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« Hybrids and the cost of virtue signalling | Main | No significant trends in rainfall extremes »

A bloody truth or a big bloody truth

George Monbiot is sounding off about the guys at the Breakthrough Institute today - it seems they are insufficiently green for the great man's liking and so they are to receive a tongue lashing.


The "blood libel" in question is the idea that environmentalist pressure ended the use of indoor DDT spraying and hence led to millions of avoidable deaths from malaria in developing countries. Monbiot's case is set out here. He argues - correctly I think -  that there was no worldwide ban on DDT. But he continues thus:

It may be true, in some places and at some times, that DDT has been hard to obtain for the purposes of disease control when it was believed to be the most effective option, though you have yet to show me hard evidence even that this is the case – which is a very different matter from a global ban. If it is true, however, I regret it.

So we see that there is a tacit acceptance that something was awry. Yet Monbiot continues by saying that it was "exaggerated and inaccurate" of Patrick Moore to say that the WHO discontinued its use. Yet if you refer to the announcement made by the WHO in 2006, when it announced that it was reintroducing indoor spraying of DDT, you read this:

Nearly thirty years after phasing out the widespread use of indoor spraying with DDT and other insecticides to control malaria, the World Health Organization (WHO) today announced that this intervention will once again play a major role in its efforts to fight the disease....WHO actively promoted indoor residual spraying for malaria control until the early 1980s when increased health and environmental concerns surrounding DDT caused the organization to stop promoting its use and to focus instead on other means of prevention. Extensive research and testing has since demonstrated that well-managed indoor residual spraying programmes using DDT pose no harm to wildlife or to humans.

In another section of his defence, Monbiot says - again correctly - that indoor spraying of DDT was not always the best option, citing malaria expert Allan Schapira. Yet Schapira is quite clear that availability of DDT was a serious issue, saying that its use has been "held hostage to misguided concerns for the environment" and that the WHO's malaria experts have "fought hard against pressure from various sides to ensure access in malaria-endemic countries to DDT".

So Monbiot appears to be engaging in what logicians refer to as "the fallacy of trivial objections". It seems beyond dispute that environmentalists' concerns led to a reduction in indoor spraying programmes and a consequent death toll. Whether there was or was not a ban is irrelevant. It's the same for the questions of whether the reduction in spraying was total or not is irrelevant too, or whether DDT was not always the best option. These are questions only of degree. We are not debating the distinction between a truth and a blood libel, but the distinction between a bloody truth and a big bloody truth.

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Reader Comments (59)

What, environmentalists avoiding the issue, arguing about trivia, indulging in faux-outrage, ad-homs etc etc etc. Well fancy that. Next you'll be expecting a socialist to use words with the same meaning you thought they had. (Abuse/victim/justice/freedom/etc etc etc.)

Sep 30, 2015 at 4:31 PM | Unregistered Commenterbill

The only thing Monbiot worries about is that we might forget who he once was.

Remind me again, who was he ?

Sep 30, 2015 at 4:36 PM | Unregistered Commentertoad

toad: The Moonbat is probably the person you are trying to remember.

Sep 30, 2015 at 4:54 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I just wonder how many of Monbiot's heroes had a hand in The Limits To Growth which, if I recall from my reading, positively pushed for DDT to be banned. They even made the considered claim that even if it were banned (in 1972 - around the time oif the book) DDT would still hang around for 12 years.

Sep 30, 2015 at 4:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

The credibility of a person's argument sinks to near zero when it invokes the phrase "blood libel." Is there a name for this? Reductio ad …. . If so, I haven't found it, but it does remind me of:

It does not even have the touch of humor found with Godwin's law.

Sep 30, 2015 at 4:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Hultquist

Environmentalists can't bear the thought of being the bad guy. They don't even like to admit that life is sometimes the choice between two evils.

Sep 30, 2015 at 4:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Poor Lynas. Not bright enough to understand who his enemies are. Reminds me of Czechoslovakia, 1968.

Sep 30, 2015 at 5:01 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Is there any proof that DDT 'lingers' in the environment? All the evidence was accepted at the time, and I remember it as an 'accepted fact'.

Thanks to the lies of climate science, I am not so good at faith in 'experts' any more. I do accept that many graveyards are full of people who died, proving that DDT worked at malaria control.

Sep 30, 2015 at 5:44 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

@John F. Hultquist:

Making an argument by associating something with something else, e.g. "this is a blood libel," is a form of Guilt by Association. In this case it's an ad hominem attack by association:

Sep 30, 2015 at 5:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterFranzel

Is Monbiot simply trying to absolve himself, and the rest of the Green Blob from responsibility for millions of deaths, just in case there is a bit of a backlash? DDT Ban, no, not us, nothing to do with me. Pause in global warming, no, not us, nothing to do with me.

The disastrous consequences of Green Blob scaremongering are full graveyards.

Sep 30, 2015 at 5:59 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Once the use of DDT was banned in the USA where else was it going to be manufactured? I suppose that the EPA knows when its use was banned. If the use of something is banned there is not much point in making it. So Monbiot may be technically correct, but a ban on using something is as good as banning it;s manufacture.

DDT Ban Takes Effect
[EPA press release - December 31, 1972]

The general use of the pesticide DDT will no longer be legal in the United States after today, ending nearly three decades of application during which time the once-popular chemical was used to control insect pests on crop and forest lands, around homes and gardens, and for industrial and commercial purposes.

A lot of people have died in the 40+ years since the ban. Wasn't one of the triggers Rachel Carson's "the Silent Spring"

Sep 30, 2015 at 6:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

This is a reasonably balanced history of DDT and malaria. It omits to mention that mosquitos were becoming resistant to some types of application, but does show that the substance was widely banned.

Monbiot should also know that Greenpeace tried to get a total ban on DDT at the initial POPs convention discussion only to be defeated by a group of medics who were appalled at the prospect

Sep 30, 2015 at 6:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

Phillip Bratby
You were probably there at the Climategate debate on July 8th 2010 when the Great Moonbat aided by Fred Pearce as "independent arbiters" watched as McIntyre and Keenan "demolished" poor little Prof Trevor Davies (Phil Jones' boss) along with Bob ("when I was Chair of IPCC") Watson.
There was that fascinating moment when Piers Corbyn, the "dear leader's" brother, was told by George to shut up and sit down.
Amazingly, George thought that Phil should have resigned at the time - he's gone downhill a bit since then.
"Climate Theatre" at its most magical !

Sep 30, 2015 at 6:20 PM | Unregistered Commentertoad

I am almost 72.
As a child living in Greece and then Bermuda my parents made liberal use of DDT filled 'fly bombs' on all flying insects in rooms where we were and especially ion our bedrooms last thing at night.
I am still here as are my siblings from that time.

Sep 30, 2015 at 6:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilhippos

Not 'Moonbat' but Monoblot seems the more fitting. (Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can sometimes get me to a 'T').

Sep 30, 2015 at 6:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoseph Sydney

Make that to a D.D.T.

Sep 30, 2015 at 6:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoseph Sydney

"...In this case it's an ad hominem attack by association..." --Franzel

I could be wrong, but I think it's primarily "begging the question."

Sep 30, 2015 at 6:58 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Arthur Dent:

Monbiot should also know that Greenpeace tried to get a total ban on DDT at the initial POPs convention discussion only to be defeated by a group of medics who were appalled at the prospect

Do you have a handy citation for that? Someone should ask Monbiot on Twitter if he would have supported or condemned this (failed) initiative.

Sep 30, 2015 at 7:11 PM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

@jorgekafkazar: while it's true that the entire argument could be said to be "begging the question," the use of the phrase "blood libel" in particular is designed to associate the entire affair in the reader's minds with a deliberate lie that caused a great deal of pain and suffering for the aggrieved. Monbiot could have said "a deliberate lie against the green movement" and that would have been circular logic by itself (as you pointed out) but "blood libel" sounds more insidious to a reader, thus making it a guilt by association fallacy as well.

Sep 30, 2015 at 7:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterFranzel

Monbiot, one of the dimmer public school elite, is a fool.

Sep 30, 2015 at 7:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

It may be useful to his case if he were to spend a morning on a walk-about comparing prices for DDT at the various DDT vendors in his part of the world. That would go a long way toward establishing the ease of access to this essential product.

Sep 30, 2015 at 7:45 PM | Unregistered Commenterdp

George Monbiot, the environmental movement's answer to Coco the Clown. Every time he pops up on Radio 4, which is a predictably frequent event, I enjoy a good laugh hearing his BBC host taking him seriously.

Sep 30, 2015 at 7:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Phillipos, thanks for that. Was your childhood in an area known to be at risk from malaria, or were your parents using DDT as a general purpose insecticide?

I am about 20 years younger than you but remember from the late 1970s hearing about how terrible DDT was, and how it had been 'banned', but I have no idea whether DDT was available as a domestic insecticide in the UK, or whether it was only sold for agricultural purposes.

Sep 30, 2015 at 7:52 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

The was woman in Uganda I think who promoted the use of DDT only to find that she constantly pestered by a group of women from US AID who followed her around every day harassing her claiming that it caused cancer etc., So there was pressure right down to the village. Steve Milloy has the details

Sep 30, 2015 at 8:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrianJay

I wonder if Monbiot has recovered from his Ovinaphobia yet?

Sep 30, 2015 at 9:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

If the use of DDT had not been banned in the area of Papua New Guinea where I worked in the early 80s my daughter would be alive today rather than dead at 16 because of malaria.

I have never seen a valid reason why the enviro-mental idiots even thought it would be a good idea unless they were thinking that malaria would help reduce the world population as they wanted in 'limits of growth'.

Sep 30, 2015 at 9:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterivan

As noted above, the newly-formed EPA banned DDT in 1972. As a result, the Montrose Chemical Company dumped as much as 110 tons of DDT in the Los Angeles sewer system, eventually turning 17 square miles of ocean floor off the Palos Verdes Peninsula into a undersea desert of white powder (which I saw first-hand in the 1980s on a scuba dive there).

I read that the stuff is now 200 ft down, but in the '80s it was right up to the shore near San Pedro. I also read that, over the last five years, a lot of that DDT has mysteriously disappeared and no one can figure out how (though it can be surmised the global warming has played a role).

(Lookup: montrose chemical epa ddt palos verde)

Sep 30, 2015 at 9:30 PM | Unregistered Commenternutso fasst

We used Flit which contained DDT at home when I was a child in the 1950s. It worked and I'm still here!

Have you seen Dr Rutledge's film "3 Billion and Counting"? He eats DDT powder in that with no ill effects. The film was made 5 years ago. I have watched the full film but can only find trailers on Youtube now.

Sep 30, 2015 at 10:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Jones

For Anonym

Try this for starters

Sep 30, 2015 at 10:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

The Greens got DDT banned through lies. Carson, in her book, Silent Spring, quoted a study by John McFee (Spelling) quoting the likely hatching of eggs that had come into contact with DDT (actually 200 times the normal contact), what she failed to do was to note that in McFee's 1956 paper that a control group, unaffected by DDT, had more or less the same hatching rates.

Monbiot is getting older, and it's beginning to dawn on him that the Greens have wreaked more havoc on human beings than the Nazis and Communists combined. So, naturally, like the Nazis and Communists, he's trying to re-write history.

I have tried, but have been unable to find, one scientific study that supported the Green assertion that DDT caused any damage to either humans, or animals. Could be wrong, but I haven't found one.

George thinks he's on the side of the angels. and he isn't, he's on the side of those who despise and hate humans. The penny is dropping I hope.

Sep 30, 2015 at 10:52 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Ivan & geronimo, thank you for that. I have not done any serious searching myself, but in my adulthood, always accepted the accepted 'facts' about DDT. In the late 90s, when taken ill with what might have been malaria, I met people in hospital who were very scathing about the DDT 'ban', and I note Ivan's comment at 9:09.

Was the DDT 'ban' part of the anti-Vietnam war sentiment in the USA, possibly linked to the defoliant Agent Orange?

Sep 30, 2015 at 11:19 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Typical Moonbat (and Green) tricks, twist the facts, emphasise the trivial and generally muddy te waters.
Of course "Gruanard" readers will swallow it whole- as will the BEEB.

Sep 30, 2015 at 11:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitter&twisted

A bloody truth, or a big bloody truth

A Blobby truth, and a big Blobby truth.

Sep 30, 2015 at 11:23 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

The DDT story is a complex one. Not all places that stopped using DDT did so because of bans and the like. There was a large amount of effort put in around the world on the reduction of Malaria (and other mosquito borne diseases) in the 1950's, and in some places this was spectacularly successful. Sri Lanka as a case in point, reduced malaria cases to the low single figures by around 1962-3, in a large part by using DDT. They then discontinued the program and in fact dismantled the agencies etc that were used because of that longer needed you see. The bans had no real effect in this case and there are others similar.

DDT was also widely misused, the specific practices Carson an d others were aiming at (but with a scatter gun approach) was the agri-chemicals industry who were using large quantities of DDT almost at random. In the process they generated widespread resistance to DDT amongst targetted species, and also wiped out those species natural predators. In some places there were serious side effects showing up, in Malaysia a drive to spray dwellings constructed with palm roofs (very common) actually led to serious problems with collapsing roofs as the DDT didn't kill effectively (or they developed resistance rapidly) for a species of borer insect whilst effectively killing those insects that naturally kept the borer in check.

These are merely small incidents, but they demonstrate that the DDT story is not a straightforward "greenies banned it and millions died". There was an effective ban, yes, but DDT was being widely misused and badly so. If it had remained in use much longer it would have ceased to be effective as resistance was already widespread and growing. This was a classic "baby with the bathwater" reaction, DDT badly needed controls due to the misuse, but used judiciously it could remain the most effective tool against mosquito and other insect vendor diseases.

It is important not to jump on bandwagons just because the have attractive themes, like "the greenies killed millions..." It is fair to tie a portion of the over-reaction and to the stubborn refusal to re-think that stance when confronted with data. But it lowers the skeptics to the gutter realm that warmenist activists live with to tie it all back.

Sep 30, 2015 at 11:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterEd Snack

Fair enough Ed - but does that make the post quote -

"The "blood libel" in question is the idea that environmentalist pressure ended the use of indoor DDT spraying and hence led to millions of avoidable deaths from malaria in developing countries."

wrong ?

and the theme "the greenies killed millions..." would seem to follow as a unintended consequence of this pressure (substitute environmentalists if preferred) regardless of the other complex factors at work.

Oct 1, 2015 at 12:24 AM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

It seems Patrick Moore (exGreenpeace) prompted many Greens to try and cover their own past, when he published his book.

If the intention of a 'ban' had been to end the use of DDT as a universal insecticide, applied by crop duster aircraft, then fair enough.

Could the UN ask the Paris party to use some aid money to set up DDT factories in countries where it is needed, rather than send delegates on fact finding junckets to the Maldives, to report on new cocktails, and the risk to sun loungers from rising sea levels.

Oct 1, 2015 at 2:16 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Free jetting around the world (and to Manchester) as long as you stay on message and support the Green Religion.
..that might explainthe lack of introspections.
- I see George is the highlight of #Manchester Literature Festival's 3 Green events at the end of October which includes Fred Pearce.

Oct 1, 2015 at 6:02 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Steve Milloy demolished the DDT story a long time ago at his junkscience website, and with a subsequent book.

While it was never banned worldwide, the Rachel Carson meme was pervasive for decades, no matter what the evidence. The birdshell stuff was nonsense, but nobody cared - it was the vibe.

My old man got a dose of malaria while he was serving in Korea in the 1950s. While he survived, he had recurring bouts for decades, complete with being bedridden, having bad fevers and sweats, and terrible nightmares. It's a horrible disease.

People think of malaria as a tropical disease. It is no such thing, and was endemic in the UK (inter alia) until swamps were drained, which would not be allowed now.

One of the worst outbreaks ever was in Siberia. The reason it is no longer endemic in Europe is because of the draining of swamps, use of DDT, and affluence.

Oct 1, 2015 at 6:16 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna

'I was opposed to DDT at the time, but now I am not because I have new information. The millions who died in the meantime are nothing to do with me, they are the result of a knowledge gap. Knowledge gaps happen, you know, everyone has them. Too hasty ? Not at all. No time to lose when you are saving the planet'
'What are my current knowledge gaps? If I knew that, I would fill the gap. But definitely not CO2, I am certain about all that stuff'

The man is a gobsh1te

Oct 1, 2015 at 7:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterEternaloptimist

Read this and weep The True Story of DDT.

Someone should also ask Monbiot his position on Goldern Rice environmentalists are fundamentally human haters and don't stop killing people if they can help it.

Oct 1, 2015 at 8:09 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Moonbot is rubbing his hand saying 'out damn spot'. I pity him...

Oct 1, 2015 at 8:13 AM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

Sorry, links are bad, try and

They're still at it - killing that is.

Correction to previous post Carson misrepresented the 1956 paper of Dr. DeWitt.

Oct 1, 2015 at 8:27 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Extensive research and testing has since demonstrated that well-managed indoor residual spraying programmes using DDT pose no harm to wildlife or to humans.

I thought mosquitoes were wild.

Oct 1, 2015 at 8:37 AM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

It's probably good that we are talking about this monumental cockup again because we'll need to start spraying it in Europe to get rid of the hellish Tiger mosquito.

Monbiot was already forced to accept that misguided enviro-inspired policies had caused the palm oil plantation fiasco. This is another one he'll have to accept if he really wants to be honest. Alas greens too easily ignore that humans need protection from the environment too. All he has to do is talk to any Zambian doctor.

Oct 1, 2015 at 8:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

A close friend was a big cheese with WHO in Africa during the 1980's.

I remember his inveighing against what he certainly saw as a ban on using DDT, and its consequences, after he retired.

No doubt there are other WHO personnel with the same recollections, but would any one of them be prepared to be seen backing climate skeptics, or ecomodernists, in a spat with Monbiot?

Oct 1, 2015 at 9:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterTonyN

Monbiot likes Mark Lynas's article about the ecomodernism launch in the Guardian, because its main concern seems to be what George Monbiot thinks. Quite why the opinions of one particular upper-middle-class public schoolboy are thought to be so much more important than everyone else's remains a mystery.

The launch itself was as Lynas says a screw-up. By holding it at Paterson's UK2020 organisation, the left feels alienated and will portray ecomodernism as right-wing. But that's drifting a bit off-topic, a subject for a future post perhaps.

Oct 1, 2015 at 9:34 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

There is no doubt that raptor populations crashed in the 60s, and are only now beginning to recover.

Whether this was due to use of toxic pesticides and herbicides is a moot point.

Oct 1, 2015 at 9:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterLeo Smith

Don't fall for the post hoc re-write of history from the environmentalists, they were 100% behind the DDT ban, knowing full well that the result would be millions of people contracting malaria. This from the NAS in the USA IN 1970:

“In little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million human deaths due to malaria, that would otherwise have been inevitable.”

In 1978 the US National Cancer Institute said after two years of testing on several different strains of cancer-prone mice and rats—that DDT was not carcino-genic.

Make no mistake the environmentalists knew what they were doing and what its effects would be, as they do today with their campaign against Golden Rice. Read the whole story here

Oct 1, 2015 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

"A woman called Rachael Carson, who would go on to become the greatest mass murder of the twentieth century, wrote a book called Silent Spring that predicted the end of humanity unless we banned DDT. She was dying herself, which no doubt boosted the book sales but the bitch has taken a lot of people with her into the darkness as company.

The second greatest mass murderer of the twentieth century was in charge of a small innocuous bureaucratic thing called the Environmental Protection Agency, but he was also a member of something called the Environmental Defence Fund. William Ruckelshaus overruled the advice of a judge and his own experts and declared DDT to be a dangerous chemical.

This is where damn Yankee clout and their big dollars kicks in. There wasn’t as such a ban on DDT but you weren’t allowed to manufacture the vile stuff, and if you persisted in using it, your relief funds had a habit of evaporating. When you’re poor and desperate, you get really good at taking a hint, especially when it’s from a benefactor."

Why we fight – Malaria.


Oct 1, 2015 at 10:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

Is this the real reason for the ban on DDT?

"My own doubts came when DDT was introduced for civilian use. In Guyana, within two years it had almost eliminated malaria, but at the same time the birth rate had doubled. So my chief quarrel with DDT in hindsight is that it has greatly added to the population problem."

Alexander King, cofounder of the Club of Rome, 1990

Oct 1, 2015 at 11:08 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

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