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  • Richard Conniff

  • Reviews for Richard Conniff’s Books

    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Posts Tagged ‘mosquito control’

No, Rachel Carson Was Not a Mass Murderer

Posted by Richard Conniff on September 10, 2015

My latest for Yale Environment 360:

Any time a writer mentions Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring or the subsequent U.S. ban on DDT, the loonies come out of the woodwork. They blame Carson’s book for ending the use of DDT as a mosquito-killing pesticide. And because mosquitoes transmit malaria, that supposedly makes her culpable for just about every malaria death of the past half century.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank, devotes an entire website to the notion that “Rachel was wrong,” asserting that “millions of people around the world suffer the painful and often deadly effects of malaria because one person sounded a false alarm.” Likewise former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn has declared that “millions of people, particularly children under five, died because governments bought into Carson’s junk science claims about DDT.” The novelist Michael Crichton even had one of his fictional characters assert that “Banning DDT killed more people than Hitler.” He put the death toll at 50 million.

Carson-w-book-1-340It’s worth considering the many errors in this argument both because malaria remains an epidemic problem in much of the developing world and also because groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, backed by corporate interests, have latched onto DDT as a case study for undermining all environmental regulation.

The first thing worth remembering is that it wasn’t Rachel Carson who banned DDT. It was the very Republican Nixon Administration, in 1972. Moreover, the ban applied only in the United States, and even there it made an exception for public health uses. The ban was intended to prevent the imminent extinction of ospreys, peregrine falcons, and bald eagles, our national bird, among other species; they were vulnerable because DDT caused a fatal thinning of eggshells, which collapsed under the weight of the parent incubating them. But the ban did nothing to stop Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues, Fear & Courage | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Next Big Thing #6: Disarming The Enemy

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 27, 2013

In 2010, mosquito-borne malaria made 210 million people sick. Of these, about 660,000 died, most of them small children in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Dengue fever, another disease spread by mosquitoes, is almost as devastating. It afflicts up to 100 million people each year and now threatens to advance into the U.S. Standing in the path of both diseases is a Michigan State University microbiologist named Zhiyong Xi and a bacterium named Wolbachia. Wolbachia is present in about 28 percent of all mosquito species—but not the ones that transmit dengue or malaria. But Xi has figured out how to establish a heritable Wolbachia population in these species and has demonstrated that it prevents these mosquitoes from transmitting dengue fever or malaria.

For anyone who has been driven mad by mosquitoes, the old approach of killing as many as possible had obvious emotional appeal. But it was often environmentally disastrous, most notoriously with the broadcast application of the pesticide DDT. Xi believes the strategy of merely disarming mosquitoes could be safer while also giving public health officials a new tool to use in tandem with existing methods. Insecticide-treated bed netting, for instance, might still be the best protection from some night-biting mosquitoes. But Wolbachia could become the weapon of choice to neutralize the more challenging day-biters.

Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »