The Earth and DDT

I drive quite a bit and find that non-fiction audio books keep me alert better than coffee or music. My latest listen is The Really Inconvenient Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Don’t Want You to Know About–Because They Helped Cause Them. And why would a dedicated Pagan be listening to such things? Because if you do not know what your opponent is thinking, then there is no possibility of refuting them. And if they make a good point, then I have learned something new. The problem with “new” becomes, sometimes it challenges a dearly held belief.

The title of this book is provocative, and I am certain it will be a popular read for conservatives. It catalogues hypocrisies in the environmental movement. The subject matter includes Al Gore, Rachel Carson, ethanol, synthetic estrogens in our water, environmentalism as a religion, and that is just half the book (I always get the unabridged version). The author, Iain Murray, is a prolific author, primarily of biographies and history. The actual religion of Paganism does not seem to be on his radar, for which I was grateful, as I was interested in what he might have to say about science, not theology. His writing has provided fruit for future blog posts. (Which is amusing, since he specifically targets the blogosphere).

Mr. Murray puts forth the perfectly valid critique that environmentalists often frame things as if death and destruction will happen if we do not do [insert political action here]. He complains that many of these events are framed in a way that is inaccurate, leading, or downright untrue, and I agreed with many of his points (did I mention future blog posts?) Of course while he complains about this, he does exactly what he complains about. He does not consider context, he holds the staunch view that pesticides are of no danger to humans at all, and GMOs are a good thing, and ignores any possible information to the contrary.

Still, he makes good points. I was raised as an environmentalist. I quoted Rachel Carson in my Master’s thesis. There was nothing good about DDT. Ever. Then I read (listened to) 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles Mann. One of the many things he covers in this fine book is the depredations of malaria in the New World. After listening to his descriptions of the disease, and how it affected those that survived the journey, I began to understand that killing off those disease-carrying mosquitoes could be worth spreading around some poison. The realization was rather like kicking myself in the gut.

But DDT is a poison! It kills people and animals! (I said to myself)

And dying of malaria, as do millions of young Africans every year, is not better than maybe dying of cancer. Malaria is a nasty death and afflicts mostly children. And if you survive it, it can come back to haunt you in repeated episodes. While DDT is legal in most African countries, foreign aid is tied to restrictions on its use. Because malaria incidence negatively affects GDP, it prevents Africans from competing in the global market place, an activity that would allow them to forgo foreign aid. Make no mistake, it is the poor that carry the malarial burden. For me to believe that these people can not make their own choices about how they handle disease outbreaks is a bad case of unearned moral superiority.

So where does that leave me, as a Pagan, who believes the Earth is sacred? First, is the recognition that we are her children too, and human life is as valuable as any other. Second, how is the toxin being used? Spraying to protect against disease is a far different matter from generalized agricultural use (which does create resistance). Far smaller amounts are placed on interior walls once or twice a year, in amounts that are negligible by comparison.

Theologically, if I believe that the Earth would punish us for using DDT to support our own survival, after giving us both the drive to do so and the cleverness to succeed, I am putting myself in the same theological trap that I escaped when I left Christianity. No thanks. I believe she loves all her children, not just the furred, scaled and feathered ones.

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About selinarif

Selina came across Paganism around age 15 and it felt like coming home. She has been solitary, and worked in numerous circles, both formal and informal in several different traditions. She is a massage therapist, home-maker, amateur home re-modeler, and a martial artist, and ties all of these things into her spirituality.
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