The Washington Post reports that a 54 year-old Northern Virginia woman died this Sunday after being infected with the West Nile virus. The woman was Virginia’s first death from the mosquito-borne illness. To date, the Centers for Disease Control reports over 2,000 Americans have been infected and over 100 Americans have died as a result of the disease.

The suffering and death caused by the West Nile virus is tragic, yet this suffering is made all the more tragic when you consider that the best technology to prevent the spread of the disease has been illegal for 30 years. Despite long being held as the most effective means of eradicating the mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus and other diseases, including malaria, the US government still upholds its ban on DDT.

The premise behind the ban on DDT is that when misused, DDT harms the reproductive cycles of small animals. When DDT is sprayed in excessive doses, as was done by the federal government in the 1950’s and 1960’s, some species of birds can suffer negative effects. Yet as 50 years of evidence shows, when DDT is used properly, no negative effects to humans are reported (or to animals, for that matter), while a whole host of mosquito-borne diseases are eradicated.

Even with DDT’s clear value to humans, its ban is nowhere near being repealed. By conservative estimates, the enforcement of the worldwide DDT ban has caused the death of tens of millions of human beings by malaria and resulted in economic losses measured in the billions. And now, in the US, we are forced to contend with the West Nile virus with no effective tools to stem the outbreak.

Yet even in the face of a death toll nearing that of WWII, the DDT ban is held as one of the crowning achievements of the environmental movement. Despite its scientific claims having long been disproved by science, it was Rachel Carson’s crusade against DDT though her 1960’s book Silent Spring that launched today’s environmentalist movement and it is precisely today’s environmentalists that stand in the way of DDT.

So why, in the face of having their scientific arguments refuted and with the benefits of technology so clear, are the environmentalists able to keep the use of pesticides like DDT illegal? The reason is that the environmentalists’ moral premise is all but unchallenged today. Environmentalists hold that nature has a worth separate and above the worth of humans and that human beings are incapable of properly controlling nature. Practically no one argues effectively against this view.

That human life is a value should be self-evident. That the deaths and suffering caused by the West Nile virus and malaria prove that we must dedicate ourselves to effectively controlling nature should be just as clear. There needs to be an alternative to the view that mankind is impotent and unworthy to control the world around him.

In the face of the obvious anti-man actions of the environmentalists, it’s time the veneer that they are concerned about the health and welfare of human beings be removed once and for all. If the benefit to human beings is the standard by which we judge the value of a technology, there should be no law against the use of DDT and we should be left free to use our technology to better our lives. But before epidemics such as West Nile virus and malaria are eradicated, the epidemic of environmentalism must be eradicated first.

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Nicholas Provenzo

Nicholas Provenzo is founder and Chairman of the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism.

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