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Google today celebrates the 107th birthday of the patron saint of the environmental movement, Rachel Carson, with one of its occasional homepage “doodles.” The predictable result: a torrent of favorable publicity for the “Mother of the Green Movement” and Silent Spring author who birthed the US Environmental Protection Agency and a global ban on the insecticide DDT.
Nearly lost in a sea of hagiographic links, an inconvenient truth can here and there be discerned: Banning DDT caused the avoidable death, by malaria, of at least 50 million human beings, mainly in the developing world. And the collateral damage continues today. As many as 2.7 million die each year of a disease that was on its way to obliteration prior to Carson’s profoundly unscientific campaign to ban a safe and effective insecticide.
Most of the world will learn nothing of the human toll taken by the resurgence of mosquito-borne disease in the wake of Carson’s political success. The typical take:
She was criticised by the chemical industry and some governments as an alarmist but she courageously remained steadfast in her stand. She testified before the Congress in 1963 and appealed for new policies to protect human health and environment. Her efforts did not go in vain for a reversal in national pesticide policy was made which led to a worldwide ban on DDT on agricultural use.
Poor African children might have joined the chemical industry in protesting the courageous and steadfast environmentalist but were sidelined by a progressive and often fatal relapsing fever.
Writing in Forbes, Hoover Institution fellow and former FDA official Dr. Henry Miller — somehow not featured by Google this morning — provides the definitive summary:
The legacy of Rachel Carson is that tens of millions of human lives – mostly children in poor, tropical countries – have been traded for the possibility of slightly improved fertility in raptors. This remains one of the monumental human tragedies of the last century.