The world is facing a public-health emergency. According to the World Health Organization, the Zika virus, a horrific disease that causes malformation of infants, is now “spreading explosively.” If decisive action is not taken quickly, Zika will proliferate to every continent, become widely and deeply embedded in populations, and cause millions of babies to be born brain-damaged every year for generations to come.
A cure for Zika is not known, and it could take decades to find one. But there is something that can be done now to stop the epidemic. Zika is spread by mosquitoes, which can be exterminated by pesticides. The most effective pesticide is DDT. If the Zika catastrophe is to be prevented in time, we need to use it.
Some history is in order. DDT was first employed by the U.S. Army to stop a typhus epidemic in Naples that had been created by the retreating Germans through their destruction of that city’s sanitation system. Subsequently, Allied forces used it in all theaters to save millions of disease-ravaged victims of Axis tyranny, and after the war employed it to wipe out malaria in the American south, southern Europe, and much of south Asia and Latin America. The benefits of these campaigns were unprecedented. As the National Academy of Sciences put it in a 1970 report:
To only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT. It has contributed to the great increase of agricultural productivity, while sparing countless humanity from a host of diseases, most notably perhaps, scrub typhus and malaria. Indeed, it is estimated that in little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million deaths due to malaria that would otherwise have been inevitable.
The role of DDT in saving half a billion lives did not positively impress everyone, however. On the contrary, many environmentalist leaders were quite upset. As Alexander King, the co-founder of the Club of Rome, put it in 1990, “my chief quarrel with DDT in hindsight is that it has greatly added to the population problem.” Of course, such reasoning would carry little appeal to the American public.
Much better ammunition was provided by Rachel Carson, who in her 1962 book, Silent Spring, made an eloquent case that DDT was endangering bird populations. This was false. In fact, by eliminating their insect parasites and infection agents, DDT was helping bird numbers to grow significantly. No matter. Using Carson’s book and even more wild writing by Population Bomb author Paul Ehrlich (who in a 1969 Ramparts article predicted that pesticides would cause all life in the Earth’s oceans to die by 1979), a massive propaganda campaign was launched to ban DDT.
By some estimates, the malaria death toll in Africa alone resulting from DDT restrictions has exceeded 100 million people.
So now the question is: Will the environmental bureaucrats continue to block the use of essential life-saving pesticides, and thereby cause an even worse global catastrophe that will go on for generations? The outlook isn’t hopeful. As history shows, to the leaders the Green movement, black lives don’t matter. They have chosen to allow millions of the world’s poorest to continue to suffer and die from malaria, and they are doing everything they can to stop the elimination of vitamin-deficiency diseases by genetically enhanced foods. So long as Zika remains mostly limited to its current tropical haunts, the heartless hypocrites will doubtless maintain that while they too are deeply troubled by seeing babies born with missing brain parts, concerns over eggshell thickness must take priority. Like the revelers in Poe’s Masque of the Red Death, they will continue to party in their comfortable quarters, secure in the belief that plague outside the mansion walls will never come for them.
The fate of humanity should not be entrusted to such guardians.
— Dr. Robert Zubrin is the president of Pioneer Energy and the author of Energy Victory. The paperback edition of his latest book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, was recently published by Encounter Books.