After finishing Zombie Economics, and confident that it would soar to the top of the best-seller lists, I had the idea of a franchise-style list of sequels – Vampire Econ (on the financial sector), Cyborg Econ (the market and the mixed economy) and so on. Now, though, I’m thinking I could spend a lifetime on the zombie ideas that dominate the political right.
One of the most tenacious has been the DDT myth, that the writings of Rachel Carson led to a global ban on the use of DDT, bringing to an end a program that was on the verge of eradicating malaria, and causing the death of millions. I thought that Tim Lambert and I had finally administered the coup de grace with this piece in Prospect a while back, after which some of the leading promoters of the myth (such as Roger Bate and his Africa Fighting Malaria group) appeared to have given up and moved on to other projects.
But zombies are hard to kill, especially for such reliable sources of misinformation as Britain’s Channel Four. C4 has just run a documentary by Stewart Brand, entitled What the Green Movement Got Wrong in which the DDT myth was repeated in its full glory. Amusingly, Brand made the plea ‘I want to see an environment movement that can admit when it’s wrong’. When challenged by George Monbiot on his glaring errors of fact, Brand exhibited the familiar pattern of weasel words and blame-shifting, followed by silence.
Meanwhile, two of the AFM crew, Richard Tren and Donald Roberts have published a pro-DDT book. The Reuters report on the book says that it comes Six years after the insect killer DDT was globally outlawed on grounds of environmental damage. This is confusing to say the least, given that claims about the dire effects of the supposed ban were around long before this and that the same groups were celebrating the supposed reversal of the ban by WHO in 2006. Actually, both the Stockholm Convention which came into effect in 2004 and the “new” WHO position were little more than different spins on the long-standing consensus that DDT should be banned in agricultural use but retained in anti-malarial use until it can be replaced by cost-effective alternatives. The Reuters report notes that “Tren is a “free market lobbyist who has previously criticised tobacco control”.
Update The original version of this post referred to Richard Tren as a “tobacco lobbyist”. This claim was false. I withdraw it and apologise to Mr Tren.
fn1. DDT has never been banned in anti-malarial use
fn2. The attempt to eradicate malaria through DDT failed because of the development of resistance, long before environmentalist concerns about DDT
fn3. The DDT ban myth was largely popularised by the tobacco industry, seeking to pressure WHO out of anti-smoking campaigns in poor countries. Those pushing the myths are the active agents or unwitting dupes of an industry that has indeed killed millions.