Thursday, August 18, 2005

DDT and the Right's eco-lies

That cranky organ of the "pro-life" movement, LifeSite News, takes on the environmental movement this week, passing on a bizarre meme rocketing around right-wing brainpans these days. LSN's story by one John Jalsevac is headed, "Green Hands Dipped In Blood: The DDT Genocide." It caught my eye because I hadn't heard environmentalists accused of perpetrating a "holocaust" before, but, as a quick search revealed, it's a commonplace in conservative circles. This serious if certifiably nutty charge now re-enters the blogosphere courtesy of (who else?) Kathy Shaidle.

First, the sources cited in the article, then the claims--and then the facts. One article upon which Jalsevac relies heavily to fuel his polemic is not by "Andrew Kenney," or by "Richard Kenney," as he confusingly indicates, but by one Andrew Kenny, a South African engineer by profession who claims that we're going through global cooling, not warming, and that an Ice Age is due any moment. Jalsevac's other major source is, a radical free-market corporate-funded site masquerading as a "scientific" one, edited by Steven Milloy, a man well-known for being a little careless with the truth.

Jalsevac dredges up other references to back his shoddy claim, and these deserve scrutiny, too. They include the corporate-backed conservative front group American Council on Science and Health (which has argued that there is no link between heart disease and cholesterol, and has enthusiastically promoted bovine growth hormone); Dr. J. Gordon Edwards, who has teamed up with Steven Milloy on occasion and who published a vicious attack on Rachel Carson in cult leader Lyndon Larouche's 21st Century Science and Technology; a popular novelist; a New York Times journalist; the junk politics e-zine FrontPage (which, in characteristic style, accuses Rachel Carson of "ecological genocide,"); a columnist in the equally extremist publication, WorldNetDaily; and other assorted conservative hacks. Don't look for science here, but there’s all the far-right politics you can eat, if you have the stomach for it.

But on to the claims. Jalsevac quotes "Kenney’s" assertion that the banning of DDT has killed 50 million people, thanks to "the gratuitous recklessness of eco-extremists." claims 80 million have, in Jalsevac’s words, "dropped at the hands of the tree-huggers." "It's the worst crime of the twentieth century," Kenny says. "Banning DDT killed more people than Hitler," shrieks sci-fi writer Michael Crichton.

Jalsevac is no stranger to that same inflated style. "With Muller's miracle-pesticide in widespread use the movement towards a malaria-free earth was progressing swimmingly until Rachel Carson erupted hysterically onto the international scene," he writes. (Unaccountably, he missed the Carson-as-lesbian speculation in some quarters. Thank God for small mercies.) He gives more than an inkling of his own agenda when, out of the blue, he begins to attack oral contraception: why is DDT banned, he asks aloud, "while the proven carcinogenic, cancer-causing contraceptive, used to prevent the creation of human life, is handed out like candy"?

But the extreme-right agenda becomes even plainer with nuggets like this, purporting to reveal the environmentalists' own hidden agenda:

Charles Wurter [sic], the chief scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund said in October 1969: "If the environmentalists win on DDT, they will achieve a level of authority they have never had before. In a sense, much more is at stake than DDT."

Of course this is entirely correct--there's nothing sinister about it in the least. At the time, environmentalism was in its infancy, under sustained assault from corporations and politicians, red-baited to a fair-thee-well and the subject of numerous shrill editorial comments. For the movement to prove its mettle on the DDT issue, with sound research and good science, would, of course, and did, give it countervailing credibility.

The quotation, from the Seattle Times of October 5, 1969, is invariably second-hand-sourced to Richard Tren and Roger Bate, both seasoned right-wing activists who have skilfully used it in classic propaganda fashion to suggest a political conspiracy. Bate is a Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, whose mandate is clear enough:

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research is dedicated to preserving and strengthening the foundations of freedom--limited government, private enterprise, vital cultural and political institutions, and a strong foreign policy and national defense.

Richard Tren is a champion of water privatization, and a member of South Africa's Free Market Foundation, whose mandate is peas-in-a-pod close to that of the American Enterprise Institute: "a South African, libertarian think-tank founded in 1975 to promote the principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual liberty."

Jalsevac ploughs on, offering up this widely-circulated lie: Dr. Wurster is "reported to have said" (note weasel-wording here) when told that DDT saves lives: "So what? People are the main cause of our problems. We have too many of them. We need to get rid of some of them..."

Wurster's organization, the Environmental Defense Fund, calls this alleged statement "a complete and utter fabrication." Dr. Wurster himself has angrily denounced the lie: "Not only did I never say it, I never thought it." It "pops up at least once a year. It has a life of its own."

In fact, a disgruntled lawyer fired by Wurster's organization, Victor Yannacone, was the source of it. After being let go, he called a press conference and "quoted" Wurster. In response, Wurster said, pointedly, "It was in part because Mr. Yannacone lost touch with reality that he was dismissed by EDF, and his remarks of May 1970 indicate that his inability to separate fact from fiction has accelerated."

Judging by the widespread use of this invented reference, the same inability continues to afflict the Right today. As for Jalsevac, he goes into fugue at this point:

Some members of the left have alleged that this quote by Wurster is false, fabricated by a disgruntled former employee of Wurster’s. And that may be so though it has hardly been proven; but either way, that statement remains in essence the clearest, bluntest expression of a theory and an attitude that has flourished ever since Thomas Malthus published his infamous work "An Essay on the Principle of Population"; individuals as diverse as Nietzsche, Hitler and Margaret Sanger have all expressed it in one form or another.

Someone should remind this ineffectual propagandist that attributing quotes places the onus upon the attributor to prove their accuracy. But Jalsevac doesn't care: even if the quote is entirely made up, as he has the barefaced gall to state, so what? It's still a good one, eh? It links Hitler, Margaret Sanger and, of course, the environmental movement, in one unholy alliance.

Not content with that woodenly-executed manoeuvre, he goes on to retail this hoary old quotation: "As an official of the Agency for International Development stated, 'Rather dead than alive and riotously reproducing'." This much-ballyhooed comment is from R.S. Desowitz's "Malaria Capers," published in 1992. Desowitz never does get around to attributing the quotation, but why bother? It's good emotive stuff. At least he had the grace to assent to the environmentally deleterious effects of DDT, blaming this on overuse in agriculture. It is not recorded whether, like Dr. J. Gordon Edwards, he ate large quantities of it himself.

Finally, we have this tinfoil-helmet hokum from Jalsevac:

It is no coincidence that population control and environmentalism have always been inextricably entwined in the grand scheme of liberal ideology. Both are founded upon an [sic] pernicious belief that man is little more than a pollutant, a scum to be prevented from interfering any more than necessary with the purity of the natural biosphere.

Of course, humanity is an integral part of the natural biosphere, and environmentalists have been advocating nothing more or less than that recognition all along. Caring for the environment means caring for ourselves, and for the generations to come. But that kind of thinking doesn't play well with the corporate anti-environmentalists and their willing ideo-religious accomplices.

Now, if we can move into the light of day for a moment, here are the facts.

There never was a ban against DDT use to control malaria.

DDT has actually been a cause of malaria outbreaks. The primary reason for the recrudescence of malaria in the Third World has been the over-use, not the restriction, of DDT. Malaria-bearing pests develop resistance to pesticides such as DDT in very short order: it is estimated that it takes as little as six or seven years for mosquitoes to become resistant to any particular pesticide. Desowitz himself pointed out the vast over-use in agricultural production. To quantify this with one example: "Correlating the use of DDT in El Salvador with renewed malaria transmission, it can be estimated that at current rates each kilo of insecticide added to the environment will generate 105 new cases of malaria."

DDT is toxic to humans. It takes a devious if not deranged mind (and several are in evidence these days, to be sure) to argue that various Republican administrations, beginning with that of Richard Nixon, are in thrall to some kind of liberal-green conspiracy. Here is what the US Environmental Protection Agency, whose Administrator is chosen by no less than the President of the United States, has to say about DDT:

· Probable human carcinogen

· Damages the liver

· Temporarily damages the nervous system

· Reduces reproductive success

· Can cause liver cancer

· Damages reproductive system

DDT is toxic to the environment. Its deleterious effects on bird populations, for instance, are well-documented, despite the assembly of selective facts by the political Right to "debunk" the sound science behind this claim. It is toxic to fish. It takes more than 15 years to break down, and its breakdown products are toxic as well.

But back to John Jalsevac, Christian conservative, in the grip of the current craze (and I use the word advisedly) to label and denounce anything that stands in the way of big corporations and the US empire as fundamentally evil, in the full-blown metaphysical sense. It's the way these people talk, and, worse, the way they think. For such individuals, it is no stretch at all to accuse conservationists of "genocide." The more stunningly outrageous the claim, the more doggedly they pursue it, amid a flurry of namecalling and fabrication.

Indeed, there's a kind of madness permeating the Right these days, as a quick glance over the blogosphere confirms: the more firmly they are in control of the world, the more frantically and frenziedly they claim that the Left is in control. Just check out, as a glaring instance of this, the orgy of denunciation directed towards one grieving mother who is being noisily anti-war these days. Bush is in the Oval Office, the "reconstruction" of Iraq is proceeding, with a pretty penny being made in the process, the US Supreme Court is about to take a hard right turn--conservatives ought to be dancing in the streets. Instead, they're almost beside themselves with anger when a single individual dares to say No.

Jalsevac's shabby little piece is just one sour note in a rising crescendo of what can only be termed right-wing group hysteria, a drift to the totalitarian edge where all dissent is treason, and where all dissenters, motivated by pure evil, look alike. This is a world of shoot-to-kill, increased "security" measures, rendition and suggested "torture warrants," a world in which the Geneva Convention does not apply and where we are urged to cower in fear with colour-coded "alerts" that never seem to pan out. It's a binary world of manic fundamentalism, God against Allah, and heaven help those who seek a better way: no smear is too vile, no accusation too wild, to use against them. We're watching nothing less than the death of civil discourse at present. How much longer before we witness the death of civil rights?

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