Zombie DDT ban myth reanimated

by John Quiggin on July 14, 2014

A large part blogging, for me, has consisted of attempts at zombie-slaying: finding ideas that have been refuted by the facts, but that remain undead. Zombies are hard to kill, but one I thought had been permanently dealt with – the myth that Rachel Carson brought about a worldwide ban on DDT, leading to millions of deaths from malaria. Although quite a few people helped to show that this wasn’t true, the lion’s share of the credit, at least in the blogosphere, goes to Tim Lambert (who stopped blogging a while back, though his site still runs a montly open thread). Tim and I laid out the facts in a 2008 piece in the English magazine Prospect which made the following points

  • DDT has never been banned in anti-malarial use
  • The failure of DDT to eradicate malaria was due to resistance, promoted by overuse in agriculture and elsewhere, exactly as Carson warned. Bans on agricultural use of DDT helped slow the growth of resistance
  • The attacks on Carson were undertaken by tobacco industry lobbyists, seeking (among other things) to pressure the World Health Organization not to undertaking anti-smoking campaigns in poor countries

Our primary targets were Steven Milloy and Roger Bate’s Africa Fighting Malaria organization.

Whether due to our efforts or not, the DDT ban myth seems mostly to have died. Milloy, whose links to tobacco have thoroughly discredited him, seems to be out of the pundit business altogether. He still has an adjunct perch at the Competitive Enterprise Institute but his web page there shows only two opinion pieces since 2008. AFM is also quiescent – its website doesn’t show any research activity since 2011 and its staff all appear to have paying jobs in free-market thinktanks, suggesting a zombie organization.

But the zombie plague always recurs and just now I’ve seen (via Ed Darrell) another instance, oddly enough in an environmental-consumer magazine, Greener Ideal. The author, one Mischa Popoff is described as ” former organic farmer and USDA-contract organic inspector” and repeats the standard DDT myth before a segue into a defence of GMOs. But, as Ed Darrell points out, Popoff is being a bit cute here. DuckDuckGo reveals that he is in fact a Policy Advisor for The Heartland Institute and a Research Associate for The Frontier Centre for Public Policy (the latter being apparently a Canadian version of Heartland, as is the IPA in Australia. The site is down now, so I can’t check).

As long as Heartland lives, zombie ideas will never truly die.

{ 89 comments }

1

Sandwichman 07.14.14 at 10:17 pm

Drive a wooden stake through Heartland.

2

PJW 07.14.14 at 10:33 pm

Bill Maher ended his show Friday attacking what he called Republican Zombie Lies.

3

Vance Maverick 07.14.14 at 11:29 pm

“That is not dead which can eternal lie.”

4

Alan White 07.14.14 at 11:29 pm

Terrific. It’s the height of irony here that the only way to kill a zombie is to shoot the brain.

5

shah8 07.15.14 at 2:05 am

Yeah, the GMO lobby is doing some creative stuff on the internets.

6

godoggo 07.15.14 at 2:26 am

I was curious to see what Wikipedia would say. There’s a summary of Quiggin’s article but nothing about the tobacco company thing.

7

Dr. Hilarius 07.15.14 at 3:18 am

I’m curious, what does a “research associate” do when inventing falsehoods? Do you have to invent sources? Fake footnotes?

8

roy belmont 07.15.14 at 3:26 am

The starving Irish of 1848, stumbling at the roadside, indistinguishable from “zombies”.
The memes of heartlessness.

9

godoggo 07.15.14 at 4:16 am

10

Neil Levy 07.15.14 at 4:46 am

Manufacturing doubt over the link between cancer and tobacco: the playbook for Heartland.

http://mindhacks.com/2014/07/14/the-concept-of-stress-sponsored-by-big-tobacco/

11

Philip 07.15.14 at 7:14 am

James Lovelock keeps repeating this myth, for one. What a curate’s egg that guy is.

12

Sasha Clarkson 07.15.14 at 8:18 am

godoggo @9

I though the author was attempting to be serious until I got to the bit about “Protocols of the Elders of Eire” :D

13

Phil 07.15.14 at 8:41 am

Derren Brown has vectored this one in print. I wonder if it’s got a toehold outside the right-Libertarian compound in that me-so-rational area where people call themselves Bright. Brian Dunning ran it in 2010 on his Skeptoid podcast (and got royally taken down by Rebecca Watson at Skepchick, I’m happy to say). I guess that if you are a rationalist debunker in the US you’re going to end up talking to a lot of right-Libertarians (if you aren’t one yourself, e.g. Penn Jillette).

14

John Quiggin 07.15.14 at 9:54 am

@Lovelock I have to say, I strain to detect the good parts. Gaia was a nonsense idea (essentially the anthropic fallacy writ large) and he’s been on the wrong side of every substantive issue I’ve seen him engaged in. I’d prefer Rupert Sheldrake: he’s basically harmless.

15

Toby 07.15.14 at 10:27 am

Heartland are re-branding themselves as “climate optimists”, but replace the word “climate” with “tobacco” and you get the flavour.

“The evidence says tobacco can destroy your quality of life and give you an early death, but, hey, be an optimist and light up.”

16

Sasha Clarkson 07.15.14 at 12:27 pm

Toby @15

” ♩♫♬♩♫ … So always look on the bright side of death
Just before you draw your terminal breath…♩♫♬♩♫ …”
:D

17

MPAVictoria 07.15.14 at 1:32 pm

Sasha, one of Monty Python’s better moments. :-)

18

Chatham 07.15.14 at 1:50 pm

I guess that if you are a rationalist debunker in the US you’re going to end up talking to a lot of right-Libertarians (if you aren’t one yourself, e.g. Penn Jillette).

So called “skeptic”s have appropriated the term and tried to rebrand it to describe their own technofetishism, similar to how people tried to appropriate “moral” a decade ago so that it described homophobia. When people pass along dubious claims like Carson’s concerns cost thousands of lives or golden rice was ready in 2002 and would have saved millions of lives, calling themselves “skeptics” makes the term meaningless (I’d through in scientists that complain about religious beliefs but then advocate string theory and the multiverse here as well).

Most people seek to discredit ideas they disagree with and brush aside criticism of ideas they like. Only a few are so arrogant that they go around constantly saying what they like and dislike is a reflection of an objective reality (even if many people might feel that way on some level).

19

MPAVictoria 07.15.14 at 2:30 pm

“Only a few are so arrogant that they go around constantly saying what they like and dislike is a reflection of an objective reality”

They also tend to be very personally unpleasant. I took part in a couple meetings of a local skeptic group a few years back and man did they make it hard to like them.

20

godoggo 07.15.14 at 3:18 pm

I just did a search for “DDT” on skeptic Steve Novella’s blog, Neurologica. This brings up one result:
http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-coming-bedbug-plague/#more-2646

This contains the following statement: “Bedbugs were mostly eradicated in industrialized nations in the 1940s, partly due to direct extermination efforts, but mostly as a side effect of widespread use of DDT and other insecticides. Since the mid 1990s reports of bedbugs have been on the rise. This is partly due to reduced use of DDT, the development of resistance in bedbugs to DDT and other insecticides, and perhaps other factors, such as the increase in international travel.”

If you click on the link (on “partly,” in “partly due to reduced use of DDT”) it says absolutely nothing about “reduced use of DDT.”

21

TM 07.15.14 at 3:59 pm

11, 14: George Monbiot is a bit more charitable to Lovelock but takes him to task for the DDT nonsense. The article contains responses by Lovelock, showing him to be completely ignorant.

http://www.monbiot.com/2014/04/25/brilliance-and-bunkum/

22

Barry 07.15.14 at 4:07 pm

BTW, I accidentally hit on an article on bedbug resistance to DDT a couple of years ago. They were resistant rather early; IIRC the first signs were seen in the late 1940’s.

23

yabonn 07.15.14 at 4:51 pm

He used to be an organic farmer… But he just couldn’t go on this way, because 9/11 changed everything.

24

Peter K. 07.15.14 at 5:20 pm

@ 2

I saw that too and thought of Quiggin’s book. Maher may have got it via Krugman. One of his rightwing Zombie lies was trickle-down economics, a whopper.

25

Robert P. 07.15.14 at 5:45 pm

@14, 21: James Lovelock is similar to Freeman Dyson: his early, strictly scientific work was absolutely brilliant (the electron capture detector revolutionized analytical and atmospheric chemistry), his mid-career work was insightful and influential if somewhat erratic in detail, and his late stuff is awful. I think they both fell victim to facile contrarianism for its own sake.

26

Thornton Hall 07.15.14 at 8:54 pm

Sometimes I think, all the Reaganist crazies are doing all sorts of damage, good thing the progressive crazies are a small harmless group. Then I read tribal comment threads like this one.

It is not the case that everything multinational corporations like is bad. Monsanto does GM research and so does UC Davis. The work at Davis will feed 10 billion people. The work by Monsanto will make Monsanto rich. Anti Gm activism limits both both efforts access to research money.

How many are dead because of Greens endorsement of biofuels? Those Iowa farmers had a lot of environmentalist allies back in the day.

If bed bugs developed resistance, where did they go for 50 years?

27

Trader Joe 07.15.14 at 9:00 pm

“If bed bugs developed resistance, where did they go for 50 years?”
They were apparently all at the Sheraton at 57th and 7th in NYC…that’s where I always find them.

Seriously – every have to pay to have a house heat treated to remove those B***ards? $4,000….for a bunch of cooked drug resistant bugs.

28

Anderson 07.15.14 at 9:01 pm

“How many are dead because of Greens endorsement of biofuels?”

Well, don’t just leave us hanging in suspense.

29

Roy 07.15.14 at 9:12 pm

26. Cleaning habits aren’t as good as they used to be, which also explains the rise of hospital infections. A hundred years ago hospitals had to be incredibly clean to prevent rampant infections in the pre antibiotic era. Even in the 1950s when my grandmother was a nurse’s aide, and former cleaner, hospitals were immaculate. By the time
My mother was in medical school, she was a much older student, in the 1970s and early 1980s only the heads of nursing and senior cleaners remembered the danger that the tiniest speck of dirt would cause. Hospital infections were rising but they were all instantly killed by antibiotics. By the time my mother completed her residency there was almost no awareness of the need for absolute cleanliness, antiseptic washes and the advances of hand sanitizers further eroded cleaning tradition, yet now resistant staph was a problem. Of course now budget cuts had eliminated many cleaners and their training was non existent, and we are still relying on antibiotics to clean up our mess.

The same is true with hotels, the use of ever more advanced insecticides meant that the sort of furniture that bedbugs can hide in has multiplied, cleaning practices have declined due to cost savings and the fact that catastrophic errors can quickly fixed with bug spray. But at the same time the bugs, which evolve very quickly, developed resistance at the same time we ran out of insecticides that didn’t kill humans too.

30

JW Mason 07.15.14 at 9:13 pm

the electron capture detector revolutionized analytical and atmospheric chemistry

This is very interesting. Is there anything you can recommend to read for nonspecialists?

31

elm 07.15.14 at 9:18 pm

How many are dead because of Greens endorsement of biofuels?

Well, don’t just leave us hanging in suspense.

All of them! Every human death sincee 1987 can be traced directly to Green’s endorsement of biofuels.

And I think we all remember just how important Green endorsement was. Agribusiness can occasionally nudge along the details of some legislation, but to make large-scale changes in the U.S., you need the Greens.

Remember how vital the 77-member Green Coalition was in the U.S. Congress at the time? And while Greens only held 20 seats in the Senate, they were important to promoting biofuels, not to mention the 3 Green Party cabinet ministers in Reagan’s cabinet.

32

Thornton Hall 07.15.14 at 9:23 pm

@28 I don’t buy into the economic modeling used, but this paper calculates that Africa spent an extra $1.6 billion on food over five years thanks to ethanol.

The short story of ethanol in this country starts with the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 which required oxygenated gasoline. The refiners lobbied against the requirement, telling Congress that there was not nearly enough ethanol produced in this country to meet the standard so MTBE, a product of uncertain safety, would be the main oxygenating agent. Too bad, said Congress, we must reduce ozone and carbon monoxide.

Shocker. MTBE got into ground water and is poison. Ethanol, the process whereby food gets turned into gasoline, eventually exploded, thanks to the oxygenation requirement and various additional “green” subsidies along the way.

33

Thornton Hall 07.15.14 at 9:23 pm

34

elm 07.15.14 at 9:37 pm

“@28 I don’t buy into the economic modeling used, but this paper calculates that Africa spent an extra $1.6 billion on food over five years thanks to ethanol.”

FYI, your link refers to the 2005-2010 period as a 6-year period.

Pg 8 “Developing countries as a group had net imports of 280 million tons of corn, with
a 20% increase in volume over the six-year period.”

The Google machine tells me that Africa has a population of about 1.1 billion people.

Performing the sophisticated maths involved, I calculate an average cost of under $0.25 per person-year.

35

godoggo 07.15.14 at 9:57 pm

Just curious. I tend to reflexively think “corn lobby” whenever I see “corn.” Any influence here?

36

elm 07.15.14 at 10:03 pm

Just curious. I tend to reflexively think “corn lobby” whenever I see “corn.” Any influence here?

Surely that’s impossible. The corn lobby doesn’t have nearly the same might as the Greens.

37

John Quiggin 07.15.14 at 10:04 pm

Thornton Hall, this is one of the lamest attempts at tu quoque I’ve seen in some time. Prior to your comment @26 no one had mentioned Monsanto. On GM in general, the OP had an entirely neutral reference and one commenter posted something mildly snarky. For the record, the linked post contains a discussion of the GMO issue and a criticism of the Greenpeace line (not represented in this thread, AFAICT).

On bedbugs, as has already been pointed out, you’re full of it.

Finally, on ethanol, green groups like the Sierra Club were opposed to the use of food crops for biofuel long before the price surge of 2007-08. The work of Pimental, published around 2005 was particularly influential. It’s probably true that in the early days there was a more favorable view. But far from showing parallel craziness, that demonstrates that the environmental movement has been willing to adjust its initial views in the light of evidence.

38

John Quiggin 07.15.14 at 10:04 pm

To prove my point, here’s one my first blog posts from 2002, and the first of many criticising Australian ethanol policy

http://johnquiggin.com/2002/09/16/ethanol-and-kyoto/

The money quote

as with large-scale solar electricity or nuclear fusion, cost-effective ethanol is one of those things that always seems to be just around the corner

Two right out of three there, but I’m glad to have been wrong about solar.

39

Anderson 07.15.14 at 10:18 pm

31: indeed! I feel myself inclined to self-destruction at the mere thought of the Greens’ biofuels endorsement, which would make me their latest casualty. Farewell, Green world!

40

Thornton Hall 07.15.14 at 10:22 pm

Wait? You’re exactly right that you didn’t mention Monsanto, but there, at comment 5, is Shah8 talking about the GMO lobby. Why? Tribalism. Which, was my point, mostly.

I can’t have been proven wrong about bed bugs because I didn’t make a claim. I honestly want to know what happened. If DDT didn’t kill them, what did? Because I had em and they fucking sucked ass! I mean fucking sucked! Seriously, if it was banning DDT, I’m pissed. But if not, I want to know. But when someone says that a bacteria is drug resistant, that generally means it is here and it is a problem. Things don’t become resistant and die simultaneously, do they? Maybe they do. I honestly don’t know. But did I tell you how awful bed bugs are?

The ethanol industry got off the ground in 1990 thanks to the oxygenationated fuels requirement in the Clean Air Act Amendments, against heavy lobbying from the oil and refinery industries. I’m glad the Sierra Club is now against food/gasoline. They should be. I’m glad you were right all along. You’re a smart guy and I like your blog!

But my point that reflexive tribal hate of big companies can lead to bad outcomes still stands. By the by, you know that cigarettes were a net boon to States before they won a lawsuit premised on the lie that smoking cost States money, right?

41

Thornton Hall 07.15.14 at 10:31 pm

@37 PS Everytime you reference that tu quoque thing I think you are referencing an odd Canadian term for a hat (via Bob and Doug MacKenzie). I’m sure it’s the perfect thing for exactly what you mean, but I get distracted (leaded gasoline: can’t blame the enviros for that one!).

42

godoggo 07.15.14 at 10:38 pm

Things I’d try before shelling out 4000 bucks:

“We have a bedbug epidemic here in Vancouver B.C,in fact my friend went through hell tying to rid his place, with sprays replacing couches, chairs,mattresses etc etc.In the end the solution turned out to be relatively easy i.e, get the temp up to 120-140 and hold it there for 20-30 min end of problem.”

“I have been trying to give help on killing bed bugs…we were infested with them, my aunt brought them from out of state…..I didn’t even know what they were but one day a friend told us how to get rid of them…Borax Detergent (100 mule team) and salt mixed together…..we took out the beds and poured boraxsalt all over and you could see them pop up ..then poured alll over the carpets and in the baseboards…gone…just to be safe repeated couple weeks later…been free of bed bugs for over 1 year”

http://louisproyect.org/2010/08/20/dont-let-the-bedbugs-bite/

43

godoggo 07.15.14 at 10:40 pm

Although I wonder if the salt isn’t necessary. I love Borax.

44

Thornton Hall 07.15.14 at 10:41 pm

@37 PPS It was “mildly snarky” of me to suggest “parallel craziness”. I don’t believe that. Far from it. That doesn’t make the essentialists of Colorado and Northern California who reason out an entire science of nutrition and climate change by pondering the meaning of the words “organic” and “natural” any more pleasant to talk to.

45

Bruce Wilder 07.16.14 at 12:04 am

elm: your link refers to the 2005-2010 period as a 6-year period

1 – 2005
2 – 2006
3 – 2007
4 – 2008
5 – 2009
6 – 2010

Empirical proof that 2005-2010 is a six-year period.

46

Thornton Hall 07.16.14 at 12:11 am

@37 My last thoughts on “tu quoque”:
But far worse than the ominous Canadian overtones [;) MPAVictoria], is the way it transforms a scientific debate, where everyone agrees that the ultimate arbiter is empirical observation, into one which you categorize as “ideological”. Now the rules have changed. When the study of American politics generates data demonstrating conclusively that the labels “conservative” and “liberal” have no consistent meaning, political scientist don’t say “Well, in the 21st Century, it probably doesn’t make sense to understand voters by ranking their views according to proximity to Marxism.” No, they instead introduce epicycles and retrograde motion in the form of “symbolic conservatives and operational liberals.”

Meanwhile, back in reality, the political parties are aligned not by ideology, but by interests and identity. If you want to know whether somebody hates “ObamaCare”, knowing that they self identify as “conservative” is a hint, but knowing that they identify as a White Southerner is simply giving away the answer.

Understood this way, it makes sense that folks like me–who see the treatment of the poor as the primary yardstick for any human society–are in an uneasy coalition with environmentalists. When I object to their selective affection for science, it has nothing to do with my beliefs about the “legitimate scope of the federal government.” I have no beliefs on the subject one way or the other. No, my objections stem from my self identity as a thoroughgoing empiricist who seeks the best system, whatever it might be, as judged by the way it treats human beings.

47

ZM 07.16.14 at 12:25 am

Ummm, might you care to enlighten the rest of us as to what constitutes the thoroughgoing empirical ‘best system’ ?

48

Chatham 07.16.14 at 1:04 am

It seems like Thornton Hall read post #18 and decided to provide us with an example. Nice, but a bit on the money.

49

Thornton Hall 07.16.14 at 2:12 am

@47 & 48 Feel free to disagree with me. Maybe my description of environmentalist is a caricature that simply buys into the PR campaigns produced by big business. Or maybe it is something that was true and no longer applies. Maybe everyone but me thinks about health care in ideological terms as Edmund Burke vs Alexander Hamilton.

But putting scare quotes around a non-controversial (if slightly idiosyncratic) description of an empiricist worldview informed by Roman Catholic moral norms is just… I honestly don’t know… confounding? Flummoxing?

And what to make of this: Only a few are so arrogant that they go around constantly saying what they like and dislike is a reflection of an objective reality (even if many people might feel that way on some level).

So I dislike… ??? Environmentalism? Or Environmentalists? And so I’m claiming that objective reality says that sometimes they ignore science? But that’s not reality because in fact they are always scientifically grounded. Obviously, that’s not your claim because the absolute nature of it makes it impossible to defend. Maybe it makes more sense re: a specific claim? Like that science says GM crops are fine and any food that doesn’t have DNA in it is by definition, not food, but nonetheless we should keep an eye on it. That’s not true and is me projecting my tastes onto the world?

50

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 07.16.14 at 2:13 am

So if environmentalists don’t like the poors, does that mean the Heartland Institute loves them?

I’m trying to wrap my hat around this tu quogue thing.
~

51

ZM 07.16.14 at 2:30 am

I put everyday sort of quotation marks on ‘best system’ because I was quoting you and was pointing out you seemed to be making a category error, ‘Best’ not being an empirically observable and verifiable quantity.

With regard to Roman Catholic morality Pope Francis has made it quite clear that he is concerned for the environment and other non- human creatures, and such thoughts go back a long way in the Catholic tradition indeed.

With regard to GM of food plants – the problem of malnutrition for poor people is not physical because there are not already enough natural plants in the world to provide adequate nutrition – the problem is social because of land mal-use and inequitable distribution. Surely the Catholic perspective favours the social justice solution to malnutrition rather than the manipulating creation solution?

52

Thornton Hall 07.16.14 at 3:45 am

@51 I’m sorry. Recent experience should have taught me not to mention religion in this thread. Just, that’s the historical explanation, given my childhood, maybe, I don’t know. But I’m not about to try to mark out some territory as the world according to anti-poverty anti-environmentalists. That’s not where I am at. I’ve backed into accidental trolling here before. Not my intention.

I really like the outdoors. I have a National Parks Passport Book and aim to get a stamp on every page. I plan to build a cabin in the woods. I want future generations to inherit a beautiful, livable planet. I want my meat to live a good life and die painlessly.

It’s just that, more than all those things, I want less human suffering. Also, I’m fanatically opposed to self-righteousness armed with bad facts. Which is why I hate Reaganism and why I get annoyed with folks who think it would be bad to develop crops which need less water and far easier, instead, to solve all the various and sundry institutional nightmares that stand in the way of my extra food being delivered to Sub-Saharan Africa. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the fastest way to feeding 10 billion people involves listing a bunch of irrelevant words on food labels and a global wealth tax. If so, I’ll vote for it.

53

ZM 07.16.14 at 4:18 am

If you can point to an inaccuracy (‘bad fact’) in what I wrote I will investigate and if it was inaccurate try to remedy it.

Meanwhile Caritas produces reports on food security and food sovereignty and accepts donations for program’s enhancing food security in Africa

http://www.caritas.org.au/docs/publications-and-reports/report_foodthefundamentalright

http://www.caritas.org.au/learn/programs/africa—uganda-integrated-food-security-program

54

Thornton Hall 07.16.14 at 4:54 am

@53 No bad facts. Starving in Africa=bad. Agreed.

55

elm 07.16.14 at 4:56 am

Bruce @45

I agree, of course, but the period is potentially vague. Thornton had referred to it as a 5 year period previously, and accounting for that changes the denominator by 16 or 20% (depending on which direction you consider).

56

Thornton Hall 07.16.14 at 4:59 am

@50 Am I right in thinking that picture is in fact, a pun on “tu quoque” and “toque”??? That was me free associating based on something I heard 30 years ago! Although there is some etymological debate about “tuque” the Canadian knit cap and “toque” the French hat.

57

Trader Joe 07.16.14 at 11:31 am

@42/43 godoggo Re: bedbugs

Thanks for the tips, which could certainly work if you know the bedbugs are limited to one room of the house. If you can’t be sure of that and particularly if you can’t be sure when the infestation started and how far the suckers might have traveled, you essentially need to apply that 120-140 degree heat treatment to virtually every room in your house – the more rooms the higher the cost (that’s what rang up the $4k). Our issue concerned a vacation property that had been essentially closed up for awhile so we had to do the whole place. If it had just been a single room it would still have been at least $1k from what I understand,. That said, the Borax thing would surely have been worth a shot and probably would have been kinda cool to watch.

58

Chatham 07.16.14 at 11:50 am

That’s not true and is me projecting my tastes onto the world?

Somehow I think that if an anti-GMO user made an unsubstantiated and outlandish claim similar to your “Monsanto does GM research and so does UC Davis. The work at Davis will feed 10 billion people” statement (something like “GMOs will kill millions of people”), you’d have choice words for them. So your problem isn’t with unsourced cartoonish SciFi claims about GMOs; it’s just that those unsourced cartoonish SciFi claims need to be utopian, not dystopian. Similar issues with your insinuation that ethanol production should be blamed on “Greens”.

Again, most people think their beliefs are based on facts, and that claims they make are accurate. Only a select few try to redefine science and empiricism to mean “the claims that come out of my mouth and not yours.”

59

TM 07.16.14 at 1:14 pm

Feeding Cars, Not People
The adoption of biofuels would be a humanitarian and environmental disaster
By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 22nd November 2004

http://www.monbiot.com/2004/11/23/feeding-cars-not-people/

Also see http://www.slideshare.net/amenning/quantitative-problems-food-security, p. 4-5.

JQ 37: “It’s probably true that in the early days there was a more favorable view. But far from showing parallel craziness, that demonstrates that the environmental movement has been willing to adjust its initial views in the light of evidence.”

Exactly.

60

Thornton Hall 07.16.14 at 2:04 pm

@58 Regarding unsubstantiated and outlandish claims. I used the name of a specific university for a reason. It would allow readers to google up the substantiation quite easily. (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2014/04/a-civil-debate-over-genetically-modified-food.html) But thanks for instigating a search on my part, because it led me to this article directly linking Rachel Carson in the OP and the successes of GM crops: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2011/08/11/genetically-engineered-crops/

Professor Pamela Ronald of UC Davis writes:

In the 1960s, the biologist Rachel Carson brought the harmful environmental and human health impacts resulting from overuse or misuse of some insecticides to the attention of the wider public. Even today, thousands of pesticide poisonings are reported each year (1200 illnesses related to pesticide poisoning in California, 300,000 pesticide-related deaths globally).

This is one reason some of the first genetically engineered crops were designed to reduce reliance on sprays of broad-spectrum insecticides for pest control. Corn and cotton have been genetically engineered to produce proteins from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that kill some key caterpillar and beetle pests of these crops. Bt toxins cause little or no harm to most beneficial insects, wildlife, and people (Mendelsohn et al. 2003).

61

Chatham 07.16.14 at 3:28 pm

@60
So your evidence that their work on GMOs will feed 10 billion people is two articles that don’t make that claim at all? Eh…thanks for letting me know that I shouldn’t waste my time looking into your claims in the future?

62

Thornton Hall 07.16.14 at 5:24 pm

@60 It really is frustrating how hard it is to learn more about a subject on the Internet. I mean you read about a scientist and a writer debating about science but the article doesn’t actually contain the contents of the debate itself. What next? Truly a frustrating dead end. In such cases, I guess the only rational thing to do is go back to one’s priors. Do be careful to arrogantly imagine that reality is conveniently arranged to match your preferences. Seriously. It’s good advice.

63

DaveL 07.16.14 at 5:36 pm

To JQ in the OP, I would suggest that you get out into the right-wing blogosphere a little more, where you will find that “lack of DDT killed millions, DDT was banned, etc.” are still oft-repeated articles of faith and have never stopped being so. People (Glenn Reynolds comes to mind) toss them off as one of those things that “everybody knows.” It’s tribal.

64

Robert P. 07.16.14 at 10:37 pm

Me @25:
“The electron capture detector revolutionized analytical and atmospheric chemistry”

JWMason @30:
“This is very interesting. Is there anything you can recommend to read for nonspecialists?”

I don’t have much to recommend regarding the EC detector per se; analytical chemistry hasn’t gotten much attention from popular science writers. The wikipedia article is ok but rather terse. The article “The Saga of the Electron-capture Detector” http://www.chromatographyonline.com/lcgc/article/articleDetail.jsp?id=409516 is a good introduction but it does assume basic familiarity with gas chromatography.

The implications of this technology for atmospheric chemistry are described in several nontechnical books about stratospheric ozone depletion, e.g. Sharon Roan, _Ozone Crisis_; John Nance, _What Goes Up_; Seth Cagin and Philip Dray, _Between Earth and Sky_. The best such discussion, in my opinion, is unfortunately out of print: _The Ozone War_ by Lydia Dotto and Harold Schiff. Briefly, starting in 1970 Lovelock used his EC detector to measure the concentrations of chlorofluorocarbons and related compounds in remote regions of the earth’s atmosphere, far from any industrial sources. His results demonstrated the extraordinary persistence of such compounds in the environment – nearly all of the CFCs that had been manufactured to that date were still around.

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Thornton Hall 07.16.14 at 11:58 pm

Meanwhile, the “tribal” thinking in Hawaii is not on the part of the locals:
http://io9.com/if-you-want-a-glimpse-of-future-food-wars-look-to-haw-1605648958/+laceydonohue

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ZM 07.17.14 at 12:57 am

If you’re actually interested in food security in poorer countries I dare say it’s quite easy to find publications on the topic of a higher quality and repute than gawker owned media

Eg. http://files.hawaii.gov/dbedt/op/spb/INCREASED_FOOD_SECURITY_AND_FOOD_SELF_SUFFICIENCY_STRATEGY.pdf

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John Quiggin 07.17.14 at 2:23 am

@63 I don’t think anything will prevent zombie ideas from surviving indefinitely in the underground depths of the rightwing blogosphere, which is why they can be reanimated . After all, the view that Obama is Antichrist is sufficiently prevalent there that “No, he is a Muslim communist devoted to the destruction of American society” represents the sensible middle ground, as against the RINO view that he is merely the most evil and incompetent President the US has ever had, except Clinton.

My aim is more modestly to ensure that these zombie ideas don’t escape to feed on the brains of the population at large, as in the case mentioned in the OP

68

ZM 07.17.14 at 3:48 am

More on agriculture and GM and papaya

“The Buyer . . . . Her performance was reviewed monthly. Occasionally, she went on big trips. With a company technologist: an expert in plant physiology, husbandry and packing technologies. Visiting sites of production. Maintaining relationships with big suppliers. Advising them on quality standards. Recently she’d visited a pineapple farm in the Ivory Coast. That really upset her. Seeing all that poverty. First hand. Knowing that she was directly involved. But these experiences and feelings went with the territory. They were discussed back at the office. But were bracketed out when facing the figures on their spreadsheets, and computer screens. They had to be…..
A fifty-two acre farm in Jamaica. Where sugar cane used to be grown. The plantation’s great house, sugar factory, and rum distillery in ruins at its centre. Ancient equipment rusting away inside. The farm manager’s house built in the ruins of the overseer’s. Traces of the agricultural, export-oriented society Jamaica was set up to be. When world trade was in its infancy. Capitalism had its clothes off. Starting in the 1500s. “

“Papaya Routes . . . . Carica papaya L. was the one grown on Jim’s farm. Also known as the ‘‘Solo’’. Found in the Caribbean. Taken to Hawaii in 1911. Its only commercially grown papaya by 1936. Setting the standard for the Japanese and US west coast markets. But also selling the seeds, knowledge, expertise for others to grow the solo elsewhere in the tropics. To boost exports to other wealthy markets, too far from Hawaii. Like the rest of North America. Europe. From places with the right conditions, connections and needs. Like Jamaica. Which has to do things ‘‘properly’’. Using ‘‘advanced’’ agro-technology and agro- chemicals. Modern tractors, sprayers, drip irrigation, water pumps, fertilisers, insecticides, fungicides, plastic crates. Training and super- vising pickers and packers. To be careful. Accurate. On time. Or else. Washing. Checking. Weighing. Trimming. Wrapping in paper. Papayas which fill standard 4 kg gross—3.5 kg net—boxes. With fruits of the same size. Twelve of 290g. Ten of 350g. Seven of 500g. Or thereabouts. They’re flown to Miami or Gatwick. On direct, regular BA or Air Jamaica flights. “

“Papaya Payments . . . . Money. The ‘‘bottom line’’. Exchange rates constantly monitored. Between the pound, Jamaican dollar, and US dollar. Exporters weighing up margins to be made selling to the US or UK. Importers weighing up the option of buying from Jamaica or Brazil. In 1992, there were big changes in exchange rates. The J$ was devalued. In 1990, US$1 would get you J$8. In 1993, it would get you J$21.5. This was handy for Jamaica’s ‘‘Registered Exporters’’, like Jim, who ensured their workers paid taxes. Allowing them to conduct their international business entirely in foreign currency. Converting to J$ only for domestic purposes. Like paying workers. So, labour costs plummeted without pay cuts. And workers had to cope with soaring prices for everyday goods imported into this export-oriented econ- omy. Inflation, in May 1992, was 90%.”

From : Follow the Thing: Papaya, 2004, Antipode, Ian Cook et al, University of Birmingham

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ZM 07.17.14 at 3:55 am

“”The thing with the Kauai bill is that it exposes the link between GMOs and pesticides,” says Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety. The Kauai measure is important, Freese says, because it skips the question of whether GMOs are safe for human consumption and instead focuses on the issue of public health in farming communities. “It’s indisputable that the GMOs that are being grown commercially have sharply increased pesticide use, despite industry claims.”

MOST MAINLANDERS PROBABLY don’t think of Hawaii as a centre of industrial agriculture. But in just the last decade the state has become a crucial testing ground for the global seed industry. The five big biotech companies that dominate seed production — Monsanto, Dow, Pioneer-DuPont, BASF, and Syngenta — each have massive operations in the state that together occupy tens of thousands of acres of former sugar and pineapple plantations. The companies have found that the islands’ subtropical climate is the perfect environment to grow and test transgenic seeds, largely corn, but also some soy, canola, and rice varieties. Hawaii has the largest number of experimental GM crops in the United States, with more field tests than any other state. Biotech seed farms comprise the state’s largest agricultural sector, valued at about $240 million and employing some 1,400 people. The seed industry proudly claims that almost every ear of GM corn in the global market today has spent some part of its life cycle in the Aloha State.

In Kauai, four of the Big Five biotech companies manage about 15,000 acres of land. (Monsanto used to have a small operation there, but it packed up in 2010.) Much of this activity is on the island’s west side, where the weather is sunnier and drier than the more rain-prone north and east sides.

The people of Waimea hadn’t gone looking for a fight with Big Biotech. Quite the opposite. The closures of the pineapple and sugarcane plantations through the 1990s left behind hundreds of jobless agricultural workers in Kauai. So when the seed companies arrived in the late 1990s, most people were happy. There were jobs to be had again. The companies were hiring just about anybody, sometimes entire families, including grandparents who could sit in the fields with umbrellas — human scarecrows to chase away birds and feral chickens. Most of the west-siders had either worked or grown up in the shadow of the plantations. The seed companies offered the comfort of the familiar.
Until the dust kicked up.

When the fields around Waimea were growing sugarcane, they were harvested once a year. But Hawaii’s warm climate allows for three to four corn or soy harvests in a year — which is what drew the big biotech companies to the islands in the first place. The multiple harvests meant that the fields were now tilled much more frequently, and treated with fertilizers and a cocktail of pesticides more often as well. Repeated tilling created a lot of loose, chemical-laden soil that swept into Waimea. The red dust landed on the streets and on the cars, snuck into houses and coated everything — windows, floors, and appliances, even dishes in the cupboards.”

“For many Hawaiians, the GM seed industry’s growing presence and political clout represent the beginnings of a new form of colonialism — one where corporations have replaced the sugar barons who ran the state for more than a century. For them, the fight against GMOs isn’t just about agricultural practices and what kind of food we put on the table, it’s also part of a larger struggle to reclaim the islands’ political sovereignty. “To me the real underlying story in all of this is Hawaii is a occupied nation and it’s been used as an experimental station all along,” says Rosenstiel of ‘Ohana O Kaua’i. “They test sonar, they test missiles, they sprayed Agent Orange here before using it in Vietnam, and now they are growing seeds for the largest human experiment ever.”
The struggle is also linked to other knotty issues such as consolidated land ownership and deeply entrenched power structures, and two centuries of alienation from a traditional, diversified agricultural system that had once sustained a robust Indigenous population in the islands. (Exhibit A, Carvalho’s comment: “It’s always been large ag here.”)
The five large seed companies, activists say, are all too reminiscent of the “Big Five” sugarcane companies — Alexander & Baldwin, Theo H Davies, Castle & Cooke, Amfac, and C Brewer — that once ran the islands like fiefdoms and lobbied for the US annexation of Hawaii. “It’s déjà vu, that’s the scary part,” says Walter Ritte, a veteran Hawaiian political and environmental activist from Molokai. “We haven’t learned any lessons.”
The new “Big Five” quickly established themselves in the political scene still dominated by old haole (white) and Hawaiian family lines that have a stake in maintaining the status quo. The companies have wooed the influential, hired lobbyists, and put cash in politicians’ campaign coffers. From 2007 to January 2014, the biotech industry has spent at least $515,775 on campaign contributions in Hawaiian legislative, gubernatorial, and county council elections, according to an analysis by the Honolulu-based watchdog group, Babes Against Biotech.”

“Valenzuela also notes that none of the crops produced by the biotech fields goes to feed Hawaiians. The seeds are shipped off to the mainland US and South America. Meanwhile, the state imports nearly 90 percent of its food.
There’s no disputing that growing food locally is key to food security in Hawaii, which is the most remote island chain in the world. Estimates show that, in case of a disruption in shipping, the state’s inventory of fresh produce would feed people for no more than 10 days. Local food production would also bring economic gains. A Hawaii University study estimates that replacing just 10 percent of imported food with locally grown food would create about 2,300 jobs, more than what the seed industry provides now.
Many local food activists believe Hawaii’s path back to food sovereignty lies in rediscovering its traditional concept of “Aloha ‘Aina” (“love for the land”) and in relearning and building upon Indigenous natural resource management practices such as the ahpua’a system, which shared resources by dividing the islands into self-sustaining land sections that ran from the mountains to the sea. “Over here we have year-round warm weather, we have land, we have water…. We just need more farms that produce food,” says Chris Kobayashi, an organic taro farmer in Hanalei, on Kauai’s north side.
It’s not clear if Kauai’s Bill 2491 will make it through all the legal and political challenges it faces, or which side of the GMO debate will prevail in years to come. But in Hawaii, as I write this, there’s definitely a sense of optimism that a new, sustainable way of life is within reach. As Kobayashi says: “It’s going to a big fight, a very big fight, but I’m actually very excited about the possibilities of what can be done.””

From : TROUBLE IN PARADISE. By: Mitra, Maureen Nandini, Earth Island Journal, 10410406, Spring2014, Vol. 29, Issue 1

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Lee A. Arnold 07.17.14 at 4:45 am

John Quiggin #67: “My aim is more modestly to ensure that these zombie ideas don’t escape to feed on the brains of the population at large, as in the case mentioned in the OP”

I think what we’re seeing is a combination of two things, 1. right-wing tribalism as a social cognitive bias which may be more-or-less on the back burner in the brain; but is now being coaxed to the front burner, by 2. a concerted propaganda effort which is aimed at both newspaper comments and comments at the higher-traffic intellectual blogs. Even this one. I think it is quite remarkable how the zombie ideas are usually expressed in the same phrases and patterns over and over, on both climate change and economic policy, and how often the interlocutors fold up and blow away when challenged. Here on Crooked Timber we are even seeing a sort of knee-jerk leftwing mindlessness which almost seems calculated to make people think that there is nothing substantive to the left’s positions. I suppose I am often presumed to be a rightwinger because when it is especially stupid I refuse to let them get away unchallenged. There is also the fact that the internet may already be passe, and prey to both puerility and received opinion.

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Thornton Hall 07.17.14 at 5:19 pm

@66, 68, 69 The long quotations suggest you believe that if I disagree it is because I get my news from Gawker. Of course, a Gawker reader would be far better informed than a reader of the Washington Post. But my dad has similar ideas about sources of information, so I know where you are coming from.

But one paragraph into the Hawaii govt report you link to shows the problem: their goal is that food grown in Hawaii should be eaten by Hawaiians. I find that to be a perfectly legitimate goal. Relative inequality is a huge factor in human well-being. If food prices are high then real wages are low, which hurts all the more when rich corporations are shipping all the wonderful cheap food your state produces to rich mainlanders while you are left with expensive canned papaya. It’s a problem. The Irish grew enough food to feed themselves. The problem was they were forced to export them. There was no mass starvation in 1782 because they closed the ports.

The first time the potato blight hit (the organic potato farmers of solve that problem, some people decided to make it economically impossible to grow food in Hawaii for the purpose of export. In the past this would have been done with export duties.

The problem comes when this policy is called “food security” and dressed up as environmentalism. The price of food is a problem, but there is zero threat of Hawaiians starving. Moreover, a lot of jobs depend on profitable food exports. Maybe those jobs can be replaced by farming for strictly domestic purposes, but I have a feeling it will take very few Hawaiian farmers to feed everybody in Hawaii. Forcing this farmers to use lower yielding methods creates a couple extra jobs, but not many.

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Thornton Hall 07.17.14 at 5:22 pm

Phone based editing problems. Paragraph should start “To solve the problem some people decided…”

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Thornton Hall 07.17.14 at 5:35 pm

@69. I get criticized for unsubstantiated claims. But the following is both unsubstantiated and, even if true, a deliberate red herring:

It’s indisputable that the GMOs that are being grown commercially have sharply increased pesticide use, despite industry claims.”

It’s logic like this that makes me want to punch a wall. Growing food at more than a subsistence level requires pesticide. Organic farmers use organic pesticide. You might not need it on your tomatoes in the garden, but you’re not trying to feed anyone. Now, is it true that, on balance, the total contribution of all GM crops globally has played a role in increased pesticide use? Perhaps. But does that mean that GM crops developed to require less pesticide are bad?

No. Whatever the local yahoo at the Center For Food Safety might think, there is simply no logical way around the following fact: if one bushel of corn required less pesticide than another bushel grown in the same environment, the difference between toes to bushels is in the DNA of the plants.

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Thornton Hall 07.17.14 at 6:28 pm

@69 The piece describing the ebb and flow of global agricultural demand reminds me of my time in El Salvador. Maybe you, ZM, have also spent time among folks whose livelihood is in the tenuous hands of the global market place. In El Salvador the complaint was that the World Bank had promoted coffee as a cash crop for every poor nation in the world, leading to a massive global glut in a market where 90% of the crop is purchased by Nestle, Sara Lee and two other food giants.

Meanwhile, among my fellow expats was a German who couldn’t have been more than 22. He had it all figured out and it came down to the same thing mentioned above: colonialism. How dare America set up sweatshops in poor countries to sew our clothes? I’m no fan of the utter lack of labor standards in our trade agreements or the subsidies for our domestic farmers. But this avowedly communist German kid was telling me that people were better off unemployed than working in textile factories.

Really kid?

75

TM 07.17.14 at 6:37 pm

The GM debate really doesn’t belong here and neither do your anecdotes about German communists in El Salvador. But if it pleases you (and the thread is wrecked anyway), have a go:

http://earthopensource.org/files/pdfs/GMO_Myths_and_Truths/GMO_Myths_and_Truths_1.3.pdf

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Thornton Hall 07.17.14 at 8:54 pm

@75 That really is a piece of work. No doubt about the following FACTS:
1. GM is not natural.
2. GM involves processes that don’t normally happen in plant reproduction.
3. Science has a publication bias problem, especially corporate research.
4. The uncertainties of GM plant breeding are not the same uncertainties involved with natural plant breeding.
5. University genetic researchers, like the two guys who wrote the report, should get more respect than corporate researchers.
6. Rats should not eat maize only diets.

And yet…
It would take a paradigm shift that overturned Darwin to imagine how The way that genes end up in a cell could be causally connected to whether or not the plant or animal containing that cell is safe to eat.

77

Thornton Hall 07.17.14 at 8:56 pm

PS I agree the thread is wrecked. I never should have suggested that environmentalist exhibit tribal behavior. In retrospect, that was trolling.

78

TM 07.17.14 at 9:13 pm

No kidding!

79

godoggo 07.17.14 at 9:14 pm

At least you didn’t say the thread was derailed.

80

Thornton Hall 07.17.14 at 9:37 pm

@79 Someday I’ll get the reference. In the meantime, I notice that my tangential trolling did land on the Irish Potato Famine, which was of course referenced @8 & 9.

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godoggo 07.17.14 at 9:52 pm

The idiom “derail the thread” idiom is a running semi-facetious pet peeve of mine.

82

godoggo 07.17.14 at 9:54 pm

oops typo

83

ZM 07.17.14 at 10:25 pm

You have just made more poorly substantiated claims.

“The price of food is a problem, but there is zero threat of Hawaiians starving”

Not sure why you dispute that the problem should not be called food security. Regardless, Hawaiians import 90% of food, despite there being enough land to feed all the people [unlike maybe Singapore?]. Thus, not starving in Hawaii depends on Hawaiians being able to maintain an economic/financial level above those people in the world you already agreed above it was bad that they were starving.

“The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly 870 million people of the 7.1 billion people in the world, or one in eight, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012. Almost all the hungry people, 852 million, live in developing countries, representing 15 percent of the population of developing counties. There are 16 million people undernourished in developed countries (FAO 2012).
. . .
Children are the most visible victims of undernutrition. Children who are poorly nourished suffer up to 160 days of illness each year. Poor nutrition plays a role in at least half of the 10.9 million child deaths each year–five million deaths. Undernutrition magnifies the effect of every disease, including measles and malaria.
. . .
The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day according to the most recent estimate that we could find (FAO 2002, p.9). The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food. “
http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm

Re: colonialism and unemployment : I cannot believe you seem to be mounting an argument that European colonialism was the best option for the world because indigenous peoples prior to being colonised were “unemployed” ?!?!?!?!
If you actually have sourced that argument from somewhere you really do need to read significantly better sources before making such claims.

Re: pesticides and GM
“Herbicide-resistant crop technology has led to a 239 million kilogram (527 million pound) increase in herbicide use in the United States between 1996 and 2011, while Bt crops have reduced insecticide applications by 56 million kilograms (123 million pounds). Overall, pesticide use increased by an estimated 183 million kgs (404 million pounds), or about 7%.”
http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24

Further, we seem to be currently seeing a DDT like problem all over again with the use of neonicotinoids
“Growing evidence for declines in bee populations has caused great concern because of the valuable ecosystem services they provide. Neonicotinoid insecticides have been implicated in these declines because they occur at trace levels in the nectar and pollen of crop plants.
We exposed colonies of the bumble bee Bombus terrestris in the laboratory to field-realistic levels of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid, then allowed them to develop naturally under field conditions. Treated colonies had a significantly reduced growth rate and suffered an
85% reduction in production of new queens compared with control colonies. Given the scale of use of neonicotinoids, we suggest that they may be having a considerable negative impact on wild bumble bee populations across the developed world.”
https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=whitehorn-2012.pdf&site=411

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/15/ban-neonicotinoids-another-silent-spring-pesticide-moratorium

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2012/04/new-studies-colony-collapse-disorder.html

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Thornton Hall 07.18.14 at 10:16 pm

@83 Starvation does not happen in the US. It is one of the reasons we are able to ignore global warming (which is horrible to ignore, but we do, and that’s part of it). The next several quotes of yours explicitly state this.

There is a valid debate to be had about how to best deal with hunger. If it is just a matter of putting people and food at the same place at the same time, and you think that’s the way to go, I have no proof that you’re wrong. The empirical truth of the matter is in the future.

Colonialism was bad. All of Great Britian has a personality trait caused by seeing what they did. Nontheless, a woman in El Salvador with a job is better off than a woman without one. The same goes for Hawaii.

Not every herbicide is the same. Round-Up is less toxic than caffein, although neither should be as significant a part of our total diet as it has been for the lab rats. But again, how in the future we get to less pesticide use is an open question. It will, however, involve growing plants that thrive w/ less pesticide. Maybe Santa will bring them.

Re nicoconoids: indeed, these are bad. The idea that GM advocates have to defend pesticide use is preposterous, though.

85

Matt 07.19.14 at 12:40 am

“Plants that thrive with less pesticide” — this is some bad wording. Pesticides are not nutrients for plants.

Weeds can be controlled mechanically, without herbicides or genetic modifications. I’m not against genetic modifications in general, mind you, but you’re overlooking options. If wages are low relative to crop prices, or if you produce for self-consumption instead of the market, weeds can be controlled with tools as simple as a hoe or hands. Integrated management of tillage, cover crops, and beneficial insects can also raise crop yield without additional pesticides or transgenic modifications. I expect that automated mechanical weeding systems will become mainstream this decade for chemical-free weed control in large scale agriculture. There are already prototypes in field trials.

Chemical control of insects and weeds needs to be used sparingly and/or with rotation to prevent resistance from developing in pests. Over-reliance on glyphosate has led to significant resistance developing in weeds. The same will happen with Bt toxin resistance in pest insects, if it’s not happened already. To prevent resistance yet maintain current practices you would need a stable of herbicides and toxins that fill the same roles as glyphosate and Bt, but work by different biochemical mechanisms so that cross-intervention resistance does not develop in the controlled organisms. Then you’d rotate among varieties to avoid applying consistent selection pressure. Finding chemicals that can do the same job by different mechanisms may be easier said than done — look at the problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria for a cautionary example.

The beauty of mechanical pest control is that resistance doesn’t become a problem. Humans have been uprooting weeds and squishing bugs for thousands of years, and the same practices kill them today. The downside is the labor intensity, at least if you’re talking commercial farming in high-wage nations, but as I said before I think that automated systems will remove that downside in a few years. The systems don’t need to be especially fast or powerful; I would wager that they can be powered by solar PV, and at lower cost than burning diesel for that matter.

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ZM 07.19.14 at 5:43 am

Re: “starvation does not happen in the US” and “a woman in El Salvador with a job is better off than one without one”

If you’re against Reaganomics, exactly what form of economics are you for?

Assuming the employed woman is an every day worker rather than an economic elite, both women in El Salvador would likely be better off if the US/Euro-centric global economic structure did not function to extract material and labour resources from poor countries to wealthy countries and also determine that a high proportion of the world’s population were to be deigned structurally expendable and subject to little or no employment or employment under abysmal conditions while being dispossessed of previously common land.

“1968:
Gen. Jos Alberto Medrano, who is on the payroll of the CIA, organizes the ORDEN and ANSESAL paramilitary forces, considered the precursors to El Salvador’s death squads. [1]

1980-1992:
The US backs the Salvadorian junta’s power grab and subsequent reign of terror with massive military aid and training, and without dealing at any point with the underlying causes of the violence. El Salvador becomes a top recipient of US aid globally as death squad activity proliferates. There are numbers of political assassinations, including the deaths of American aid workers, and between 1978-1981 some 35,000 civillians are murdered. One of the most heinous military organizations was the Atlacatl Battalion. By the end of the civil war in 1992 this number rises to 75,000, with over a quarter of the population internally displaced or in other countries as refugees, the total figure for US military aid is $6 billion.

Claims of Soviet interference and backing for the FMLN were short on evidence and tall on tales.

“People are not just killed by death squads in El Salvador; they are decapitated and then their heads are placed on pikes and used to dot the landscape. Men are not just disemboweled by the Salvadoran Treasury Police; their severed genitalia are stuffed into their mouths. Salvadoran women are not just raped by the National Guard; their wombs are cut from their bodies and used to cover their faces. It is not enough to kill children; they are dragged over barbed wire until the flesh falls from their bones while parents are forced to watch. The aesthetics of terror in El Salvador is religious.”

–Father Daniel Santiago”

http://www.us-uk-interventions.org/El_Salvador.html

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MPAVictoria 07.19.14 at 3:15 pm

“Round-Up is less toxic than caffeine”
you can have my morning coffee when you pry it out of my cold, dead, fingers.

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Mischa Popoff 07.19.14 at 5:19 pm

To read the whole story on Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and the death of over 41-million people, click here: http://www.greenerideal.com/lifestyle/0718-anti-science-wing-of-organic-movement/

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John Quiggin 07.19.14 at 9:41 pm

I’m impressed (though not in a good way) that Mischa Popoff has shown up, linking to an article with an even more straightforward version of the DDT lie. Here’s the relevant quote (across a para break, but with no redactions)

The enviro-activists cherry-picked from Silent Spring, ignoring the many parts where Carson was reasonable, and DDT was banned in 1972. And the disastrous consequences are felt to this day.

Pests that are capably controlled with pesticides in civilized nations routinely wipe out crops in poor nations. Compounding matters, the ban on humankind’s only effective means of controlling the mosquitoes that spread malaria (along with other deadly diseases) has resulted in upwards of one million deaths a year since 1972, mostly children under the age of five

Just to remind anyone coming in late, this is exactly backwards. The 1972 ban was on agricultural use in the United States. DDT continued to be used in other countries for many years both in agriculture (Australia only banned it in the late 1980s) and in antimalarial use. The POP convention now restricts DDT to antimalarial use, where it plays a minor but significant role, along with bednets, antimalarial drugs etc.

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