Say It Ain't So, Roy

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Brendan O'Neill talks with Roy Innis, national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Who's the legendary civil rights champion doing battle with now? Environmentalists, whose policies on GM foods and DDT are strangling Africa and killing black babies:

Innis has seen for himself the devastation caused by malaria. At Christmas his nephew, also a CORE activist, returned to a school in Uganda that he sponsors and found that 50 of the 500 children had died from malaria in a 12-month period. 'What a waste of human life', says Innis. 'What an avoidable tragedy.' He says the reason the malaria thing makes him so angry is that even in the poorest parts of Africa this disease can be stopped by a simple application of DDT. 'You just spray a small amount, twice a year, on the walls of homes and it keeps 90 per cent of mosquitoes from coming in. It irritates those that do come in, which means they rarely bite. Every African home that needs it should have DDT sprayed on the walls.'

It isn't only the restrictions on DDT that anger Innis. He also champions the development of genetically modified crops, arguing that they could massively benefit African farmers. 'Lots of people in America and Europe panic about GM, but I've spoken to Africans who want it', he says. 'We don't want Africa to be left behind again and to lose out on this scientific revolution. GM could increase yields and ensure a good quality of nutrition.' And he isn't very impressed by arguments for sustainable development, claiming that it 'stagnates real development, which is what Africa needs'.

Innis recognises that most green activists mean well. 'They want to do right, but they are so wrong on some things', he says. His main concern is that environmentalist thinking has been elevated into an official dogma, taking centre stage in numerous debates about the developing world at the UN and the EU. He goes so far as to claim that green thinking about the Third World is 'like a new form of colonialism'; he talks of 'eco-imperialism'. 'It is a colonialist mentality', he says. 'Making decisions for other people from one's own perspective rather than from the perspective of the people being affected—that is my definition of a colonialist mentality and that is the approach taken by some officials and green activists to the Third World.'

This may not be as shocking as Brendan thinks. Innis famously moved to the right in the eighties. Environmentalists have been keeping dossiers on him for some time, and there are civil rights oldsters who say he was a COINTELPRO plant all along. (Come to think of it, isn't that the bold Innis line I detect in the Black Panther Coloring Book?)

Innis addresses the Uncle Tom accusations in the interview. I'd be interested in hearing what environmentalists have to say in response to claims that green policies are hurting Africa. Ron Bailey attacked European biotech policies for starving the world's poor, and got sprayed by DDT haters when he suggested bringing the insecticide back into action. Yet it's always nature bunnies like Jim Bob Moffett who get accused of environmental racism. Has any green group ever responded to the argument that environmental policies hurt developing countries? A quick search suggests not, but if anybody knows of an example…

NEXT: He's Obscene—We're Merely Indecent

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  1. I have read that mosquitos adapt to DDT fair quickly, becoming immune after a few exposures (or more accurately, only resistant mosquitos survive, and this resistance strengthens and spreads through the population as DDT causes it to continue to be selected). Would DDT use really be a viable long-term strategy, then?

  2. Here we go with nonsense about DDT again. Banning the agricultural use of DDT has saved lives by slowing the development of resistance. Using it against malaria is not banned and it’s used that way in quite a few countries. But in many other countries insecticide treated bed nets work better or there is resistance to DDT so a different insecticide must be sprayed on walls. Even where DDT is the best choice, it isn’t going to eliminate malaria.

    You can DDT ban myth bingo whenever you see anything Innis writes about DDT.

  3. What environmental groups object to in-home use of DDT against malaria-carrying mosquitos? Names, please.

    With respect to the claim that the EU has been overtaken by the purported environmentalist dogma that DDT should not be banned for in-home use against mosquitoes, see this letter.

  4. erratum: for “should not be banned,” read “should be banned”

  5. DDT is not a savior:

    “‘You just spray a small amount, twice a year, on the walls of homes and it keeps 90 per cent of mosquitoes from coming in.”

    The Garki Project in Northern Nigeria (in the 70’s) reduced mosquito bites by 90%, which, unfortunantly did not reduce the rate of malaria at all. Thats not to say that it shouldn’t be used, but it is no substitute for a vaccine

    “What environmental groups object to in-home use of DDT against malaria-carrying mosquitos? Names, please.”

    World Wildlife Fund

  6. DDT is not a savior:

    “‘You just spray a small amount, twice a year, on the walls of homes and it keeps 90 per cent of mosquitoes from coming in.”

    The Garki Project in Northern Nigeria (in the 70’s) reduced mosquito bites by 90%, which, unfortunantly did not reduce the rate of malaria at all. Thats not to say that it shouldn’t be used, but it is no substitute for a vaccine

    “What environmental groups object to in-home use of DDT against malaria-carrying mosquitos? Names, please.”

    World Wildlife Fund

  7. and just b/c ddt worked in the US and Europe doesn’t mean it will work to eradicate malaria from Africa…different vectors, different species of malaria and malaria is endemic in Africa-it was never endemic in the West…..

    the only time an African vector species was elimintated from a large area was when A. gambiae was elimnated from Brazil and Eqypt. It those instances it happened because of the use of larval control and not adult mosquito control

    see Killeen et al., Eradication of Anopheles gambiae from Brazil, Lancet Infectious Diseases Vol 2 Oct 2002, 618-627

  8. I’ll eat the mosquitoes. Promise.

  9. Ian writes, in response to me:

    “What environmental groups object to in-home use of DDT against malaria-carrying mosquitos? Names, please.”

    World Wildlife Fund

    WWF has stated that it believes that DDT can eventually be banned if aggressive and thoughtful anti-malaria campaigns and the development of safer alternatives make its use unnecessary. See this commentary by the director of the WWF’s malaria project in a 2000 issue of the British Medical Journal, entitled “Reduction and elimination of DDT should proceed slowly.”

  10. Hey Tom, how do you think that spraying DDT on the walls of huts protects people when they are outside? Scientists have done lots of tests on bed nets and they work very well because they protect people when they are most vulnerable to mosquito bites.

    Banning agricultural use saved lives. Did it save more than where lost when malaria resurged? That’s a silly comparison, because one of the reasons for the resurgence was that because of the agricultural use, mosquitoes developed resistence.

    The US does fund DDT use. The EU does not ban imports from countries that use DDT.

    You want me to take on someone knowledgable? Fair enough, Innis doesn’t have a clue on DDT. Who would you like?

  11. “Evil lefties KILL!” is just too good a narrative for your biased, politically-correct “scientists” to overcome, Tim.

  12. By all means, let them spritz their homes with DDT. It might reduce the fertility of the inhabitants, and then, instead of killing the black babies, we can prevent their births in the first place. Fine with me.

  13. The Wikipedia article on DDT bears out what Tim Lambert says here and on his blog.

    It sounds like DDT is not only regularly used in Africa precisely in the way that Roy Innis says it is not, but that it is only not used when it ceases to be effective. It also sounds like it is far less expensive and more available than alternative pesticides, like pyrethroids, and yet is still often chosen against by those who are not conservationists.

    Without some seriously compelling rebuttal, I don’t see how we can continue to blame the eco-nazis here.

  14. How are people supposed to live their lives under bed nets?

    Mosquitoes come out at night, you know, when people sleep.

  15. “Mosquitoes come out at night, you know, when people sleep.”

    Uh, yeah, but they don’t wait for bedtime. They come out in the ‘evening.’ Ever lived in a tropical culture? Many people are awake in the tropics, running around, cooking, eating, flirting, long past the time that mosquitoes start to come out.

  16. You guys all miss the point. What is important about this article is not whether Innis is right about DDT, but the fact that a real civil rights hero is being called an “uncle Tom” for valueing the people in Africa more than he does the “environment.” Following Innis example, the rule now appears to be that if you don’t buy into every bit of liberal horseshit you are a traitor and an Uncle Tom regardless of what you believe about anything else.

  17. The horseshit here coming form exactly one direction, John. The right.

    You’re going to pull a muscle trying to contort the rejection of this obvious, debunked myth into your preferred framework.

    And, btw, please stop telling black people how they should think, mmmm-kay?

  18. If expressing disagreements with others’ opinions is wrong because it’s “telling them how to think”, then a lot of people here are in big trouble.

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