Environmentalists claim the moral high ground: their interests are in preserving our precious planet, protecting defenseless animals, ensuring our children have clean water to drink and air to breathe. Yet environmentalists’ policies have been a much more mixed bag in terms of their actual consequences. Indisputably, many regulations and initiatives have reduced pollution and improved air and water quality, to the benefit of everyone. But other environmental efforts have backfired, some with truly disastrous consequences.

Consider what’s happened with dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT. The pesticide came into use during World War II and helped eliminate malaria in the United States. The chemist who discovered DDT’s efficacy was even given a Nobel Prize. However in 1962, environmentalist Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring which hypothesized that the chemical was causing cancer and destroying wildlife. In 1972, DDT was banned in the U.S. and ultimately worldwide.

As a result of the ban, malaria remained a plague in many poor countries, particularly in Africa. As of 2006, malaria was the biggest killer in Uganda, accounting for more than one in five deaths in the country’s hospitals and killing more than 100,000 children under 5 years old annually. At that time, Uganda announced that it would begin using DDT indoors despite threats from the European Union that such a move could lead to a ban on certain agricultural imports.

Fortunately, in September 2006, the World Health Organization announced a change in policy: It now recommends DDT for indoor use to fight malaria. The organization’s Dr. Anarfi Asamoa-Baahexplained, “The scientific and programmatic evidence clearly supports this reassessment. Indoor residual spraying (IRS) is useful to quickly reduce the number of infections caused by malaria-carrying mosquitoes. IRS has proven to be just as cost effective as other malaria prevention measures and DDT presents no health risk when used properly.”

So during the decades in which DDT was not used, when the world bowed to undoubtedly well-intentioned environmental activists, about 50 million people-overwhelmingly African children-died, mostly unnecessarily…

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