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In 1962 Monsanto published a parody of Silent Spring called The Desolate Year where they imagined death and destruction from “the garrote of Nature” if the United States went without pesticides for a year.

Quietly, then, the desolate year began. Not many people seemed aware of danger. After all, in the winter, hardly a housefly was about. What could a few bugs do, here and there? How could the good life depend upon something so seemingly trivial as bug spray? Where were the bugs anyway? The bugs were everywhere. Unseen. Unheard. Unbelievably universal. Beneath the ground, beneath the waters, on and in limbs and twigs and stalks, under rocks, inside trees and animals and other insects — and, yes, inside man. …

the garrote of Nature rampant began to tighten … food and fur animals weren’t the only ones that died to the hum of insects that year. Man, too, sickened and he died

When the US banned the agricultural use of DDT in 1972, nothing of the sort happened. And banning the agricultural use of DDT
saved lives by slowing the development of resistance.

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These little details aren’t going to bother John Berlau of the Monsanto-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute, who wrote his own book along similar lines to The Desolate Year. Here he is being interviewed by Robert Stacy McCain:

Q: You are very critical of Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring,” who is viewed as a hero by the environmentalist movement. Why?
A: For both her results and her intentions. The results are clear. Two million dying every year in Africa of malaria, a disease proven to be preventable by killing and repelling the mosquitoes that carry it with DDT. DDT wiped out malaria in much of the world, including the southern U.S. Carson vilified DDT based on distortion of facts known even then. For instance, she implied DDT was developed as poison gas, when history shows it was developed to protect our troops in World War II from typhus and malaria.

Berlau is lying. Here’s what Carson actually wrote about the development of DDT:

DDT (short for dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane) was first synthesized by a German Chemist in 1874, but its properties as an insecticide were not discovered until 1939. Almost immediately DDT was hailed as a means of stamping out insect-borne disease and winning the farmers’ war against crop destroyers overnight. The discoverer, Paul Muller of Switzerland, won the Nobel Prize.

… one of its first uses was the wartime dusting of many thousands of soldiers, refugees, and prisoners, to combat lice.

Although the content of the attacks on Carson haven’t really changed since 1962, these days the folks who pen them don’t work directly for Monsanto, instead working for front organisations like the CEI.

Comments

  1. #1 QrazyQat
    May 19, 2007

    How does Monsanto imagine humankind survived for so many centuries before Monsanto came into being to protect us? How do they imagine animal life survived for millions of years without Monsanto?

    How do they sleep?

  2. #2 Hank Roberts
    May 19, 2007

    They probably can’t sleep because, if we’re going to have almond crops, farmers are going to have to just stop spraying bug killers on a wholesale basis. The neonicotinoids — some of which are slow cumulative problems — are the current new profitable product being pushed as the replacement ‘organic’ pesticide now that insects have been developing immunity to pyrethrins.

    Like all such stuff the evaluations were done looking for immediate sort-term severe injury.
    http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146%2Fannurev.pharmtox.45.120403.095930

    And will find out they didn’t need them. Of course we see the same sort of attack made on, well, evolution, or climate change — look for a “founder” and attack the first person to get the science into public discussion, on the benighted theory that everything in science is based on the first reports.

    Stupid damned lobbyists.

    When the honeybees were trucked in — on a contract, on a schedule, for a specific week — agribiz could just schedule their spraying around that and expect the bees to be able to pollinate on schedule.

    Now, that assumed that no immediate and severe poisoning was the only worry. But, turns out, honeybee colony collapse disorder is a big, big problem.

    What’s the alternative? The hundreds of other bees and wasps and moths that are naturally available pollinators will be coming into the orchards from all directions. Yes, along with other insects.

    Result? time will tell.

    “Give me spots on my apples, but give me the birds and the bees.” — Joni Mitchell

  3. #3 Christopher Gwyn
    May 19, 2007

    DDT (short for dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane) was first synthesized by a German Chemist in 1874, but its properties as an insecticide were not discovered until 1939.”

    Imagine what would have happened in the world if the insecticide properties were realized in 1874.

  4. #4 Tony
    May 19, 2007

    Hank said:

    Of course we see the same sort of attack made on, well, evolution, or climate change — look for a “founder” and attack the first person to get the science into public discussion, on the benighted theory that everything in science is based on the first reports.

    Spot on. I often wonder why the sceptics spend such an inordinate amount of time on Mann and the “hockey stick”. They actually believe knocking it down would invalidate all the other research that repeats its findings. In the light of this, their ironic claims that prominent sceptics have been “villified” by the scientific community is laughable on its face to those of us who keep in touch with these things, but could potentially have traction with an uninformed public.

    As for Rachel Carson, the sceptics in my neck of the woods take it as an article of faith that she enabled the death of millions. All because they don’t bother to look past the usual wingnut websites.

  5. #5 Barry
    May 19, 2007

    The right has a bad case of Freudian projection. They accuse others only of what they do already, or would do if they could. In this case, they’re assuming that Rachel Carson falsified her work for economic/political considerations – because it’s what the right does on a daily basis (e.g., the Tobacco Institute, John Milloy).

  6. #6 ChrisC
    May 20, 2007

    From Silent Spring:

    “It is more sensible in some cases to take a small amount of damage in preference to having none for a time but paying for it in the long run by losing the very means of fighting [is the advice given in Holland by Dr Briejer in his capacity as director of the Plant Protection Service]. Practical advice should be ‘Spray as little as you possibly can’ rather than ‘Spray to the limit of your capacity.’”

    One has to wonder whether the likes Berlau or Milloy have ever actually read the book, let alone studied the actual effect that the use of DDT has had world wide. There is a copious amount of data in the public domain on the subject, much of which contradicts their arguments. Is it laziness or ideology?

  7. #7 J F Beck
    May 20, 2007

    Mr Lambert,

    In chapter three (“Elixirs of Death”) of “Silent Spring” Rachel Carson does more than imply that synthetic insecticides (of which DDT is one) were developed via poison gas research:

    “This industry is a child of the Second World War. In the course of developing agents of chemical warfare, some of the chemicals created in the laboratory were found to be lethal to insects. The discovery did not come by chance: insects were widely used to test chemicals as agents of death for man.”

    The quote above appears several pages prior to the origins of DDT quote you cite. Thus Carson had already planted the notion in readers’ minds that DDT had sinister origins.

    Berlau is right; you are wrong, again.

    14:35 AWST

  8. #8 Cian O'Connor
    May 20, 2007

    Beck:
    Only in the mind’s of extremely poor readers. Which may include Berlau, true.
    A more careful reader, with a slightly better grasp of history, mind realise that 1874 is considerably before either World War (and the military use of poison gas, for that matter).

  9. #9 ChrisC
    May 20, 2007

    Beck:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organophosphates

    Perhaps Rachel Carson had a point?

  10. #10 Meyrick Kirby
    May 20, 2007

    Beck, the internet is a child of the Cold war. I’ve read a number of books on the internet that state this as a historical fact, yet they aren’t implying, or so it seems to me, that the internet is sinister because of it.

  11. #11 Tim Lambert
    May 20, 2007

    Of course, as Beck well knows, Carson was writing about the pesticide industry in that quote. Some more bits from Silent Spring that he “forgot” to quote:

    >The vast majority [of modern insecticides] fall into one of two large groups of chemicals. One, represented by DDT, is known as the ‘chlorinated hydrocarbons’. The other group consists of the organic phosphorus insecticides, and is represented by the reasonably familiar malathion and parathion.

    Carson then has a half dozen pages on the first group, the chlorinated hydrocarbons, such as this bit:

    >As soon as dieldrin was substituted for DDT in malaria-control work (because the malaria mosquitoes had become resistant to DDT), cases of poisoning among the spraymen began to occur.

    Then she writes about the second major group, the organophosphates:

    >The origin of these insecticides has a certain ironic significance. Although some of the chemicals themselves — organic esters of phosphoric acid – had been known for many years, their insecticidal properties remained to be discovered by a German chemist Gerhard Schrader, in the late 1930s. Almost immediately he German government recognized the value of these smae chemicals as new and devastating weapons in man’s war against his own kind, and the work in them was declared secret. Some became the deadly nerve gases. Others, of closely allied structures became insecticides.

    Carson made it perfectly clear that DDT was not an organophosphate as well as describing its use in the war to protect our soldiers. Berlau has no excuse for his misrepresentation.

  12. #12 J F Beck
    May 20, 2007

    Editorial staff also “misrepresent” Carson in the New York Times obituary, archived, by the way, at RachelCarson.org:

    As the chemical industry continued to make her a target for criticism, Miss Carson remained calm.

    “‘We must have insect control,” she reiterated. “I do not favor turning nature over to insects. I favor the sparing, selective and intelligent use of chemicals. It is the indiscriminate, blanket spraying that I oppose.”

    Actually, chemical pest control has been practiced to some extent for centuries. However, it was not until 1942 that DDT, a synthetic compound, was introduced in the wake of experiments that included those with poison gas.

    Now where did that idea come from?

    20:15 AWST

  13. #13 mvanvleck
    May 20, 2007

    Qrazy Qat, As an answer to how mankind survived for centuries in the face of milarial epidemics…Perhaps you’re aware of a particularly indolent genetic mutation that causes sickle cell anemia. The destructive pressure on populations exposed to malaria has selected for expression of this mutation. Individuals that express this mutation are more resistant to malaria and therefore are more likely to survive until reproductive age in areas endemic with malaria, thus explaining the prevelance of this disease in these areas.

  14. #14 Tim Lambert
    May 20, 2007

    Well, the NYT didn’t get it from Silent Spring as the quotes make clear. Nor did they attribute it to Carson. But thanks for including the quote from Carson:

    >”We must have insect control. I do not favor turning nature over to insects. I favor the sparing, selective and intelligent use of chemicals. It is the indiscriminate, blanket spraying that I oppose.”

    I’ll bet that quote doesn’t appear in Berlau’s book.

  15. #15 dhogaza
    May 20, 2007

    However, it was not until 1942 that DDT, a synthetic compound, was introduced in the wake of experiments that included those with poison gas.

    So, let’s see, according to the article they tested poison gasses and DDT. Perhaps the wording is a bit sloppy, but read in context it’s clear they’re talking about chlorinated hydrocarbons such as DDT as being separate from organophosphates. After testing, DDT, not organophosphates, was introduced.

  16. #16 QrazyQat
    May 20, 2007

    mvanvleck, I know how humans managed to survive before Monsanto, and I know how other animals managed to survive before Monsanto. Monsanto is the entity which doesn’t realise how anything managed to survive before they showed up.

  17. #17 trrll
    May 21, 2007

    “This industry is a child of the Second World War. In the course of developing agents of chemical warfare, some of the chemicals created in the laboratory were found to be lethal to insects. The discovery did not come by chance: insects were widely used to test chemicals as agents of death for man.”

    All of this is quite accurate, but it is refers to the insecticide industry, not to DDT. The earliest insecticides were organophosphate cholinesterase inhibitors similar to those used as nerve gas agents. These work (and indeed, are still in current use) but are dangerously toxic. The search for safer insecticides led to the development of compounds such as DDT and other modern insecticides.

    it was not until 1942 that DDT, a synthetic compound, was introduced in the wake of experiments that included those with poison gas.

    Yes, this is historically accurate. Non-organophosphate insecticides such as DDT that were not chemically related to poison gas agents were a later development (that is what “in the wake of” means, after all) in the search for effective insecticides.

  18. #18 Abe G
    May 21, 2007

    I see Glenn Reynolds is kicking around the corpse of Rachel Carson yet again. The number of children she has killed continues to grow. Plus, she and Hitler got married in hell, apparently.

  19. #19 z
    May 25, 2007

    “The right has a bad case of Freudian projection. They accuse others only of what they do already, or would do if they could.”

    A-friggin-men.

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