Myths, Lies and Straight Talk

According to media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner, population growth is "a time bomb waiting to happen." If it continues, at the current rate, according to Turner, "Eventually you stand around in a desert with nothing to eat." But that too is a myth. We see the pictures of starving masses in populous places, but the starvation is caused by things like civil war and government corruption that interfere with the distribution of food.

With more people, we also have more smart ideas. Every year we learn how to grow more food on less land. Thanks to improved technology, the United Nations now says the world overproduces food.

About 15,000 babies are born every hour. But they are not a burden, they offer more brains that might cure cancer, more hands to build things, more voices to bring us beautiful music.

MYTH #6 — Chemicals Are Killing Us

In America today, there's this myth that quietly, secretly, everywhere, chemicals are gradually poisoning us. Of course some chemicals, in high enough doses, do kill people.

Americans' fear of chemicals has caused us to obsess about everything from hair dye and dry cleaning to coffee and artificial sweeteners even though there's no proof that the small amounts of the chemicals in those products have harmed anyone.

Cancer deaths are actually declining in America. But our fear is contagious and sometimes deadly.

Health Minister Jim Muhwezi of Uganda points out that as many as 2 million to 3 million people may die because of DDT. But not because DDT is bad, but because Americans' fear of it has deprived much of the world of the DDT that could have saved them.

How did this happen? Well, 50 years ago, Americans sprayed tons of DDT everywhere. Farmers used it to repel bugs, and health officials used it to fight mosquitoes that carry malaria. Nobody worried much about chemicals then.

Today DDT is rarely used. America's demonization of it caused others to shun it. The U.S. government does spend your tax dollars fighting malaria in Africa, but it will not spend a penny on DDT.

The result has been a huge resurgence of malaria. More than 50 people million have died, mostly children.

"If it's DDT, it must be awful. And that's fine if you're a rich, white environmentalist," says Amir Attaran, a scientist leading a campaign urging the use of DDT to fight malaria. "It's not so fine if you're a poor black kid who's about to lose his life to malaria."

The United States fights malaria with drugs that the government's own Web site admits fail up to 80 percent of the time. But we will not use DDT, even though USAID acknowledges it's safe to use.

MYTH # 5 — Guns Are Always Bad for Us

America is notorious for its culture of gun violence. Guns sometimes do cause terrible harm, and many kids are killed every year in gun accidents. But public service announcements and news stories make it seem as if the accidents kill thousands of kids every year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, fewer than 100 kids 15 and under are killed in gun accidents every year. Of course that's horrible, and I understand why demonstrators say we need more gun control.

But guess what? The Centers for Disease Control recently completed a review of studies of various types of gun control: background checks, waiting periods, bans on certain guns and ammunition. It could not document that these rules have reduced violent crime.

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