Correspondence with Stewart Brand

Here are the emails Stewart Brand and I have sent to each other



From George Monbiot to Stewart Brand, 3rd November 2010

Dear Stewart,

We’ll both be on the panel after tomorrow night’s programme on Channel 4. I’m looking forward to meeting you.

In the programme you say “I want to see an environment movement that can admit when it’s wrong.” On this we are agreed. So will you admit that you were wrong to claim, in both the programme and your book, that there was a worldwide ban on DDT? In your book you say: “DDT was banned worldwide, and malaria took off in Africa.”

There was in fact no such ban for disease-control uses, as you can see from the text of the 2001 Stockholm Convention: http://chm.pops.int/Convention/tabid/54/language/en-US/Default.aspx#convtext (see Annex B)

I’m inviting you, between now and 1pm UK time tomorrow, to demonstrate that you too can admit you are wrong, by sending me an email repudiating your claim that DDT for disease control was banned.

Thank you very much.

With my best wishes,

George Monbiot

No reply was received.

In the programme I made the following challenge to Stewart Brand:

Will you do what you’re telling us to do, and admit that you’ve got it wrong?

He replied:

We should probably compare sources which will be hard to do live on television, but yeah, let’s do that.

The following day I received this email:


From Stewart Brand to George Monbiot, 5th November 2010

Hi George. Thanks for participating in the Channel 4 thing. I was unable to get email for several days in a wilder part of Italy, and I’m about to go on intense book tour for Discipline for 8 days for the Italian edition. (Other translations in Europe: Spanish and Portugese. What’s the pattern there, I wonder.)

Most of the sources for my book are online at www.sbnotes.com. (Haven’t finished all the chapters yet, including p 219, where my one paragraph on DDT is.)

That paragraph reads:

Environmentalists were right to beinspired by marine biologist Rachel Carson’s book on pesticides, Silent Spring, but wrong to place DDT in the category of Absolute Evil (which she did not). Most of her scientific assessments proved right, some didn’t-such as her view that DDT causes cancer. In an excess of zeal that Carson did not live to moderate, DDT was banned worldwide, and malaria took off in Africa. Quoted in a 2007 National Geographic article, Robert Gwadz of the National Institutes of Health said, “The ban on DDT may have killed 20 million children.” These days, environmental organizations such as World Wildlife Fund support the judicious antimalaria use of DDT on household walls as one element of “integrated vector management,” along with bed nets, larvicides in standing water, and other measures that could lead to totally eradicating the disease from the world. When malaria disappears, so can DDT.

I inveigh against pesticides several places elsewhere in the book.

Your argument may be with Gwadz rather than me.

Your Stockholm Convention link seems to make my point rather than yours. It is dated 2001. Carson’s book came out in 1962.

–Stewart


From George Monbiot to Stewart Brand, 5th November 2010

Dear Stewart,

Thank you for your reply. It was good to meet you last night.

Are you proposing that there was some international instrument other than the 2001 Stockholm Convention under which “DDT was banned worldwide”? If so, I would be fascinated to hear about it. You must surely know which instrument you had in mind when you wrote that sentence.

Your website carries no footnotes at all for the chapter you quote from, as I’m sure you are aware. You told me last night that we should “compare sources”. I have given you mine. Where are yours?

The test I have given you is to see whether you are able – as you demand environmentalists must be – to admit it when you get something wrong. So far you are failing that test.

With my best wishes,

George


From Stewart Brand to George Monbiot, 6th November 2010

Some:

Just Google: “robert gwadz malaria national geographic”:

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0707/feature1/text4.html

In 1962 Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, documenting this abuse and painting so damning a picture that the chemical was eventually outlawed by most of the world for agricultural use. Exceptions were made for malaria control, but DDT became nearly impossible to procure. “The ban on DDT,” says Gwadz of the National Institutes of Health, “may have killed 20 million children.”

(Dr. Robert Gwadz is Assistant Chief of the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases within the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, and Executive Officer of its Malaria Vaccine Development Unit.)

And:

Histories: How the world let malaria off the hook
06 October 2007
NewScientist.com news service
Fred Pearce
IN 1956, American scientists came up with a plan to wipe malaria from the face of the Earth using the pesticide DDT. US troops had sprayed it widely during their jungle operations in the second world war, and the chemical had eliminated the last pockets of malaria in the US and Europe. Prompted by Paul Russell of Harvard School of Public Health, the State Department declared that within five years American science could do the same for the rest of the world.

Confident that the disease would soon be eradicated, Harvard stopped teaching its students about malaria.

It was killing wildlife and making people sick, Carson said. In fact, her attack was aimed at farmers who sprayed DDT on their fields, but the distinction between that and spraying relatively small amounts inside houses was lost. In 1968, the journal Science published a clutch of articles that seemed to confirm that DDT was damaging the environment, and the following year rich countries and their aid agencies started imposing bans.
Supposedly less harmful pesticides were tried, but nothing worked against mosquitoes as well as DDT.

In 2006, the WHO – which for much of the previous decade had been headed by the environmentalist Gro Harlem Brundtland – made a dramatic U-turn and began encouraging the use of DDT again.

Environmentalists are unrepentant. The WWF says the insecticide should be “phased out and ultimately banned”. But its benefits are hard to dismiss. Virtually all countries that had a high incidence of malaria half a century ago saw a dramatic decline when they used DDT. When spraying stopped, the incidence rose again. Perhaps the best-documented recent case is South Africa, where DDT was banned in the mid-1990s. Malaria then increased tenfold, and since spraying resumed in 2001, rates have begun to fall again.

Roberts has also now shown that DDT is uniquely effective in banishing malaria not because it kills mosquitoes but because it repels them. He these findings in August this year – but notes that the observations were first made in 1953 by the entomologist Robert Muirhead-Thomson. Many lessons are being relearned.
It seems millions of lives have been lost because health experts threw away their best weapon. Are environmentalists to blame? There is no doubt that DDT was misused as an agricultural pesticide and seriously damaged wildlife. In that sense Carson was right. But regulators did not recognise that spraying indoors was different. And an environmental outcry against DDT helped to ensure that the early fears about its effect on human health became entrenched dogma long after they had been proved unfounded.

http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=mg19626242.000&print=true

–Stewart

From Stewart Brand to George Monbiot, 6th November 2010

Dashing around Italy. Milan all yesterday. Genoa Science Festival all today. The Italian edition of my book— Una Cura de la Terra— is beautifully done.

You probably know Fred Pearce (copied here). You may want to dispute with him on malaria, Greens, etc. I’ve found him a highly reliable science writer— his Peoplequake is the best book on world demographics currently out there.

I enjoy being found wrong. Page 230 of Discipline (I think) has a litany of things I’ve been pubicly wrong about, and the Afterword in the new paper edition of Discipline describes several things I’ve changed my mind about since the original final text in May 2009 (space solar, fusion, clean coal).

Clearly we disagree about our interpretations of the standard DDT story that I referred to, but so far I don’t see cause to add my interpretation to my proud list of wrong-abouts. I expect you feel the same about your interpretation.

Here’s to the eradication of malaria and DDT and to those working on making it happen.

–Stewart


From Stewart Brand to George Monbiot, 6th November 2010

Should be: Una Cura per la Terra. Duh.

–Stewart

From Stewart Brand to George Monbiot, 6th November 2010

>From: Patrick Moore
>Subject: More on DDT
>
>Stewart,
>
> I have attached the short section on DDT from my upcoming book
>”Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout”. Of course Monbiot is
>quibbling with the word “worldwide” and demanding to know what
>”international instrument” was involved. It was actually a “de
>facto” worldwide ban, adopted nationally by all the industrialized
>nations but most importantly included in the policies of WHO and
>USAID. Developing countries were refused international assistance by
>these agencies unless they banned DDT. Thus the skyrocketing of
>malaria in Africa. Directly attributable to “anti-DDT campaigners’.
>It was 2004 when WWF and Greenpeace finally relented, after 4 years
>of negotiation of the Stockholm Convention, and then after
>considerable shaming and brow-beating. Now they claim to have been
>for it all along.
>
>
>Cheers, Patrick Moore

FWIW: Patrick got a Phd in ecology. I got a mere bachelor’s in it
and then headed off to the Army.

–Stewart


Here is the extract that Moore sent:

Everyone has heard of DDT, the insecticide that became the subject of controversy in the 1960s, partly due to Rachel Carson’s influential book, Silent Spring. Whereas DDT had originally been used to control mosquitoes and other insects that are responsible for the spread of typhus and malaria, after World War II it came into widespread use as a way to control insect pests in agriculture. As a result of the concern about DDT’s impact on wildlife, many countries, beginning with Hungary in 1968, banned the chemical’s use in agriculture. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT in 1972. Additional bans followed around the world. DDT was even discontinued for use in malaria control by the World Health Organization and USAID. This decision proved to carry a high cost in terms of human lives.

The movement against mass aerial spraying of DDT initially focused on the use of DDT to kill insect pests on farms. Euphemistically known as “crop dusting,” in the 1950s and 1960s, the aerial spraying of food crops with insecticides and other pesticides became widespread. Some of these chemicals, including DDT, are known as broad-spectrum poisons. DDT, for example, is deadly to all insects, not just the target insects that prey on food crops. It addition, DDT does not break down or biodegrade quickly. And it tends to accumulate up the food chain. Such chemicals should be used sparingly, and only when there is no substitute that is more selective, breaks down quickly, and does not bio-accumulate.

Shortly after DDT was banned for use in farming, new chemicals were developed that were an improvement over the first wave of pesticides that came in after World War II. Today the chemicals used in agriculture are designed to be more selective. In our own gardens we might want to kill the aphids on our roses, but we might want the little ants that eat aphids to survive. If we get a huge nest of wasps in our eaves, we want to exterminate them, but we don’t want to kill every insect in the yard. Most chemicals used in modern farming biodegrade quickly and do not accumulate up the food chain.

Here is a case where the logic of restricting, or in this case outright banning, the use of a chemical for farming had the effect of also banning it for a medical use, killing the mosquitoes that spread malaria and dengue fever. The medical use does not involve widespread aerial spraying over vast landscapes, only the occasional indoor spraying on the walls of huts and homes. It doesn’t even involve killing all the mosquitoes. DDT is a very strong repellent, so spraying it in the home causes the mosquitoes to avoid coming into the house. The inhabitants avoid the bite and the infection, even though the mosquitoes may still be alive outside.

So even though DDT ended up being a story about chemicals and human health rather than farming practices and the environment, I will include its discussion here. There will be a chapter on chemicals further along.

There is no evidence that DDT is very toxic to humans. It was used to delouse tens of thousands of troops in wartime, and was sprayed on nearly every farm in the country with no clearly established effect on people’s health. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies DDT as a “presumed carcinogen,” which means it suspects DDT might be carcinogenic but doesn’t have any proof. DDT was finally condemned due to the belief it caused thinning eggshells among wild birds of prey. Even this is contentious, as it was never actually proven, and the evidence was circumstantial. For an alternative view to the common belief that DDT is “one of the deadliest chemicals in existence” it is informative to read the JunkScience.com posting on the subject.

By the 1960s, largely due to the use of DDT, malaria had been eliminated from most industrialized countries but was still rampant in many tropical regions, Africa and India in particular. When the use of DDT was either banned or discontinued due to the policies of aid agencies, malaria continued to take an average of more than a million lives per year, 85 percent of which were in sub-Saharan Africa. During the time it was banned as many as 50 million people died from malaria. The majority of malaria deaths are among young, elderly, and poor people, the most vulnerable members of society. By 2005 the outrage among health professionals, scientists, and humanitarians resulted in the formation of a campaign called “Kill Malarial Mosquitoes NOW!” which called for the reintroduction of DDT as an essential tool to eradicate malaria. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a South African Nobel Prize recipient, soon joined the campaign and became its chief spokesperson. I was an early signatory and due to my past Greenpeace credentials was featured as a supporter of the campaign.

During the years the WHO and USAID refused aid to countries that used DDT for malaria control, the rate of infection skyrocketed. The poorer countries relied on these aid agencies for health care and were therefore held hostage by the anti-DDT policy. Fortunately both South Africa and India had sufficient resources of their own and decided to reject outside aid and retain the right to use DDT. The success of their efforts at controlling the spread of malaria became one of the main beacons for the campaign to Kill Malarial Mosquitoes Now! While malaria infections plummeted by 90 percent in South Africa, they remained very high just across the border in Mozambique, where DDT was not used. In September 2006 the World Health Organization and USAid announced they would reintroduce DDT as an essential tool to combat malaria. “The scientific and programmatic evidence clearly supports this reassessment. Indoor residual spraying is useful to quickly reduce the number of infections caused by malaria-carrying mosquitoes,” said Dr Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, World Health Organization assistant director-general for HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria.

The Stockholm Convention of the United Nations was finalized in Johannesburg in December 2000. Its aim is to eliminate persistent organic pollutants (POPs), many of which are chlorinated compounds. DDT was named to the high-priority list known as the “dirty dozen.” Greenpeace and the WWF consistently opposed any use of DDT, even for malaria control, even though there is no evidence it causes harm when used in this context. In fact there is no conclusive evidence that DDT is harmful to humans even when one uses it indoors to kill mosquitoes at levels that are far higher than typical exposures. If it had not been for the Kill Malarial Mosquitoes NOW! campaign, it is likely Greenpeace and its friends would have succeeded in having the Stockholm Convention ban DDT outright. Fortunately this didn’t happen and when the Convention was ratified in Paris in 2004, it contained an exception for the use of DDT in fighting malaria. Later in 2004, under great pressure from humanitarians and scientists, both Greenpeace and the WWF made statements that they now agreed DDT should be used to control malaria. Following a global ban that spanned more than 30 years and caused great harm, concern for human health finally triumphed over a dogmatic belief.

And it turns out that right from the start, extremist interpretations of Rachel Carson’s writings from the early 1960s were responsible for these millions of unnecessary deaths. On page 12 of Silent Spring, she states clearly, “It is not my contention that chemical insecticides should never be used.” Rather she argued against their “indiscriminant” and “unchecked” use. This was reasonable seeing that at the time thousands of tons of DDT were being aerially sprayed on millions of acres of farmland, with little regard for their impact on water, wildlife, or even non-target insects. It was not Rachel Carson who was unreasonable, but rather the extremists who used her writings to further a zero-tolerance agenda in their efforts to obtain political power on the back of what should have been a more sensible, balanced environmental and health agenda.

If you search the Internet for “Rachel Carson, malaria,” you will find hundreds of recent websites accusing her of genocide and mass murder and comparing her to Hitler and Stalin. I’m thankful she is not alive to see this undeservedly harsh backlash. I hope her descendants and friends have thick skins.


From George Monbiot to Stewart Brand, 7th November 2010

Hi Stewart,

Thank you for these bizzare replies. I’ll try to get back to you by tomorrow evening.

With my best wishes, George

From Stewart Brand to George Monbiot, 7th November 2010

I’ll see it in Rome then—in Genoa now.

I remember the fear and loathing of DDT in the 1960s and 70s. It was killing our brown pelicans in California. We had to stop it, or it would stop them. We did, and the pelicans are fine.

We had no notion of dosage in those days, just bad and good. Time and science moved on. Greens took too long catching up.

It was exquisite hearing the gent from Friends of the Earth proclaiming pragmatism. My friend Dave Brower would have winced. I was there when he started FOE in San Francisco (having been booted out of Sierra Club, for good managerial cause). I was there when FOE’s science advisors Paul Ehrlich and Lewis Thomas implored the organization not to campaign against Recombinant DNA (now GMOs), because some of best tools for environmentalists were taking shape in that technology. FOE ignored them, and both resigned in protest.

Concerning Greens in Africa, the reliable book is Starved for Science, by Robert Paarlberg, from Harvard University Press.

One by-product of the European stance against GMOs is that the cutting edge of agricultural biotech has moved to the developing world—Philippines, China, India, Africa. Maybe that’s good. Africa can focus on feeding Africa instead of Europe. They can focus on making foods like cassava and sorghum really nutritious for the first time, for example. Europe will eventually follow their lead. I hope you’ll help that.

–Stewart


From Stewart Brand to George Monbiot, 8th November 2010

I wonder what FOE’s and Greenpeace’s position on this one is. Do you
happen to know?

http://www.scidev.net/en/news/malaysia-to-release-gm-mosquitoes-into-the-wild.html

–Stewart