). Even many of Carson's critics in the chemical manufacturing industry, agree that use of DDT in the USA during the fifties was over applied. But we are in agreement, it should not have been banned.

      And the left's hypocrisy is shown when there is no outrage when golden eagles are killed by wind turbines located in their mountain passes. They may become extinct in the USA and who is to blame for that?

      Today, farmers are exceedingly efficient with GPS and new equipment in applying pesticides and fertilizers in very controlled ways. What was happening in the fifties is not happening today. You are more likely to get sick from some e. coli infected organic fertilizer than residual pesticides on produce.

    2. We are looking at two different measures. The egg thinning is a possible cause for smaller populations, but the fact is that the populations were recovering before DDT was banned. Yes eggs were thinner on average and some of those thin eggs broke before hatching. But the net effect was not harmful to the bird populations. I am not saying that DDT wasn't building up in bird fatty tissues, only that it was not leading to anything harmful.

      In fact, I remember reading a story about ten years ago that the California condor populations were being decimated by mites. Mites that had been effectively controlled using DDT.

      AND the farm communities on their own were already learning to moderate their use to more effective lower doses on their own. "Too much" was a problem that was already being fixed when the ban was enacted.

  2. That line from Crichton nails it, although it isn't Westerners or Enviro nuts, it's Lefties in general.


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