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Monday, March 21, 2005

Environmentalists are not innocent on DDT

Tim Lambert claims that the reason Malaria suppression efforts moved away from DDT was not because of pressure by environmentalists but was because mosquitoes developed resistance to DDT, causing DDT to become ineffective. (Hat tip Belmont Club.) Lambert acts as if it is some big revelation that there is no legal ban on the use of DDT for Malaria suppression in third world countries, as if those who blame malaria deaths on the 1972 EPA ban have somehow been lying to everyone about the law.

The actual complaint against the environmentalists is that they demonized DDT, as epitomized by the '72 ban, turning Western support for its use into active opposition, despite DDT's continuing (if diminished) effectiveness. This story is much harder to document than a legal ban because some of the drop off in the use of DDT for Malaria suppression WAS due to the build up of DDT resistance, caused by agricultural use of DDT. But this decrease in effectiveness has been far from total. DDT remains today the most effective malaria fighting tool. As Steven Milloy notes at Junkscience.com (citation I.9) mosquitoes that are not killed by DDT are nevertheless powerfully repelled by it, making the spraying of DDT in people’s homes an effective way to reduce transmission. See, for instance, WHO's "10/90 report 2000" study of Malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa. (10/90 refers to the "10/90 gap" between rich and poor.) The report finds that DDT is the most cost effective suppression tool (fig. 3.5) yet concedes that "the use of organochlorines and organophosphates, such as DDT and malathion, has declined due to concerns about their environmental and safety impact," (p. 60).

Paul Driessen's chapter on Malaria in his book Eco-imperialism compiles evidence of under-use of DDT due to environmentalist opposition, often enforced thorough government agencies like USAID. This issue needs a lot more study and documentation, but Lambert's assertion that the decline in DDT use is simply due to its lack of effectiveness is just ignorant. From there he goes on to make asinine digs about right-wingers not believing in evolution. (He links to Steve Milloy’s rejection of the suggestion that evolution should be classified as a “law” rather than a “theory” as evidence of Milloy’s “half-hearted belief in evolution,” as if Newton’s laws were not a theory.) Lambert claims to have looked at Milloy’s website. Did he miss Milloy's quote from Robert Desowitz?
There is persuasive evidence that antimalarial operations did not produce mosquito resistance to DDT. That crime, and in a very real sense it was a crime, can be laid to the intemperate and inappropriate use of DDT by farmers, especially cotton growers. They used the insecticide at levels that would accelerate, if not actually induce, the selection of a resistant population of mosquitoes. (Citation I.8)
It isn't Milloy who misunderstands the state of immunity to DDT, but Lambert, who wears his bigotry on his sleeve. Check out what he says in his comments thread. Aaron Swartz can’t figure out why conservatives care about third worlders dying:
Why do these guys care about DDT so much? Do they get some funding from the DDT industry or is it just a convenient way to bash environmentalists? (Possibly because it goes after Rachel Carson, the "head" of the environmental movement?)
Lambert answers:
While Milloy gets money from chemical companies, they only make DDT in a couple of factories in India and China, so it's not specifically about DDT but more about bashing environmentalists to weaken them on other issues that Junk Station clients have a financial stake in.
Lambert is a full-out moonbat! These leftists literally cannot figure out why anyone cares, yet Lambert has no trouble pulling elaborate slanders out of his ass.

UPDATE: Thread Safe rounds up reporting on western aid organizations who have made aid conditional on third world countries abandoning DDT.
In the early 1990s, for example, the United States Agency for International Development stopped the governments of Bolivia and Belize from using DDT. In Madagascar, the United Nations Development Programme tried to persuade the government to replace DDT with Propoxur, a less effective pesticide. To its credit, Madagascar refused. In Mozambique, both NORAD, the Norwegian development agency, and SIDA, its Swedish counterpart, said that they could not support the use of DDT, as it was banned in their own countries. (From The Economist).
Read the whole thing.

One point Lambert makes that is correct (again, in his comments section) is that environmentalists deserve credit for stopping the agricultural use of DDT which everyone agrees was a horrible mistake, ruining our chance to eradicate Malaria once and for all. That is no excuse for thirty years of opposition to the effective use of DDT, but it was indeed a good thing.

Looking around Lambert's website, boy does this guy get into a lot of pissing contests. Pretty strange for a guy who seems at many points like he is actually looking into things and trying to be conscientious. I think it is just not easy for a person to actually BE conscientious when he his instinct is to constantly try to twist things to fit his presumptions. Just a tiny sample detail: Lambert accuses Kristoff of fraudlently telling people that DDT is banned worldwide, but the Kristoff line he quotes is:
Environmentalists were right about DDT’s threat to bald eagles, for example, but blocking all spraying in the third world has led to hundreds of thousands of malaria deaths.
Kristoff got it exactly right (well, except about the eagles). DDT has not been banned worldwide (not for lack of trying) but it HAS been blocked. Kristoff's reward? Lambert pisses all over him! Can't he even stop to think straight for a fellow leftist like Kristoff? Yet he really seems to have a wish to be conscientious, if only he could grasp what that actually means. Very strange. Very strange.

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