DDT, tobacco and the parallel universe

The piles of documents released as a result of litigation against Phillip Morris and Exxon are gifts that keep on giving for those of us interested in the process by which the Republican parallel universe has been constructed. Previous research has shown that the core proponents of global warming delusionism including Stephen Milloy, Fred Singer and Fred Seitz got their start as shills for PM, denying the risks of passive smoking. A string of rightwing thinktanks including Cato, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute helped to promote these hacks and the lies they were paid to peddle.

Now it’s turned out that one of the hardiest of parallel universe beliefs, the claim that Rachel Carson and the US ban on DDT were responsible for millions of deaths in the third world, arises from the same source.

One of the great puzzles of the DDT myth has been that it appeared to arise from pure ideological animus against Carson and the environmental movement – DDT is not patented so there were no profits to be obtained from pushing it. It turns out that the DDT campaign was pitched to the tobacco industry as a diversionary attack on the World Health Organization which was playing a leading role in campaigns against smoking. The leading figure in the exercise was Roger Bate of the American Enterprise Institute and its front organization, Africa Fighting Malaria.

So, far from helping to save lives, the bloggers and commentators who’ve pushed the myth of the DDT ban have been the (presumably unwitting) dupes of an industry even deadlier than malaria (CDC estimates that tobacco kills 5 million people a year compared to 1 to 3 million for malaria.

Update WHO hits back on passive smoking. Having neutralised the DDT issue with a greatly overstated change of policy not long ago, it looks as if they are back on the attack
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Gittins on the Water Plan

Ross Gittins says of the government’s $10 billion National Plan for Water Security “They don’t want to fix problems, just be seen trying“. As has become abundantly clear from Channel 7’s FOI exercise, the whole thing was cooked up in a week or so, with the aim of countering a co-operative initiative launched by Kevin Rudd. Once it was out, the problem was that the only policy that would have any real effect, buying back water rights, was vetoed by the Nationals. So, in the Budget, the whole Plan was kicked into touch until 2008-09, by which time the election would be safely out of the way.

I had an initial assessment here, when there still seemed to be some chance the Plan would work, and an evaluation more similar to Gittins not long ago.

I have been very disappointed in Turnbull’s performance on this issue. He obviously knows what needs to be done, and if anyone had the capacity to ride roughshod over the Nats, I would have thought he did. I can only conclude that, having been put into the job by Howard, he has had no backing and has been, in effect, set up to fail.

(Thanks to Tim Coelli for pointing me to this piece).

Opportunity cost

With yet another publicly-funded round of Liberal Party advertising looming, this time on climate change, I’ve been thinking about how other parties ought to respond to this. One way is to point out what the money could have bought instead. With 150 electorates, each $1.5 million spent on advertising is $10 000 per electorate. So, the $60 million or so spent advertising WorkChoices (or whatever it’s going to be called now) amounts to about $400 000 per electorate, enough to employ 8-10 primary school teachers or police officers. I’m sure there are plenty of particular local projects that could be pointed out as foregone opportunities. For example, the money to be spent justifying the government’s inaction on climate change could have paid for thousands of tree plantings in every electorate.

Climate change roundup

There’s so much happening on climate change that it’s hard to keep up, but I’ll try and note some points down, as much for the record as anything else. I’ll update this roundup with more as I get time.

* There was talk in the Oz last week of a Sydney declaration of a regional emissions trading agreement, to emerge (very conveniently timed) from the APEC meeting in September. Now the idea is dead, reflecting the same Bush Administration intransigence on display in the leadup to the G8 meetings. Howard is discovering, like Tony Blair, that loyalty to Bush is its own reward.

* Also in the Oz, Alan Oxley doesn’t know the difference between levels and growth rates.

* And, yet again in the Oz, a classic example of the fallacy of composition (unless its a particularly egregious case of special pleading). To be fair, the author finally gets around to the point that we have to do something even if our role is a relatively small one. Although it’s not strictly relevant, Australia’s share of international emissions is about the same as that of the UK or France (even though they have larger populations).

Phantom aid and worse

The SMH has a story showing how the government has used tricky accounting devices to claim an increase in foreign aid, when genuine aid is nowhere near meeting the government’s announced targets. The biggest spurious claim was a write-off of $600 million debt owed by Iraq as a result of wheat deals made in 1990. I actually worked on an assessment of these deals shortly after this, and it was obvious that the whole thing was just a disguised subsidy to Australian wheatgrowers, who were effectively getting free insurance to cover the well-known risk that Saddam wouldn’t pay. The idea that this constituted development assistance is just silly. Equally bad are payments to Nauru for its part in the ‘Pacific Solution’. Effectively this affair should count as a reduction in foreign aid, since we have exploited the dependent position of Nauru and other neighbours to force them to provide prison camp services to us.

An even larger negative is the $300 million paid to Saddam Hussein by AWB, with (at least) the tacit encouragement of the Australian government. This wasn’t Australian money paid as a bribe. It was Iraqi money, stolen by Saddam and AWB acting in collaboration. It should count as negative aid.