I wish to address the flawed and inconsistent arguments in Todd Hambleton’s column on pesticides on March 27th. The flawed logic of his presentation forces us to reject his position.
On one hand, he is concerned with encroaching government and the propensity for banning things. Then he applauds Health Canada and the Environmental Protection Agency in the US for putting pesticide products through rigourous tests. One can either appreciate government involvement or reject it completely, but one cannot selectively applaud it and condemn it when the results suite one’s position. If the government has the authority and duty to review pesticides for approval, then it must also review them for possible withdrawal.
I agree that we do not want governments intruding in our lives. But that position applies to matters within the scope of individuals. On the contrary, pesticides affect everyone, every thing, every where. 69% of people who do not use pesticides still have pesticide residues in the carpets in their homes. The effects of pesticides are not limited to the person making the decision to use them, just like smoking, speeding, and drunk driving affect people around us. Therefore, the government and civil society have a duty to protect the many from the potentially harmful actions of the few.
Mr Hambleton also has incoherent views on the competence of scientists. On one hand, he ridicules scientists who link pesticides with health problems. Then in the same breath, he cites the apparent volume of science that discounts any such links. Are the scientists competent or not? We cannot both condemn and use science in the same argument without explanation or context.
If Mr Hambleton had attended the presentation in Ingleside last week, he would have learned about important new scientific discoveries, which could not have been foreseen when pesticides were first approved. Science has this habit of making erroneous predictions without sufficient evidence and then later learning and regretting from experience. We can draw a long list of such cases: PCBs in transformers, asbestos in insulation, lead in gasoline, to name just a few.
At the presentation, he would also have learned that science is not exact as our world in complex; science is about observations, learning, and probabilities. Therefore, we cannot simply accept pesticides merely by the absence of the smoking gun. Contemporary science is now learning about the long term cumulative and indirect effects of pesticides.
Thirdly, he would have learned that the question is not strictly about the danger of pesticides. The question is more about the risk-benefit analysis. Dangerous pesticides can still be valuable in cases of deadly infestations where the benefit clearly outweighs the risk. However, the cosmetic use of pesticides on lawns fails to produce significant benefits versus the known risks. At best, lawn pesticides may offer private benefits for the lawn owner, but that cannot outweigh the many public risks.
If a newspaper column is to be reputable, then the presentation must at least be reliable and coherent.