tv Worlds Apart RT December 27, 2020 10:30am-11:01am EST
that science never sold a problem without creating 10 more fast forward 9 here east and da squeeze takes on the rather grim meaning considering that according to our guest today there is not a single uncontaminated square centimeter last on this planet healthy we need to point when science does more harm than good in progress it was still well to discuss that i'm now joined by a friend from hippo professor all so he could talk to colin to know than i was on a university and also off the comical age how can this 4th famine and disease killed millions and changed our relationship with the earth frank it's good to talk to thank you very much for your time and congratulations on your magnificent book your son i appreciate now i think your book provides for a very interesting read that 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 i'm much better than 3 to one 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 doomed if 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 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 anything 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 lives are the altimeter values on this planet and whatever is done to improve them is justified can really still afford to keep that assumption. well 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 a this is i think the main takeaway at least for me from your book that the more you focus on humans and the improvement of the human condition the more you add up hurting humans themselves is just works in the nonlinear way but it catches up with the us in our later. yeah i think a good example of that is with pesticides in agriculture because we in order to increase fields of crops we've been using industrialised levels of pesticides for really the last century and it's 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 harming the environment of or even herman our own ability to grow food through the industrialized practice of agriculture that anyone can give many examples of how scientists noble intentions to improve the human condition. backfired on that humans themselves and certainly on be other species we share this planet with which in your view is the most striking in terms of the shared gabbett me and then the ability of intentions in the sort of being done nation 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 outbreaks so i understand acid
have 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 hydrocyanic 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. you know and just turn it into pure evil now you know i'm a very big fan of issac asimov and he once said that this saddest thing about our time and he was speaking permanently about the 20th century is that science gathers no it's faster than society gathers wisdom do you see 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's 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 projects 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 look at the horrible things that have been happening with chemical weapons used in syria and elsewhere and these things shouldn't even exist much less be 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 when 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 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 weren't handle or
weren't paying attention to before for example when i reading your book that there are very high concentration of pesticides in pango and ag 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 questions 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 in my country in alaska and canada and northern europe that subsist on these long lived in 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. call it environmental jest as but i don't think i don't know if i have that strong enough term for that because i don't even see whether there is any recourse to 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 when kids develop mental i mean they're realities. can you imagine any way off how this could be addressed because it seems that this is just the way things are. well that's a good point so you know the problem was actually 1st discovered on baffin island in northeastern canada in the 1980 s. when scientists when fair to study the breast milk of the indigenous woman on baffin 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 woman who lived in industrialized there is of canada they found that the indigenous women on baffin 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 woman in 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 of the arctic like flame retardant chemicals and perfectly or awful substances a variety of other things so the problem's 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. this
is nothing like football. it's not a money spinner but it is expensive. mended some dangerous. tennis is on the speedway. and they have no brakes it's an. insult to the talent some will. join me every thursday on the alex salmond's show and i'll be speaking to guests of the world of politics sport this list i'm showbusiness i'll see that.
i'm. going back to worlds apart from him the author of the chemical age how come this far 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 is milk in the community is the growing cancer 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 that her book silent spring which she already mentioned by the way her wrist 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 to 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 was in such air. 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 brings 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 impacts
on not limited to they have targeted paths a much broader and in fact she wrote about the danger that they had for the for the bird species 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 or i was 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 a 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 passenger culture 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 they feel 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 talk a 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 to typhus outbreak in naples and was the 1st time in human history that that had been achieved and then after the war really beginning $145.00 just to write it 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. uses 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 where 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 the 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 would have
him go that point to segue ad to what's. called a banking 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 the sounds that the structure of society and commercial and agricultural practices of the town were set up in no way to make those pandemics or this famine with a lot of coal 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 outraged 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 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 cove it it's most likely from the bush me trade the 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 i fortunately have to leave it there but it's been a fascinating discussion i'm very grateful to you for having time to discuss your book son i really appreciate it and thank you for watching hope to syria again next week on worlds apart of.
americans of. this was a fundamental part of how our political leadership and our country a large understood the bargain you get a hope and then you know rebel right that's the things you don't revolt if you have a stake in the system. be really interesting to dial it back and think about the longer deeper history housings man in the united states not just that question of the american dream but the bigger question of who the dream is for. this is the kaiser report with stacy her special year in. die.
i must say. sensitivity to world events and markets see anywhere except. welcome back. in the stories that shape the way karan i see the developers of the russians put make the vaccine sign an official memorandum of cooperation with astra zeneca they hope that combining that vaccines will improve the efficacy. and you can take your strain of code that has been detected in england panic worldwide more than 40 countries now banning arrivals from the u.k. and clemency killers but known for whistleblowers dozens of pardons from donald trump who spilled the beans on american war crimes but doing plead. guilty of the mass murder.