Monbiot: in denial over DDT

There is a debate over the link between international restrictions on the use of DDT, and the correlating rise in the numbers of malaria victims worldwide. Some environmentalists have effectively denied that such a link could exist because there simply wasn’t a ‘Ban’ (with a capital B) on the use of DDT for malaria control.

The 2001 Stockholm Convention is dragged out as proof there was no ‘Ban’ on using DDT, especially for dealing with deadly mosquitoes. Yes, the word ‘Ban’ does not appear on the document, but this is semantics – strict environmental regulations, and restrictions have more or less phased out DDT as a method of malaria control for many developing nations.

From the 1960’s it was the World Heath Organisation that financed, coordinated and led the global strategy of fighting malaria – that strategy changed by 1979, when they stopped killing little bugs with DDT (for unfounded environmental reasons), and opted for a strategy of ‘detection and treatment’. Surprise, surprise, malaria rates worldwide shot up. Of course, don’t take my word for it. The retired Professor of Tropical Public Heath, Donald R. Roberts, presented the US Senate Committee back in 2005 with the statistical evidence that showed the link between declining DDT use and the corresponding rise in malaria cases.

Where is the evidence that tiny levels of DDT use, led to corresponding falls in the rates of malaria cases? Where DDT has been used in large amounts, cases of malaria have disappeared. There is no scientific reason to restrict, or abandon the use of DDT – the large-scale loss of human life, far outweigh most environmental concerns. For example, according to Stockholm Convention, there is globally ‘4-5,000’ tonnes of DDT being used per year to fight malaria.

Yet, on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia back in 1945, the US army used 10,000 tonnes of DDT, and totally eradicated malaria form the island. Yes, it may have been too generously sprayed – and yes, a few birds and sheep were poisoned. Nevertheless, despite that, DDT proved harmless to humans, and the cheapest method of malaria control.

Past militant environmental opposition to the use of DDT has only succeeded in tightening further still, already existing international regulations governing the strict use or production of DDT. Western environmentalists are still in denial over their position on DDT, Monbiot has latched on to the word ‘Ban’ and argued that the word is not mentioned in any international regulatory literature, therefore their critics cannot accuse him of banning DDT, when no such ban exists. The argument is more like a cheap trick to divert the eyes momentarily away from the real problem - the reason for the decline in the global use of DDT.



Sorry I haven't had a chance

Sorry I haven't had a chance to respond to this more quickly.  I read the links provided and have one little criticism.  In one of the links, the author states something along the lines of...  "no species became extinct due to the use of DDT."  While this statement may be accurate, it is misleading.  And the author is misleading in one of two ways: either intentionally, or unintentionally. 

If unintentionally, due to ignorance, it is forgivable.  If he is intentionally misleading, that is commonly referred to as "lying."  For instance, while it may be true that bald eagles did not become extinct, DDT was a primary contributor to a decline from an estimated half million birds in the lower 48 states, to a low of 450 nesting pairs of eagles during the 1960s.  Banning DDT, along with a hell of a lot of hard work by biologists, has resulted in the dramatic increase to over 17,000 nesting pairs in the lower 48 today, and removal from the Endangered Species List.  Similar declines in other top-of-the-food-chain birds throughout the years of widespread DDT use, and increases since the ban on DDT use, are equally as dramatic.  I know, first hand, because I have been involved personally in restoration efforts of eagles, osprey, and Mississippi kites.

To imply that DDT is innocuous because no wildlife species became "extinct" is absurd.  There are levels of harm.  Extinction is simply the final level of harm.

Now, whether the trade-off of wildlife populations for reduction of malaria in humans is a fair exchange...  That's for other to access.  But the truth is...  There IS a trade-off.  Just because no species became extinct does not mean some were not pushed to the brink.