tv Worlds Apart RT December 26, 2020 10:30pm-11:01pm EST
a single contaminated squarest santa material left on this planet has been raised the point when science does more harm than good in progress it was so well to discuss that i'm now joined by a francophone hippo professor all he could talks ecology out of northern arizona university and author of the chemical age how can most 4000 and disease killed millions and change their relationship with the earth frame gives good to talk to you thank you very much for your time and congratulations on your magnificent book . nature of santa appreciate now i think your book provides for a very interesting read it at the time of a global pandemic very encouraging and very unnerving at the same time encouraging because our chances of survival i gather are much better than $3.00 to $1.00 as during the time of the yellow fever outbreak in philadelphia that you describe in such a colorful detail and then nerving because it led me to the conclusion that even if
we make out of the call that 19 alive humanity as a whole is still a doomed we are persist. going back to normal is that the conclusion that you intended well i think that's a great launching off point because you ended that phrase with if we continue as we are and you're right we're on an unsustainable path in many ways people are familiar with that in terms of climate change but it's also true with regard to our use of chemicals in our broadcasting of chemicals into the environment so we have to fundamentally change the way that we use chemicals in order to get on a sustainable path that your book is about chemistry or rather a looking at the ranch a century through the prism of chemistry which i have to say is i turned out to be far more exciting and revealing than i initially expected i know the big you know where it wasn't a big fan of chemistry before is that if reading
a book but in an indirect way it's also about athletics and the athletes of our entire species and what we are doing to the rest of the planet and that you know there was one question to me as i was reading at scientific progress is ultimately based on the assumption that human life altimeter values on this planet and whatever is done to improve them is justified can we still afford to keep that assumption. but i think clearly we can't because it's not just humans that are on this planet were inextricably linked to everything else on this planet all of the other life forms of the environment that we live in and we have to be looking at that holistically everything we do how does it affect people but also how does it affect our environment and ultimately you cannot impact the environment negatively without impacting people so even if you viewed this strictly through a human centered perspective you would still have to come away with the conclusion
that we have to change the way we're doing things because we're harming the environment so much certainly we're also her mean people. yeah and 'd this is i think the main takeaway at least for me and from your book about the more you focus on the human form the improvement of the human condition the more you add up hurting humans themselves it's just works in the nonlinear way but it catches up with us and our later you know i think a good example of that is with pesticides in agriculture because we in order to increase your odds of crops we've been using industrialised levels of pesticides for really the last century and this but especially since after world war 2 and as a result the pests have evolved resistance so we have to use more chemicals more toxic chemicals more of them and order to achieve the yields rather than looking at it from a more diverse perspective for example we can agree to pest management where you're only using pesticides in a targeted approach so that would be
a case where we're hermine the environmental review herman our own ability to grow food through the industrialized practice of agriculture. in your book and give many examples of how scientists noble intentions to improve the human condition. backfired on humans themselves and certainly on the other species we share this planet with which in your view is the most striking in terms of the shared gabbett me and the inability of intentions in the sort of being the donation of consequences. yeah i would say the most striking example for me would probably be the development of hydrocyanic i said just after world war one for fighting against the body in order to prevent typhus operate so i understand it as it had been used in as a pesticide for several decades prior to world war one but because of typhus outbreaks which are transmitted by the body of us who was
a big effort in germany after the war to to combat. this outbreak and. and this was. unfortunately morphed into the nazi terminations chambers because they took 5 percent of asset and they converted it into zyklon b. which was used to kill jews and other people throughout europe during the holocaust so that's probably the most striking example of taking something for the public good and just turn it into pure evil now you know i have a very big fat 05 sick ass and often he once said that the saddest thing about our time and he was speaking personally about the 20th century is that science gathers know much faster than society gathers wisdom janus seen that speed of scientific discovery as the main culprit for allowing this hijacking of the scientific genius or is it something else. i think that's a really good point because there are so many cases where our technological
abilities have developed so quickly but we don't have necessarily the moral framework or the societal structures to to use those things wisely look at nuclear weapons as an example of this where you know world war 2 wasn't that long ago that was during my parents' lifetime and that's when nuclear weapons were developed and in fact my great grandfather was in charge of the chemistry division the manhattan project so i'm very familiar with this and yet they became this global scourge ever since world war 2 and we really don't as a species have the wisdom to have things like weapons of mass destruction the same thing goes for chemical weapons and those are the horrible things that have been happening with chemical weapons used in syria and elsewhere and these things shouldn't even exist much less p. put in the hands of anyone with with the chemical factory to produce them absolutely speaking about nuclear weapons. i'm sure you know that
asimov apart from being a great writer was also a professor of biochemistry but he had many others tend to approach the 20th century through the prism of physics and engineering you know nuclear weapons as you mentioned telecommunications mass transport and what have you and i think this is why your book is so unique because it offers a totally different than touch point and all those inventions. and great inventions of physics that i mentioned all the time with 3 laughed very noticeable chemical traces then they they did i think most people are quite familiar with the major physical advances like nuclear energy nuclear weapons and it's easier for people to relate that to that than it is to the chemical innovations in fact if you go back and look at rachel carson seminal book silent spring which was published in 1062 she talks about radio. active fall out a great deal before she brings up the very 1st it example of
a pesticide in the book and that was because everybody was scared of that in 1962 and you know throughout my childhood as well ever scared of nuclear war scared of nuclear fallout so people could relate to that so she used nuclear fallout a nuclear war as a metaphor for really what we're facing in terms of chemical pollution in order to enable people to understand this thing and you know you mentioned it's easy for people to tune out when it comes to chemistry and really they should be tuned in and it's so critical to our everyday lives everything from the medicine that we take to our farming practices to our built environment our personal use skin care products they're all based on chemistry so we're all exposed every day all day long to the products of chemistry and i would also add that this these type of approach opens up a totally different field of consequences that we perhaps. handle over and paying attention to before for example when i read in your book that there are very high concentration of pesticides in pango and agfa in antarctica or and the
polar bears and they are thick or they're growing rates of cancer in the indigenous communities there in the north you know i you know many of us think about those places as still relatively pristine and it will carry your show that it's actually pretty much the other way around. you know that's right so it depends on the chemical class you're looking at because different kinds of chemicals behave in different ways but for lighter weight persistent or getting pollutants the highest concentrations in the world are actually found in the arctic and these pollutants are fat soluble and so they get into the food web and then they increase in concentration in animals they increase in concentration as you move up the food web so that's called bio magnification and so for those persisting again includes the highest concentrations on earth are actually found in the long lived high to. the global animals like killer whales and polar bears in the arctic and of course you
have indigenous people in the arctic even in your country in russia and my country in alaska and canada and northern europe that subsist on these long lived animals like ice seals and whales bowhead whales in alaska and these animals have very high levels of persisting organic pollutants and people are eating them for breakfast lunch and dinner so it's really a case of environmental judge injustice because the indigenous people of the arctic they had no say in the use or production of these chemicals they didn't benefit from them in any way and yet they are getting some of the highest levels of anyone on earth. yeah it call it environmental justice but i don't think i don't know if it that's strong enough term for that because i don't even see whether there is any requester justice here because as you just pointed out things tend to affect people who have the least to do about trying out by the mother's milk showing up and developmental i mean their reality if. can you imagine any way off how this could
be a draft because it seems that this is just the way things are. well that's a good point so you the problem was actually 1st discovered on bath an island in northeastern canada in the 1980 s. when scientists when fair to study the breast milk of the indigenous women about an island which they consider to be probably the most pristine breast milk in the world and when they compared their breast milk to the breast milk of women who lived in industrialized there is of canada they found that the indigenous women on bath and island had $10.00 to $20.00 times higher concentration of mercury of pesticides like t.t.t. a p.c.-b.s.d. in their breast milk than the women in the industrialized areas and so they're really alerted the world to this problem and some things have been done so for example the stockholm convention on persistent organic pollutants includes the rights of indigenous people to a clean environment and as a result of that convention there have been international bans on some of the worst
of these offenders like p.c.p.'s and d.d.t. but even that it takes many decades for these chemicals to break down and there are new classes of these chemicals that are that are increasing the concentration in the arctic like flame retardant chemicals and perfectly or awful substances a variety of other things so the problems actually getting worse in a way those some of the older compounds are now decreasing in the in concentration in the arctic while that's very unsettling frank we have to take a very short break now but we'll be back in just a few moments they can't. so what we've got to do is identify the threats that we have it's crazy to some day shouldn't let it be an arms race is also
a skeery dramatic developments only really. i don't see that strategy will be successful very critical daryn time to sit down and tom. going back to worlds apart from him both author of the chemical age how camus fought them and then disease killed millions and changed our relationship with the earth friend before the break we were talking about the past aside traces in mother's milk in the community is the growing council rates there and if i were a cynic i would respond to you with examples from your own book proving that any
improvement in the human condition came at a cost that always came at a cost saw the invention of culture saddled humanity with malaria greater immunity to malaria maybe africans prime targets of the slave trade and so the efforts to increase crop yields and feed the hungry would also produce some unintended consequences isn't that inevitable all those unfair things that he may have discussed isn't that simply a price to pay. well i think that's correct in the sense that we have to consider the other side of it which is that if you go back to before the advent of modern chemistry you could expect that probably half of your kids would die during childhood you could expect that your life expectancy even if you make a few childhood might be into your forty's and certainly be rare to have a long lived life and and so you know the chemistry has also given us fulfilment in
many ways by guaranteeing an abundant food supply if we look at our world today there are still famines but there are political famines are caused by political problems are not caused by an inability to grow food and if we look at infectious diseases you were in the middle of a pandemic now but the pandemic is killing less than one percent of the people it infects and in past times pandemics could kill 30 to 70 percent of the people that were infected so chemistry has given a much improved quality of life in many ways and then we have to ask well with these unintended consequences that are causing species go extinct that are causing environmental injustices how can we make things better because certainly we can handle those things better than we have now are thinking about making things better i have known about the damaging effects of pesticides for quite some time. in large part due to their work afraid carson and her book silent spring which she already mentioned by the way her answer was one of the very few books contemporary
american books published in the soviet union in 96530 years after its initial publication that is i won't say that is an unprecedented example of that but that it was definitely a very rare and indeed delete a ban on that past the 5 years in agriculture for us in the united states. in 2004 but even that it has i get from your book was a mixed blessing it wasn't such as. i mean quizzical victory wasn't it well that's right and 1st of all it's interesting what you said about silent spring because initially the publisher and mitchell kirsten decided not to publish it in communist countries because they were worried of getting her labeled as a communist by the chemical industry so politically that's an interesting thing but you're right so what happened with the publication of silence spring is people realize the environmental cause consequences and and health consequences of these
pesticides particularly the class of organic chlorine pesticides that d.d.t. belongs to and during world war 2 another major class of insecticides are going to phosphate insecticides were developed by nazi scientists name shrader those pesticides were also very effective in killing insects they have the advantage of breaking down in the environment much faster typically weeks to months rather than years to decades but the disadvantage of being actually more toxic to handle and so what we ended up doing is making the consumer safer because you have less pesticide residue residues on our food but we've traded off consumer safety for firm worker safety because our farm workers have had to handle much more toxic chemicals to achieve the same effect it was actually pretty safe for them to handle d.d.t. it's quite dangerous for them to handle their ghana phosphates and who are the farm workers at least in in the united states they're my mostly migrant mexican farmers other latin americans who have you know little political recourse so it does set up
another kind of injustice in this trade off and and it's a difficult problem now rachel carson going back to her share argued that pesticides should really be called biocide because that negative impact on not limited to they have targeted a path a much broader and in fact she wrote about the danger that they had for the for the bird species which it i think is a very very crucial point and this is something that i want to ask you about when you think about. all the technology that has developed over the last couple of decades big data in our ability to understand the world in that far more granular detail do you think we have become any bad at forecasting being those on in town that the consequences of major scientific advances help or are we still dealing with them primarily in hind fied i think we're still dealing with them primarily in hindsight we see this over and over again so you know right now we have the p.f.a.
yes issue with water around the world the same kind of thing they're basically forever chemicals and they have these wonderful features you can have waterproof covering in your car your jacket but now we've cleared the whole world with them and we're drinking it or drinking water and it's under construction in toxic you brought up rachel carson talking about bio size one of the things that she wrote in her book is that chemical war is never one and all life is caught and it's finally crossfire and her idea there was the chemical war is never won because the pests are constantly evolving resistance which means you have to use more and more chemicals more and more toxic chemicals to achieve the same fact and all life is caught in its violent crossfire because all life is impacted by these chemicals not just the targets and not only are we killing the past an agriculture we're killing the birds and the spiders and the mites and the parasite toward wass that normally would control those who were removing the biological control at the same time as are damaging wildlife and human health in the farm workers and everything else so i don't think there were any better at anticipating these unintended consequences
than we ever were and we just seem to keep making the same mistake over and over now let's talk about why we keep making the same mistakes over and over because i think every chapter in your book is a testament how humans are very bad for the ration and whenever they find something working day with quins it still it turns into poison and i suspect it's not so much because of the scientists come up come up with the idea if as much as the corporate world which at least until recent. sleep with profit. everything else what is their role of corporations and turning files on progress from serving here mad to entail all essentially about something that may be and do here manage to its own extinction yeah in fact i don't think that's even change that you mention maybe recently the profit motives have changed i don't think they have changed while they tell me different talk of prey yeah d.d.t. is a good example of this so when d.d.t.
was developed by pall mall moeller miller in switzerland in 1939 is an effective insecticide and it was used initially during world war 2 to fight pandemics to find malaria yellow fever and typhus outbreaks and in fact in december 1043 to february 1904 the u.s. military in the rockefeller foundation stopped a typhus outbreak in naples and it was a 1st time in human history that had been achieved and then after the war really beginning $145.00 just in writing towards the end of the war we in the united states and also throughout the world people started using d.d.t. for everything you could get it in wallpaper for your baby's nursery to protect your baby from flies you could get it in paint to paint your house with it was used in agriculture and forestry it was you know if you took a flight the flight attendant was spray d.d.t. while she's walking down the aisle so that you wouldn't be harassed by flies during the airplane ride and so that's an example because if we had only restricted d.d.t.
used to public health emergencies to fighting infectious disease agents like yellow fever and malaria carrying mosquitoes or the body of us we could probably still use it today for public health but the fact that we immediately overused it used it everywhere made it so that all the past evolve resistance within a few years and it became pretty useless is still used a little bit for some malaria control but it could have been a very effective tool and that's just one example out of thousands of this kind of behavior we just can't seem to help ourselves as people to overuse things until there are. you talk about us as people but i want to ask a specific question about americans because americans have i think a very strong and not only cultural but ideological bias against regulation. which allows many of these companies to put that product on the market on till they're before that safety is fully tested in fact i think the burden of proof is usually on consumers to demonstrate that 6 this if you obey all of the products and this is
what is being promoted around the world as a part of free trade how could we ever change the status quo when the balance of power of available resources is still on even as the sort of the ideological drive us to allow corporations and allow free markets to you know essentially govern itself. you know it's a great question so if you go back to the publication of science spring in 1982 that really alerted the world including americans to the problem of pollution with pesticides and it gave rise to a flurry of environmental regulations the united states from 1960 at the national environmental policy act through superfund act in the late 1970 s. we got the endangered species act the clean water act the clean air act the safe drinking water act and so on the creation of environmental protection agency 972 and so we have this period of time i would say from 196-8176 where we had
a bipartisan effort to solve these problems in the united states that produced the landmark environmental legislation that we have here and the reason that's globally important is those laws those acts became the model for other countries around the world so that was a terrific achievement unfortunately united states beginning with the presidency of ronald reagan the environment became politicized and the republican party started attacking all these regulations that promote public health and environment while the democrats were defending them we're still stuck in that fight in the united states where the country's kind of split in half between people trying to get rid of these regulations and people trying to promote them nevertheless i would say that the environmental regulations the united states as deeply flawed as they are because again you mention and i agree that consumers have to prove things are toxic rather than companies having to prove that chemicals are safe before they can put them on the market i think the only part of the world that's done it better is the european union so really the whole world has
a deeply flawed environmental regulatory framework we all need to switch to a model where companies have to prove safety before chemicals can be marketed rather than beat them being released in the environment by billions of kilograms a year for decades before we can get them off the market i think this way i'm going to. point to segway add to what it's called and i can pandemic because it will i think very elegant play show that the ira. potato famine and many other large scale disasters pandemics for. in a way matter man made in a sound that the structure of society and the commercial and agricultural practices of the town were set up in a way to make those pandemics or this famine with a lot tickle consequence i wonder if we can say the same thing about all that 19 that it's this not just a perfect storm but in a way that it is a result of the way our societies our commercial practices trade our regulation
structured and citrus no question if you go back to the irish potato famine if you tried to engineer that famine you probably couldn't kill more people than were killed even though it was an engineer it was the way that the british had set up the our society made it so that it was going to happen you had over 90 percent of the population relying on a monoculture of potatoes living at the margins of existence and all you needed was a pathogen to come through in this case of water mold that destroyed the potato crop and we had over a 1000000 irish die and over a 1000000 irish immigrate from ireland and yes you could predict the exact same thing that's going on now in fact many scientists have going back decades because we were chewing into the environment all over the world going into rainforest going into how the tab we haven't used before people are eating bush meat they're introducing zone out of diseases into the human population and then we have these modern transportation routes where once it's in people it's going to spread around
the world almost instantaneously met certainly what happened with coded it's most likely from the bush me trade to people eating bats or the wildlife infected by bats in china and then those people get on an airplane they get on a ship and they spread it around the world and by the time we realize what's going on it's already everywhere so yes i think it could be easily anticipated i think we can say is going to happen again and it's going to keep happening with the way that we do this it's. it's kind of inevitable frank i fortunately we have to leave it there but it's been a fascinating discussion i'm very grateful to you for having some time to discuss your book thank you son i really appreciate it and thank you for watching hope to syria again next week on the walls a part of. the
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