Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review August 8, 2001 / 19 Menachem-Av, 5761

Robert W. Tracinski

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

The death toll of environmentalism -- COLORADO congressman Scott McInnis revealed last week that four firefighters who burned to death in July while tackling a forest fire in Washington state died because bureaucrats took 10 hours to approve a water drop. Taking water from the local river, it seems, is prohibited by the Endangered Species Act because it might disturb the habitat of a fish -- the "bull trout fingerling," whatever that is.

Al Gore once famously declared that cutting down a single tree to save a human life (by extracting a cancer-fighting drug) seemed reasonable -- but, he continued, the question is more complicated if one has to cut down three trees for every human life. One wonders what calculus he and his green cohorts would use to determine the acceptable ratio of human lives sacrificed for every bull trout fingerling.

Environmentalists will try to shift the blame for these deaths from environmental regulations to bureaucratic incompetence. Forest Service officials did have the authority to take the water, it turns out, they just didn't know it. But what is scandalous is that there was ever any question on the matter. The bureaucratic mix-ups only happened because of the widespread presumption that saving fish is a non-negotiable goal, which takes precedence over saving humans.

Indeed, the firefighters' deaths are perfectly consistent with long-standing federal policy in the West, such as the withholding of irrigation water from Klamath Basin farmers in Oregon. If, for the sake of fish, we are sacrificing these farmers' livelihoods -- what's to stop us from sacrificing the firefighters' lives?

If we accept the idea that there is a tradeoff between the lives of humans and the lives of fish, or birds, or bugs -- where will that lead us? Are these four dead firefighters just the symptoms of a broader trend?

The answer is provided in a recent revival of the debate over DDT. Before it became a symbol of all that is environmentally incorrect, the cheap and powerful insecticide was used to wipe out malaria-carrying mosquitoes, eradicating the disease in many parts of the world. Before DDT, malaria still struck the southern United States and parts of Europe. DDT wiped it out.

Between 1946 and 1951, for example, a DDT spraying campaign in Sardinia reduced the number of malaria cases from 75,000 per year to nine. Because of campaigns like this, DDT is responsible for saving the lives of at least 10 million people worldwide.

Yet environmentalists are indifferent to DDT's role as a life-saver. Rachel Carson's 1962 slander of the insecticide focused primarily on its effect on birds. As a result, it was banned in the United States in 1972, pressure from the United States and Europe suppressed its use in the Third World, and this May, 80 countries signed a treaty calling for a final, worldwide ban on DDT. While environmentalists exult in this victory, malaria, dengue and other insect-borne diseases are on the rise and kill millions every year.

A July 2 New Yorker article on the history of DDT offers a fascinating juxtaposition of two quotations, revealing two opposite perspectives on the issue. The first is from Carson's "Silent Spring": "The town is almost devoid of robins and starlings; chickadees have not been (present) for two years, and this year the cardinals are gone, too. ... 'Will they ever come back?' (the children) ask, and I do not have the answer." This was Carson's biggest concern: what will happen to the birds.

The other quotation comes from the diaries of Fred Soper, a malaria-fighter who went on to spearhead the use of DDT by the Global Malaria Eradication Program in the early 1960s. Here is his description of a malaria outbreak in Egypt in 1943: "(B)ehind the doors of these hovels were found whole families lying on the floor; some were just too weakened by illness to get up, and others were lying doubled up, shaking from head to foot with their teeth chattering and their violently trembling hands trying in vain to draw some dirty rags around them for warmth. They were in the middle of the malaria crisis. ... There was hardly a house which had not had its dead, and those who were left were living skeletons, their old clothing in rags, their limbs swollen from undernourishment and too weak to go into the fields to work or even to get food."

Ask yourself whether you still care about the chickadees. Or better yet, ask yourself why the environmentalists don't seem to care about the humans.

Comment on JWR contributor Robert W. Tracinski's column by clicking here.

07/31/01: Where does America stand?
07/25/01: Barbarians at the G8
07/17/01: The carrot and the carrot
07/11/01: The real Brave New World
07/03/01: The child-manipulators
06/19/01: The scientist trap
06/11/01: The National Academy of Dubious Science