Washington Post Op/Ed Zings Enviros on DDT

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Joining the rising chorus of voices calling for the use of DDT to prevent malaria in the world's poorest countries is Washington Post op/ed columnist Sebastian Mallaby. Reason has long backed the use of DDT in the continuing battle to prevent 500 million cases and at least 1 million deaths from malaria each year. Mallaby justly accuses the environmental movement of "cowardice" on this issue. It's past time for political environmentalists to put aside blind ideology and get out of the way of international groups and agencies that want to use this relatively benign chemical to save millions of lives.

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  1. The history of environmentalists and their opposition to the use of DDT in Sub-Sahara Africa to kill mosquitoes and lower the number of deaths from malaria raises the question: “Has malaria been used as a population control device in poor African countries?”
    A review of the record does indicate a massive indifference by environmentalists (and first world governments and international aid agencies) to death and suffering in the third world. Wonder why no “rock star” has made this “his” cause?

  2. Today mainstream environmental groups concede that in the context of malarial countries, the certain health benefits of anti-malarial spraying may outweigh the speculative environmental risks.

    May? May?

    “So the sin of the environmental movement — at least of its more responsible exponents — is not that it’s flat wrong on this issue. Instead, it is more subtle. Environmentalists think it’s their responsibility to campaign against the damage done by toxic substances, but not to campaign against the damage done by the over-regulation of substances that actually aren’t very toxic.”

    You know, this sounds eeeeerily familiar to another group of overreaching do-gooders, MADD. Not long ago, Radley Balko wrote an op-ed about supervised parties where parents take the keys from kids on prom night, and allow them to drink at their house. Balko subsequently received a letter from a MADD higher-up stating that these parties werenot acceptable—because, even if they did reduce drunk driving & related injuries & deaths, they “send the wrong message, that drinking is OK”. In effect, MADD is willing to accept more deaths and injuries, just so that they can send the message that drinking is bad, mmmkay?

    And so, the environmentalists rail against any and all effects of DDT toxins, even if it comes at the expense of people’s lives. Eerily similar…

  3. The environmental risks aren’t speculative. They’ve been demonstrated.

    In practical terms, the question that needs to be answered is how to make sure that use is limited to domestic applications, and farmers don’t resume dumping mass quantities of the stuff on their fields.

  4. What does “relatively benign” mean? I’m going to assume it means “not likely to kill as many people as malaria.”

  5. The environmental risks aren’t speculative. They’ve been demonstrated.

    Demonstrated, as the author noted, for large-scale agricultural disbursement, which is not what anyone is proposing.

    In practical terms, the question that needs to be answered is how to make sure that use is limited to domestic applications, and farmers don’t resume dumping mass quantities of the stuff on their fields.

    If they can stop people from using it altogether, then it shouldn’t be a huge leap to figure out how to limit it to domestic usage. Like, say, arrest and punish anyone who uses it for large-scale agricultural operations.

  6. Evan,

    “If they can stop people from using it altogether, then it shouldn’t be a huge leap to figure out how to limit it to domestic usage.” Not really. Keeping something completely off the market is much easier than controlling its use once it’s available for one thing, but not the other.

  7. “The arguments for using DDT are debunked in detail here.”

    Um, that’s not a debunking of the arguments for DDT.

  8. “Keeping something completely off the market is much easier than controlling its use once it’s available for one thing, but not the other.”

    So once cold meds are no longer available-the path we’re taking now-we should see meth consumption drop like a stone, right?

    Joe, why do you hate Sub-Saharan Africa?

  9. “The environmental risks aren’t speculative. They’ve been demonstrated.”

    Except that he’s writing about in-home spraying, not agricultural spraying. The risks of which are speculative.

    Maybe you folks wouldn’t hold so many foolish beliefs if your reading comprehension was better.

  10. “So once cold meds are no longer available-the path we’re taking now-we should see meth consumption drop like a stone, right?”

    There are methods of making meth that don’t involve cold medicine. There are no methods of spraying DDT that don’t involve obtaining DDT.

    sage, why do you hate thought?

    It would seem that the rude troll with the boring “reading comprehension” jibe missed the discussion we’ve been having about the difficulty of preventing DDT sold for home use from being sprayed on fields. How embarrassing for him.

  11. So, the lesson would be that DDT, like any other substance, becomes dangerous only when used in irresponsible or unnecessary quantities, right?

    Just like steroids, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol….

    Sciencey-type question for Mr. Bailey: What is the likelihood that the mosquitoes targeted by DDT would ultimately develop an immunity? How soon, assuming responsible usage, would you see this happening, and what measures could then be taken?

  12. In all fairness, there is only one person in this thread discussing “the difficulty of preventing DDT sold for home use from being sprayed on the field”. I’d would wager that most people can figure out that DDT could theoretically be only impported into these countries in single-family size containers, which would preclude large-scale agricultural use.

  13. So, does JDM have anything relevant to adiscussion about DDT to add? Or is he, as usual, more interested in advertising his weird obsession with me?

    It’s kind of flattering to have my own stalker.

  14. SPD, the problem with your analogy is that misusing “steroids, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol” only hurts the misuser.

  15. fyodor,

    Well, I sure wouldn’t advocate snorting the stuff! But I see your point in that the other substances are almost entirely recreational in nature and thus harm noone but the user.

    While I haven’t read enough about DDT to consider myself anything other than a novice with much more to learn, it would appear that it can still be effective and not harmful to humans if used in appropriate amounts, and that like Vioxx, we should weigh the benefits against the risks and not panic.

  16. SPD,

    Not to speak for Ron Bailey, but Skeptiko’s link above includes a bit about mosquitos in Sri Lanka developing resistance to DDT. If it’s happened there, it’s probably quite likely to happen eventually in other places (such as sub-Saharan Africa) as well, and once resistance enters those populations it’s likely to spread very fast.

  17. sage, why do you hate thought?

    And Joe wins the best one-liner of the day contest.

    Joe-while I see your point about the difficulty of containing DDT use, I’d point out that the difference in quantity between a can of bug spray for household use and a drum of bug spray for agricultural use is exponential. In other words, it’s not likely that anyone is going to collect enough cans to treat their farm. The problem, if it exists, would be closer to the production level, where quantities on-hand are larger. That’s an easier thing to deal with.

  18. Keeping something completely off the market is much easier than controlling its use once it’s available for one thing, but not the other.

    I never said it wasn’t more difficult, just that the leap shouldn’t be so hard as to stop them from legalizing and encouraging domestic usage. Hell, even if you stringently control the substance, and only send out special government or UN teams to do the spraying themselves, it would be an improvement over total prohibition…which has obviously already proven to be a huge failure in terms of human life.

  19. SPD:

    Mosquitoes and other insects developed resistance to DDT (and many other pesticides) when used continuously to spray farm fields, swamps, whole neighborhoods. Mosquitoes would likely develop resistance to DDT much more slowly if it is used only in small quantities to on the walls of the houses of poor people. DDT should be part of a comprehensive program which includes, say, bednets soaked in pyrethroid insecticides.

    However, bednet proponents often overlook that mosquitoes have also developed resistance to the “environmentally correct” pyrethroids too. Enviros ideologically determined to demonize DDT forget that it is not DDT or bednets, it’s both and more.

  20. Number 6, Evan, maybe.

    Skeptico’s link contains lots of useful information.

    One question I have is, why the obsession with DDT, if there are other equally effective substances to use? Does Bailey just like it as a club to beat those mean old environmentalists, or is there something particular to DDT that makes alternative treatments inferior?

  21. “So, does JDM have anything relevant to adiscussion about DDT to add?”

    So directly refuting a point you were trying to make doesn’t count as adding to the discussion. Got it.

    “Or is he, as usual, more interested in advertising his weird obsession with me?”

    You know, if you posted less, and less non-sense, you might have an argument. But you make at least half of the demonstrably false claims I see here, and have a way of contradicting yourself that is just too much fun not to point out, and lead you into.

    Also, does it not occur to you that your attitude is just begging people to fire back at you? It’s not like you’re here being nice to people until big mean me comes along. It’s interesting that you call me a rude troll right after asking sage why he “hates thought?”

    “It’s kind of flattering to have my own stalker.”

    There was some talk at my company of moving me to our Boston office not too long ago. I decided to stay on the west coast, probably to the detriment of my career with my current employer. You can take that as a sign that I haven’t lost control.

  22. joe,

    I think it all comes down to cost-effectiveness. From another article (I’m sorry I can’t remember which, as I have been skimming like crazy on this topic for some reason), Vietnam had switched not long ago to an alternative pesticide. Thailand continued to use DDT. Thailand’s malaria remained lower than Vietnam’s, at a fraction of the cost.

    As for Mr. Bailey’s intentions, I’ll leave that for him to answer. I like the environment as much as anyone, but overreaction by government agencies can do more harm than good, except on a global scale….

  23. joe

    I can think of one thing which makes other “treatments” inferior to DDT. Malathion, et al., will kill you. You. And me. They are truly noxious substances that are difficult to administer without risk to humans. DDT is harmless to people.

    Now that I’ve posted this, I am exiting. Looks like this thread is about to get way to heated for me. Whew!

  24. One question I have is, why the obsession with DDT, if there are other equally effective substances to use?

    Because the other substances aren’t banned?

    I’m no expert on the matter of mosquito control, but if mosquitos are not being controlled adequately, and if DDT could help, then bringing up its ban is valid. If one of those are not the case, then it’s not. If you are correct that there are “other equally effective substances to use,” then there must be some reason that those substances are not already being used, or not being used enough. DDT might be cheaper or easier to use. If it has no benefit, then banning it is largely moot. If it does have an advantage, then “other substances” being “equally effective” is irrelevant.

  25. Joe,

    From what I’ve read, there is no “equally effective” substance that is as- or less-expensive than DDT and has a lower or equal toxicity effect on the environment.

    As for Skeptico’s link, the only thing I found truly useful to this debate from that link is the fact that mosquitos in Sri Lanka developed an immunity to DDT…but, as Ron points out above, that was the result of, you guessed it, large-scale agricultural administration…and that, when used in small-scale domestic ops, it would presumably take much, much longer for it to happen. And, as he also pointed out, immunity development is not isolated to DDT, so it’s not really a viable argument against DDT in liu of alternatives, which immunity can also be developed against.

    The rest of Skeptico’s link was just “correcting” a NYT article on DDT, with much of it just the author’s opinion, and having little bearing on this discussion here.

  26. argument against DDT in liu of alternatives

    Many is the time I’ve dreamed of being “in liu.” Lucy, that is.

    Sorry, Evan, but I felt like lightening things up in here.

    The problem could also be one of perception. One’s first impression of DDT is most likely an airplane dumping dust cloud after dust cloud of pesticide on crops. Irresponsible usage would be detrimental as per joe, but moderate usage geared towards precision effectiveness would more than reduce its potential lethality towards humans, would it not?

  27. SPD

    I believe it is widely recognized that DDT has very low toxicity for humans. One of its biggest proponents in the 40s used to eat huge chunks of it to demonstrate its safety. Apparently he suffered no ill effects.

    The complaint against DDT is its effect on certain animals especially large birds of prey like eagles. DDT cause thinning of eggshells thus inhibiting their ability to reproduce.

    Some skeptics claim that the studies showing such were flawed. I have no way of knowing either way. Nevertheless it is widely agreed now that it was the mass indiscriminate use that was the problem and that smal scale domestic and personal use may be benign.

  28. Hypothetically speaking, even if DDT is as bad as they say (for small-scale use, not mass sprayings), shouldn’t we still let the Africans themselves decide whether or not they want to use it? I’m just wondering what THEY think of the argument “If we prevent your dying of malaria right now, you’ll suffer serious DDT problems twenty years down the road.”

    If I’m so hungry that I’ll be dead of starvation before the week is out, don’t you DARE refuse to give me red meat on the grounds that you’re worried about my blood prressure. Or whatever the hell damage red meat is supposed to cause.

  29. speaking of starvation, aren’t many Africans dying for lack of food? the more you save from malaria, the more you have to feed to save from starvation

  30. “…and personal use may be benign.”

    should read

    “…and personal use is benign.”

    I might add that even if the studies re raptors are not valid (and I am not questioning them myself) the fact that mass indiscrimate use may lead to resistant mosqitoes is sufficient reason to control its use.

  31. Biologist–

    Starvation in Africa is caused by too much corrupt government, not too little food.

  32. shouldn’t we still let the Africans themselves decide whether or not they want to use it? I’m just wondering what THEY think of the argument “If we prevent your dying of malaria right now, you’ll suffer serious DDT problems twenty years down the road.”

    On the contrary; not all legislation has the end goal of saving human lives immediately. I think it’s more geared towards the ecosystem as a whole, and the biological future of the continent.

    Not to mention the inherent flaw in assigning the people of Africa one collectivist label, as you’ve done. If I decide to use DDT on my property in Rwanda, and it fucks up the ecosystem of my neighbors, then, who gets to make the decision over whether DDT crop usage should be legal? The whole of Africa isn’t all owned by one collective entity called “Africans”, it’s a gaggle of properties owned by governments and individuals, and if there are externalities resulting from the usage of DDT on crops, then, you can’t just leave it up to the guy using the DDT, can you?

  33. The whole of Africa isn’t all owned by one collective entity called “Africans”

    No, really?

    If I decide to use DDT on my property in Rwanda, and it fucks up the ecosystem of my neighbors, then, who gets to make the decision over whether DDT crop usage should be legal?

    That IS a problem, but reverse the question: who has the right to tell me I and my family must die now, because you’re concerned about future generations of birds? And besides, I’m talking about small-scale use anyway, not the mass spraying of before.

  34. “who has the right to tell me I and my family must die now, because you’re concerned about future generations of birds? ”

    ALL environmental regulations can effectively be reduced in a similar fashion. Do you want any?

  35. I would kill every DDT-vulnerable bird species to save one million human beings a year. That’s a no-brainer.

    The article is dancing around a point that nobody actually wants to make. Maybe conservatives and libertarians don’t want to believe it’s true. Having been a far-left environmentalist, and having attended my share of eager-environmentalist meetings in high school and college, I can tell you that what the article doesn’t want to say, but which is actually true:

    Many environmentalists think one million dead humans is a good thing.

    Many environmentalists value one species of bird over one million human lives.

    Many environmentalists are ignoring the DDT issue because it makes apparent their basic dislike for the human species.

    For many environmentalists, ‘malaria’ is a codeword that means ‘controlling overpopulation.’

    I used to be one of these people, and I can remember the conversations about extinction events and global plagues. Enthusiastic conversations. Nobody said ‘I would kill humanity if I could,’ but there was always the wistful conversation that began, ‘Can you imagine what this place would look like if there were no people here?’ Nobody actually took that one step farther, and speculated on what it would take to kill off all of humanity — but at the same time, nobody was particularly horrified at third world disasters that killed hundreds of thousands.

    I’ve often believed that statism arises from a basic dislike for humanity. The right thinks people are immoral; the left thinks people are stupid. Which makes the hard left environmentalist a whole new category of statist: one who thinks people are evil.

  36. ALL environmental regulations can effectively be reduced in a similar fashion.

    Not true. Reducing carbon emissions won’t result in your dying within a week or two; refusing the chance to kill malarial mosquitoes will.

  37. “I would kill every DDT-vulnerable bird species to save one million human beings a year. That’s a no-brainer.”

    Note to posterity: isildur is anti-mosquito infestation, pro-plague rat infestation.

    But to be serious, isildur, there are certainly those kind of people out there. And their thinking does migrate to the more reasonable to some degree. But the same can be said of social Darwinists and racists vis a vis contemporary conservatism. Point is, you shouldn’t dismiss the entire field of thought based on the few, even as it would behoove you to keep their ideas in mind as a cautionary tale as you consider the ideas coming out of the larger body.

  38. Mallaby’s piece is one of the most clueless about the subject I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t seem to be aware of resistance or any other insecticide. The villains of Mallaby?s piece are consumers in the European Union who don?t want to eat food containing DDT. Mallaby reckons that they are being irrational because:

    hundreds of millions have been exposed to DDT without generating any solid evidence that the chemical harms people.

    Right, it is only classified as a probable human carcinogen not as a certain human carcinogen. Still, EU consumers may not be completely irrational if they don?t want to eat the stuff.

    Mallaby fails to mention that if the DDT is sprayed on the walls of huts to stop malaria it won?t actually get on crops destined for export so there is actually no conflict between EU consumers? wish not to eat DDT-laced food and Uganda?s plan to use DDT against malaria. The only way it could get on crops is if some was diverted for agricultural use. All the EU is asking is for Uganda to test its export crops to make sure that they don?t contain DDT. Mallaby calls this an ?absurd proposal? because it ?might constitute an impossible administrative burden on a poor country.?, but surely testing a few samples from export crops would be simple and insignificant compared to the cost of the spraying program.

    So the answer to Mallaby?s question about who is ignoring science now is: Sebastian Mallaby.

    More here.

  39. I have rats in my blackberry bramble. I have seen birds of prey in the Pacific NW before. I have never seen a bird of prey controlling rat population in my backyard. I don’t *think* my neighbors are DDT-ing their lawns (thus explaining the lack of raptors in my local ecosystem). I have to therefore assume that something other than raptors alone — like, for instance, lack of food sources in my bramble — is preventing the rats from turning into a brown-and-grey tide which sweeps my house and all my pets before it in a squeaking wave of rodentia.

    (I’d assume that African rodents are not photosynthesizers, either.)

  40. That thar’s some reel good sciensizing, isildur.

  41. And when Jake The Snake Roberts DDT’d Ronnie (man with the hands of stone) Garvin twice to win the TV title, bringing the tag team and tv title to “precious” paul ellering’s team, well, that was something.

    but that rolling reverse idiot, what, anderson (?) rolled Road warrior hawk so he didn’t win the heavyweight title, and ric flair got it back.

    what… it’s just as good as the fixed points use DDT as a proxy battle bullshit.

  42. Joe,

    I’ve often heard ‘What about the animal’s unique and special place in the ecosystem?’ as a reason to value an animal species over human life.

    I’ve never found that convincing; the ecosystem seems to be able to absorb most significant alterations. Is it unchanged? Of course not. But it’s simplistic to assume that ‘less raptors = more rats’ is anything even approaching a reasonable equation.

    One equation that is reasonable: ‘More mosquitos = more malaria = more dead people’. If a later equation is ‘more rats = more dead people’ then we can work on solving that, too. But honestly, people have been coexisting with rats for millenia, spending most of that time aggressively trying to exterminate them. It seems unlikely that a handful — or even an entire species — of birds of prey dying off is going to significantly alter the rat population.

    It makes a really nice argument-free one-liner, though, doesn’t it? Shame about the lack of content.

  43. Jennifer,

    people starve because of lack of food, not because their government is corrupt

    why don’t they have enough food? because their government is corrupt is your answer. so that’s the ultimate cause. the immediate, proximate cause is they don’t have enough food. increasing the number of mouths to feed (by reducing the mortality rate due to mosquito-borne disease) seems likely to increase the mortality rate due to starvation, unless you simultaneously take action to reduce the corruption of their governmnet and provide them with food. that’s not a judgement on whether DDT-related human deaths are good or bad (as was implied the last time I tried to make this point, on another thread), just an observation based on deductive reasoning. beware unintended consequences, as many here are so fond of saying.

    I agree that DDT use should be allowed in human dwellings, but not large-scale agricultural use. the mosquitoes are likely to become resistant in short order if large-scale use resumes, making DDT useless.

    I wonder why mosquito control programs using dissemination of Bacillus thuringiensis isn’t used over there? the mode of action of the Bt toxin seems unlikely to allow resistance to evolve. maybe the toxin is too general in effect.

    finally, humans are animals. also, humans are not an endangered species. It’s my position that to cause the elimination of another entire species is unethical. if some humans die in order to prevent extinction of other species, then that honestly doesn’t bother me. everything dies eventually, including humans.

  44. Biologist–

    During the “famine” in Somalia, when American troops were over there delivering food, there was plenty of food for sale in Somalian markets. During the infamous Ethipoian famine there was plenty of food already, in addition to the food donated by the Western world–turns out the food wasn’t getting to the Ethiopians because the government was deliberately withholding it from them, to push a political agenda. The African famines are just as political as the Soviet famine during the Stalinist era was.

    if some humans die in order to prevent extinction of other species, then that honestly doesn’t bother me. everything dies eventually, including humans.

    You are more than welcome to sacrifice your own life to save the life of another animal (I’ll even pay for the Drano, bullet, cyanide or whatever other life-ender you choose), but you do not have the right to offer up for sacrifice the lives of other people.

  45. Jennifer

    I’ll be happy to chip in, too. Maybe you could start a fund to finance the voluntary extinction of people who wish to sacrifice themselves for their fellow species?

  46. JMoore–

    Gladly. And Americans, most of all, need to commit suicide. What’s that statistic the enviros like to quote–one American impacts the earth as much as 25 third worlders? So if Biologist offs himself, it’ll be as good as the death of 25 Africans, so far as the earth is concerned!

    Of course, if he ever posts here again, that means he did NOT commit suicide, which makes him the environmentalist equivalent of those right-wing chickenshits who vigorously support the Iraq war but refuse to fight in it themselves. Worse, even, because the chickenshits don’t actively long for the death of American soldiers.

  47. drf, you are forgetting your history, like when Jake the Snake won the TV title the first time it was awarded in Mid-South championship wrestling circuit (where Jim Ross got his start doing play-by-play). Roberts DDT’d Dick “Mr. Unpredictable” Slater to win the belt, which was actually a medal at the time. I wondered why he didn’t have to stand on a podium to get it, rather than jumping on one of the turnbuckles.

  48. During the “famine” in Somalia, when American troops were over there delivering food, there was plenty of food for sale in Somalian markets.

    I don’t know if that makes the famine political, necessarily. It could just as easily mean that those starving didn’t have any money for the food that was on sale. And that those who were selling the food didn’t have the money to afford being charitable. But you’re right, there’s always food in the world. Whether corruption is always the cause behind starvation depends on whether corruption is always the cause of the poverty that makes so many people vulnerable to local droughts. I haven’t heard any direct political connection to the famine brewing in southern Africa right now, but there may very well be political reasons why the people there were so vulnerable.

  49. fyodor, in theory, you are correct. That could happen. But in the case of Somalia in the early 90s, one of the factions in the civil war (General Aidid’s militia) was shooting up and looting aid convoys trying to get to the civilians starving, because of a drought, in the area controlled by one of its enemies.

  50. Jennifer & jmoore, your logic is a little off. I understand your criticism of biologist’s cavalier attitude towards human lives, but his suicide is not likely to reduce the use of DDT.

  51. joe,

    Okay, then that backs the “corruption” angle. That there was food for sale within the same nation didn’t. It certainly seems like war is a major factor behind most famines. Again, though, and it may just be that I’m not aware of all the info yet (it’s been known to happen), but there’s a famine going on right now in southern Africa, and the BBC report on it didn’t say a thing about any war in the region. Just failed crops due to drought and people too poor to have any other recourse. Note, unless their governments were practicing restrictive policies (not all that unlikely), the existence of people so poor in lieu of war is hardly a libertarian-backing fact. Having only seen one report on this famine on the BBC, I don’t claim to know all that’s up with it.

  52. his suicide is not likely to reduce the use of DDT.

    No it won’t, but it WILL result in less carbon belched into the atmosphere, less natural resources pulled from the ground to produce his manufactured goods, and so on and so forth.

    I, personally, do not recommend an environmental policy of humans dying to make the environment better (I recommend people having less kids, but I don’t want those already here to take an early exit). But he DID say if some humans die in order to prevent extinction of other species, then that honestly doesn’t bother me. However, unless he kills himself, then the statement ACTUALLY should read “if other humans, but not me, die to prevent extinction. . . .”

    Jesus. I though Al Gore was a hypocritical asshole for talking about the perils of overpopulation when he’s got more than the 2.1 kids necessary to sustain the population at the current rate. But at least he wasn’t calling for those already here to take an early out.

  53. No it won’t, but it WILL result in less carbon belched into the atmosphere, less natural resources pulled from the ground to produce his manufactured goods, and so on and so forth.

    I don’t know if biologist was extending his point to that line of thinking, which is certainly a debatable point since each individual also helps produce more wealth, which, as Ron Bailey is quite fond of pointing out, has a pro-environmental effect. And does extracting resources necessarily endanger species? But you’re right that for people who do make that argument within a static model, suicide would indeed be the most noble course. OTOH, if they believe the argument strongly enough, it would be even more noble to take as many of their fellow humans along with them as possible (since, remember, they’re not buying your claim that human lives are more important than saving other species). But then, they could probably kill more people if they keep the killing as long as they can until the law offs them. Of course, they’d have to do all this killing in an environmentally friendly way, hmm….

  54. it would be even more noble to take as many of their fellow humans along with them as possible (since, remember, they’re not buying your claim that human lives are more important than saving other species).

    In all seriousness, some superwhacko tree-spiking organization, like Earth First! or something, seriously suggested that people with terminal illnesses should go to a hydroelectric dam or some such thing and blow it, and themselves, up. I’m sure they’d agree with Biologist when he said that he doesn’t mind humans dying to save an animal species.

  55. He didn’t say people should be “killed” to save a species but that he doesn’t mind if they “die”. not the same thing. Not spraying with DDT may result in a few human deaths but they weren’t actually killed.

    This is all cost/benefit analysis, you guys should totally dig this. The marginal benefit of an additional human when there are 6 billion of them already is less than the marginal cost of losing some number of individuals of an endangered species.

  56. He didn’t say people should be “killed” to save a species but that he doesn’t mind if they “die”. not the same thing

    A semantic difference at best. Withholding mosquito killer and letting people in Africa die of malaria is not legally the same thing as killing them outright, but go ask the people themselves if they care much about the difference. No, wait, you can’t ask them, because they’re fucking DEAD.

  57. If they were all dead already there would be nobody to protect. A few people dead is just a cost that has to be paid. I am not even going into the fact that they have other options aside from DDT.

    This is similar to the argument against pollution controls that the Libertarians often use. Sure, we could implement costly procedures to eliminate almost all pollution but instead we let a few people die.

  58. DD–

    On the assumption you’re not a troll, just how much is one human life worth in your cost-benefit analyses?

    And bear in mind we’re not even talking about “letting a few people die;” we’re talking about refusing to allow people to save their own lives. I know the classic example of cost-benefit analysis–manufacturers COULD make a car whose passengers would be nearly invulnerable to any type of accident, but such a car would be too expensive for people to afford. Fine, so we sell cheaper cars and let people assume some risks. But this DDT example is more like selling people a car that’s almost GUARANTEED to kill them and then making it illegal for them to fix it up so it’s safer.

  59. But this DDT example is more like selling people a car that’s almost GUARANTEED to kill them

    Bad analogy.

    and then making it illegal for them to fix it up so it’s safer.

    Much better. Just add in that fixing up the car is bad for the owls! 🙂

  60. Fyodor–

    Good point. Forget “selling” them a car guaranteed to kill them; assume that they somehow “already have” a car guaranteed to kill them, and now we’ve made it illegal for them to make it safer.

  61. Jennifer, we are talking about marginal costs here. The last 10000 humans on Earth are much more valuable than almost any combination of animals but right now 10000 human lives isn’t worth much at all. I don’t have an absolute number but I would value 1 animal species over 10000 humans. My personal valuation isn’t really relevant here.

    They are not guaranteed to die from malaria. In fact even in the worst countries the death rate is 400 per 100,000 from malaria. So there’s a 75% chance that you will not die from malaria before age 70 (rough probability calculation). Those are pretty good odds. And lastly, DDT isn’t the only option to control malaria.

    Maybe if they used less chemicals there would be more birds around to eat the mosquitos.

  62. Maybe if they used less chemicals there would be more birds around to eat the mosquitos.

    If so, then malaria would have been rare indeed before the use of chemicals.

    right now 10000 human lives isn’t worth much at all. I don’t have an absolute number but I would value 1 animal species over 10000 humans.

    The ten thousand in question would beg to differ, I’m sure. And again–what gives you, or Greenpeace, or anybody else (especially in the wealthy and comfortable Western world) the right to tell these people “Don’t imporve your lives (at least not in ways we find objectionable)”?

  63. Dear Lord:

    It’s been a while since I asked for anything, and I doubt that you will pay much heed to any request from me, after all the naughty things I’ve said about you in the past. But, if you are of a mind to answer my prayer, then I ask for just one thing. It is this:

    When it comes time–if the time ever comes–for 10,000 people to die to save 1 other species, please (oh, please!) let me pick the 10,000. I assure you that I will choose only people who are truly deserving.

    Amen.

  64. Of course there was food in the markets in Somalia – who would buy it when free food is being delivered.

  65. Jennifer,

    If eliminating an air quality regulation would save our nation’s manufacturing industry $9 billion per year, at the cost of 2 human lives per year, is it worth it?

    Or is your sudden horror at cost/benefit analysis limited to proposals to enact, rather than eliminate, regulations?

  66. If eliminating an air quality regulation would save our nation’s manufacturing industry $9 billion per year, at the cost of 2 human lives per year, is it worth it?

    I don’t know, but the question doesn’t relate to the matter at hand. I’m not talking about letting people die to save money; I’m talking about letting people live.

  67. Jennifer, it is in fact exactly the same thing.

    There is no difference between saving money and letting people die and spending money (or species or whatever measure you like) and letting people live. All you are doing is flipping the sign.

  68. There is no difference between saving money and letting people die and spending money (or species or whatever measure you like) and letting people live. All you are doing is flipping the sign.

    Doesn’t fucking matter in this case–we’re not debating the use of DDT due to the amount of money it would cost. We’re debating the use of DDT due to the possibility that it might hurt some fucking birds.

  69. Yeah, exactly. Birds are important too. Why don’t you ask the birds how the feel? Oh, I forgot. They are all DEAD. 🙂

    At this point I don’t think there is anything more that I can add. We are starting to go in circles.

  70. If mosquitos can develop a resistance to DDT, why can’t people?

  71. Al this talk of sacrificing third-worlders for the environment might be great if they were clean kills.

    The majority of malaria sufferers end up going through years of debillatating pain. This renders them, for all practical purposes, unable to make any meaningful contributions to their own maintenance, and leaves them utterly dependent on others. It is the number of people who cannot contribute rather than the overall number of people that leads to the kind of poverty that we see.

    So even if you take a purely utilitarian outlook it makes sense to consider any method that might reduce the number of new cases of malaria.

  72. Of course there are costs to many extinctions as well, in terms of both economic value and human lives, although they’re generally difficult to estimate very precisely. I would imagine some ecologists and economists somewhere have estimated the value of various raptor species affected by DDT.

  73. Digital–

    You seriously see no difference between a dead human and a dead bird? Hell, I’ll ask living bird why they should stay alive. And if they give me ANY answer at all–even a bullshit answer that makes no sense–I’ll let them live. But they won’t answer me, because they can’t fucking talk.

    I like JMoore’s prayer. It’s funny, how people who sit back and talk about “the necessity of sacrificing X number of lives” never, ever include their own life among those to be sacrificed.

  74. We’re debating the use of DDT due to the possibility that it might hurt some fucking birds.

    That is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? I’m not sure where I stand on this (could you tell?), but at some point the opposite could hypothetical could be asked, would we make more likely the premature death of two humans in order to save the vast majority of bird species? I know, I know, that’s not the numbers we’re talking about. But your rhetoric would suggest that the answer would surely be no when I think most people would consider that more ambiguous.

    But then, as long as we’re talking about odds and probabilities, there’s probably ways of making DDT available to home use while still keeping its use for widespread agricultural use unlikely. And, as much as I love nature, I’d want to err on the side of allowing people the means to save themselves and improve their lots.

  75. In the example of the 9 billion a year, it’s possible to show that that 9 billion will ultimately save more lives than the 2 lost from the relaxed air quality standards.

    In the case of the use of DDT, we’re arguing against a possible risk to another species that provides no intrinsic value to humankind (other than aesthetic) vs. a large number of human deaths.

    If you can show that allowing 10,000 deaths to save an animal species will lead somehow to preventing 10,001 human deaths, then you’re on to something.

  76. Texican:

    is DDT bad for people? or did you mean why can’t people develop resistance to malaria?

    humans can develop resistance to disease, but not in the same way that we mean by DDT resistance in mosquitoes, or antibiotic resistance in bacteria. in those cases, one or a few individuals have a “mistake” in the copying of their DNA that results in their not being affected by the chemical used to kill them. then, all those individuals in the population without the mistake, known as a mutation, die at higher rates that those with the mutation. eventually, most individuals in the population have the resistance mutation, and the population is resistant to the chemical used to kill them. notice that this results in quite a lot of individual deaths. We call this phenomenon evolution. in order for this to happen in human populations, lots of humans would have to die. we’d have to withhold medical care so that individuals with superior genetic composition survive and reproduce at higher rates. thus, the population would become resistant to disease, even though lots of individuals died. the individuals remaining in the population are resistant, though.

    Jennifer, did you miss the part where I said I was in favor of allowing DDT use in houses? or where I said large-scale use wasn’t likely to be effective for long, since the mosquitoes would probably quickly develop resistance? to clarify, I’m not in favor of going out and shooting humans in order to save other organisms, but I am in favor of rearranging human activities (by governmental decree, if necessary) to prevent anthropogenic extinctions. if some incidental deaths (including mine) occur as a result, then so be it. it is in fact the moral equivalent of allowing industrial pollution to incidentally cause deaths in humans. nothing you’ve written changes the fact that it is very likely that reducing the rate of mortality caused by malaria will result in an increase in mortality rates due to starvation. also, are those in question buying DDT using their money, or money they borrowed from the world bank, which will eventually forgive their debts, so they’ll never actually pay for the DDT. do they buy food with their money or borrowed or donated money? are you donating money for food or DDT for third world countries, or are you relying on our government to rob me through taxes to fund policies I don’t support.

    the problem is a refusal to face the consequences of human ecology: there are more people in some parts of the world than there is food to support the local population or resources to produce enough economic growth to purchase food to support the population. we donate food, which often doesn’t reach the intended recipients, and when it does, it simply perpetuates the problem by maintaining or increasing populations at levels beyond the local carrying capacity.

  77. Biologist,

    Thanks for the info. What I meant was, “If mosquitos develop a resistance to DDT, why can’t people?”

    In other words, evidently some mosquitos are not affected by DDT anymore. To the extent that people are affected by it, can they also not build up a resistance to DDT as well?

  78. Maybe I can be more clear. Evidence has shown that DDT kill mosquitos. I am not aware of any evidence that says it kills people. Therefore, the affect on mosquitos is much greater than on humans. Being as the side affects are less on humans, wouldn’t they have to travel less far to build up some sort of immunity?

    I apologize for being a lay person, but I am trying to logically understand.

  79. The question of saving $9 billion to save 2 lives is the wrong question. Most people emotionally say that you can’t measure the value of a life in monetary terms, but that is obviously not the case in practice. The question should be “Would that $9 billion being saved be otherwise spent in such a way to save more than 2 lives?” Capital is a limited resource, and you can’t make cavalier statements about spending any amount of money to save lives. There is always a tradeoff, and captial must be spent in a way to save as many lives as possible.

  80. Texican:

    I’m not sure I understand your question.

  81. Texican,

    “Mosquitos develop resistance” means that 90 something percent of the exposed mosquitoes die. Then the survivors reproduce the next generation, and half of them die. Then those survivors repoduce the next generation, and ten percent of them are poisoned. Then those survivors reproduce the next generation, and only 1% of them die.

    I don’t think you want to see this played out with human populations.

    Of course, DDT is a bad example, because it’s not terribly toxic to humans, and the cancers is causes don’t show up for a couple decades afte the exposed reproduce.

  82. Now children, I want you all to stop fighting and sit down and read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.
    Then perhaps you will have a proper perspective on the unregulated use of DDT.

  83. The whole resistance thing is a red herring. The question should be why does this old chemical work so well. I was wondering about this and came upon a study done in Belize. One house was sprayed with Deltamethrin according to WHO standards, the other was sprayed with DDT to WHO standards. The researchers then sat in the windowless house and counted Anopheles bites. They found the mosquitoes would promptly bite after entering the house treated with deltamethrin. In the house sprayed with DDT the mosquitoes would enter and leave without biting! The conventinal wisdom was the mosquitoes would rest on the the treated surface and die. DDT it seems works as an anti-feedant that blocks the mosquitoes ability to locate food.
    Also if IRC the mode of action of DDT is the same as pyrethroids so deltamethrin is a poor choice for a replacement chemical for DDT since the both effect the same metabolic pathway.
    The real kicker to end this debate is as far as I know, kelthane (dicofol) is still for sale in the US. Dicofol is MADE from DDT! I think it is one of the few miticides labeled for edible plants. Since it is made from DDT its breakdown products are the same.

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