By Gilbert Ross, M.D. on 5.11.11 @ 6:08AM
It would have been better to observe World Malaria Day.
The last weekend in April saw the confluence of Earth Day and World Malaria Day. The very first Earth Day back in 1970 found many of us devoted to saving the world from polluting corporations and their toxic smog. And in fact, over the course of the next two decades or so, major strides were made in cleaning up our air and water. The sky over Los Angeles was even seen to be blue on occasion, and Hudson River fish were pronounced safe to eat again.
The momentum flowing from the first Earth Day led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that same year. Its first administrator, William Ruckelshaus, was appointed fresh out of an environmental advocacy nonprofit, whose agenda included banning the insecticide DDT.
DDT had become the poster child target of the nascent environmental movement, thanks to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962. Ruckelshaus — ignoring the voluminous testimony of his own scientific advisors demonstrating the unique effectiveness and lack of toxicity of DDT — signed the DDT ban in June 1972. He may as well have signed the death warrant for millions of victims of malaria and other insect-borne diseases. Thus was enacted the first triumph for the green movement. The few who at that time realized the deadly consequences of that act were shouted down by those who fancied themselves “stewards of the earth.”
In recent years, the law of diminishing returns has set in: the EPA has fewer serious (or even real) problems to fix, so its bureaucrats must search for “toxins” to justify their bloated budget, and they have become increasingly desperate. So the regulators have expanded their quest for “toxic” problems to fix — even if threats have to be invented.
The most important resource on our earth is the intellect and creativity of its people. But many in the “environmental” movement first manifested on Earth Day forty-one years ago believe that the earth would be a much better place if fewer people lived on it — at least that’s how they behave. The banning of DDT is perhaps the best example of this perverse credo: it led directly to the needless deaths of perhaps fifty million human beings, mostly women and children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa. The ban spared those of us in malaria-free North America and Europe, lands where superior sanitation and DDT had already done their job. Worst of all, DDT has been repeatedly shown to be an amazingly safe chemical, free of the heinous but fallacious charges leveled against it by Rachel Carson and her acolytes. Yet activists calling themselves “environmentalists” cling to their dogma as though to a life raft, oblivious to its lethal consequences. Their complacent devotees sit in Brussels and the U.N., placing obstacles against the goal of eradicating malaria.
Is this know-nothing obstructionism what being “earth-friendly” means today? The anti-human trope at the core of today’s environmentalism has other faces as well. Cleverly timed for release on Earth Day, a fusillade of articles appeared impugning certain common pesticides by purporting to show that exposure to them in utero lowered newborns’ IQs years later. Stunned at hearing this long-discredited charge resurrected yet again, I carefully went over the study that lies at the ground zero of media frenzy, done by a group of researchers based at the University of California at Berkeley led by Brenda Eskenazi.
That article, published in a junk-science organ called Environmental Health Perspectives, and distilled for mass consumption in such pseudo-journalistic screeds as Poison Produce and Synthetic Pesticides Sabotaging Our Children’s Health, is riddled with errors of commission and omission. Assumptions are glibly made based on no science at all; missing data is filled in with barely any rationale; allegedly toxic byproducts of a pesticide are acknowledged to be of indefinite source; and potential confounders — factors known to influence IQ that are unrelated to pesticides — as significant as parental smoking and alcohol intake, as well as any paternal characteristics, are ignored. Most egregious, the overwhelming body of scientific evidence supporting the safety of the approved uses of organophosphate (OP) pesticides, including the 100-plus gauntlet of tests our own EPA requires of them (as stringent as pharmaceutical testing mandated by the FDA), is not acknowledged.
What do these well-orchestrated attacks on crop protection chemicals have to do with DDT? They all spring from the same agenda endemic among the current crop of self-styled environmentalists – an agenda that supersedes science and petty human concerns – to be promulgated by any means necessary. The OPs are “neurotoxins,” they say, so of course they affect IQ. But it is well known that, at the minuscule levels found in our food, they are neurotoxic only to pests. (The anti-vaccine fanatics have used this same “logic” to falsely incriminate mercury in a vaccine preservative).
Pesticides kill pests — insects, weeds, and fungi — and increase crop yields as well as the safety of our food. Yet the anti-pesticide, anti-chemical, anti-technology crowd apparently hasn’t noticed — or more likely, cared — that worldwide food shortages and price increases rampant of late have thrown millions in abject poverty, already undernourished, into starvation.
Moreover, these same “friends of the earth” oppose genetically modified (or biotech) agriculture, again for no science-based reason. This technology is another potential method to increase production of desperately needed staple crops. Their opposition is based on a fear of “frankenfoods,” despite these crops’ demonstrated safety over the past fifteen-plus years – echoing the never-ending crusade against DDT.
Until Earth Day can be reclaimed for the precious resource most ignored by Greens — people, human beings — I say, next year give it a pass and pay attention instead to World Malaria Day. It will do much more good for our planet — and its people.
Gilbert Ross, M.D., is executive and medical director of the American Council on Science and Health.
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