When I was invited a few years ago to attend a meeting of the once classical liberal Mt. Pelerin Society in Salt Lake City I was surprised to hear little in the way of informed conversation about markets and ecologies. But I heard plenty of bizarre mutterings over lunch about the long deceased Carson being guilty of “genocide” because banning DDT in the US supposedly led to millions of deaths in Africa and elsewhere from malaria. Rachel Carson has never been forgotten or forgiven by the right wing and its corporate sponsors. She had defeated their dreams of infinite control of nature, and worse, a woman had done it.
The lunch table where I heard these comments was dominated by people associated with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a ‘think tank’ apparently making its money primarily by vilifying environmentalists. CEI’s corporate sponsored dishonest attacks on a long dead woman encouraged Republican Senatorial culture warrior and ‘Christian’ dominionist Tom Coburn to prevent the Senate from honoring Carson on her birthday. Some grudges never die, particularly those costing oligarchs money, and no spite is too petty for ‘manly’ culture warriors not to indulge when the opportunity arises.
Sometime afterwards I came across an article by Tim Lambert discussing the real facts concerning DDT and malaria. Lambert also cited and linked to an excellent piece in Salon, where Kirsten Weir went into even greater depth on the truth behind DDT’s relation to the scourge of malaria. As with industry’s attacks on Carson while she lived, it turned out that CEI’s first casualty in their propaganda was the truth.
Contrary to right wing and corporatist propaganda, Rachel Carson had never opposed all use of DDT. She opposed excessive use, writing ”No responsible person contends that insect-borne disease should be ignored.” She added “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.” Kristen Weir’s article pointed out that “In fact, the decline in DDT use coincided with a drop in malaria rates.”
My curiosity piqued, I investigated science-oriented blogs further. In another revealing discussion of these issues, Jim Easter at Someareboojums.org concluded:
“The 1972 DDT ban did nothing to restrict the chemical’s use against malaria, but had the effect of eliminating the single most intense source of selection pressure for insecticide resistance in mosquitoes. As the rest of the world followed suit in restricting agricultural use of DDT, the spread of resistance was slowed dramatically or stopped.
“By this single action, William Ruckelshaus — and, credit where it’s due, Rachel Carson — may well have saved millions of lives.”
For Culture Warriors truth is an enemy if it doesn’t support their side, and it rarely does.