HERESIARCH

A collection of other people's writing

Consider what happened in Borneo in the 1950’s. Many Dayak villagers had malaria, and the World Health Organization had a solution that was simple and direct. Spraying DDT seemed to work: Mosquitos died, and malaria declined. But then an expanding web of side effects (“consquences you didn’t think of,” quips biologist Garret Hardin, “the existence of which you will deny as long as possible”) started to appear. The roofs of people’s houses began to collapse, because the DDT had also killed tiny parasitic wasps that had previously controlled thatch-eating caterpillars. The colonial government issued sheet-metal replacement roofs, but people couldn’t sleep when tropical rains turned the tin roofs into drums. Meanwhile, the DDT-poisoned bugs were being eaten by geckoes, which were eaten by cats. The DDT invisibly built up in the food chain and began to kill the cats. Without the cats, the rats multiplied. The World Health Organization, threatened by potential outbreaks of typhus and sylvatic plague, which it had itself created, was obliged to parachute fourteen thousand live cats into Borneo. Thus occurred Operation Cat Drop, one of the odder missions of the British Royal Air Force.

Posted on October 1, 2008