Sowell wrong about DDT and Rachel Carson

May 16, 2011

Thomas Sowell bolloxed it up at National Review Online:

Who blames Rachel Carson, an environmentalist icon, because her crusading writings against DDT led to the ban of this insecticide in countries around the world — followed by a resurgence of malaria that killed, and continues to kill, millions of people in tropical Third World countries?

To which I responded:

Who blames Rachel Carson?

Only someone ignorant of malaria and DDT, or someone with a real political axe to grind.

Malaria did not “resurge” when DDT was banned on cotton crops in the U.S.  The U.S. ban did not extend to Africa, and DDT has never been banned in Africa nor most of Asia.

Malaria deaths have declined steadily over the past 50 years, generally as DDT use was reduced.  In 1959 and 1960, the peak years of DDT use, 4 million people died from malaria, worldwide.  WHO cut back on DDT use in 1965 when mosquitoes began showing serious resistance and immunity to the stuff, but by 1972, when the U.S. banned agricultural use of DDT (but continued exports), about 2 million people died annually from malaria.

Today, largely without DDT, malaria deaths are down to under 900,000 — a 75% reduction in deaths from peak DDT use.

Instead, since 2000 we’ve been using integrated vector management (IVM) to hold mosquito populations down, and we’ve been using improved medical care to treat humans who have malaria.  IVM and beefed up medical care was what Rachel Carson recommended in her book, <i>Silent Spring</i>, in 1962.

So, there is no cause-effect relationship between Ms. Carson and the U.S. ban on DDT, nor between that ban and malaria deaths.  In fact, there are fewer malaria deaths now than when DDT was used irresponsibly.

Carson was right.  It’s a good thing wise people listened to her.

More information?  See Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

Who knows what comments see the light of day over there?

How many times will conservative commentators of all stripes abuse the DDT/Rachel Carson story before they start getting it right?  How much does that skew their views from the accurate and wise view?


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