Since 2015, with many others, I have been part of the West Chester PA activist group Don’t Spray Me, whose immediate purpose is to cut down on both mosquitoes and the pesticides sprayed to kill them.
The Don’t Spray Me effort is not “just” about mosquitoes and even not “just” about pesticides.
The short version is that if we, as individuals, organizations, and municipalities, can prevent mosquitoes from breeding in standing water, then we won’t be threatened with toxic air-borne spraying that has less lasting negative impact on mosquito populations than on many other vulnerable species, including but not limited to hypersensitive humans, beneficial insects like bees, and some other species.
Many things we believe in are under assault today. Americans have become very skeptical of trusting the status quo, and we rightly worry what could happen next if we aren’t vigilant.
When I have the mosquito conversation with anyone who grew up in the 1950s and 60s, they usually recall being exposed to DDT in their neighborhoods, when that chemical was being sprayed liberally in a futile attempt to save elm trees from Dutch Elm Disease. Many of us recall basking in the cooling DDT mist as it drifted down from the treetops.
What the long-term health effects have been, no one can pin down; but our history is full of horrendous examples like the damage done in the same years by the defoliant Agent Orange not only on its Vietnamese targets but on our own armed forces and their subsequent children.
Like much of what Americans instinctively support, the Don’t Spray Me effort, when we reflect about it, is grounded in some very basic principles of our society:
1) Citizens have the right and the duty to stand up against unwarranted outside intervention in their lives, including threats against their health and environment;
2) Science speaks truth about the environment and a lot more; people need to listen to science and be educated to trust it.
The big issues of our time are there: education, science, environment, individual and community rights, human health, and ultimately democracy.
In West Chester we are fortunate to be able to rely on our Community’ Environmental Bill of Rights, which in 2015 added environmental protections to our Home Rule Charter, but other communities can push ahead too in drawing the clear conclusions of the above principles.
See, for example, the local resistance movement against the proposed gas pipeline to run just north and east of West Chester.
In the past few months, it has become clearer than ever that if citizens acting together don’t stand up for their rights, no one else will.
How do we know that we have environmental rights? It’s not just West Chester that says so, it’s also the Pennsylvania state constitution:
Natural Resources and the Public Estate
“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”
It’s pretty clear that if someone is spraying pesticides into our neighborhoods, and if chemicals from any source are washing into our watersheds, we (and all the other species) aren’t enjoying clean air and pure water.
And does government really need to listen to the people in our state? Again, the Pennsylvania constitution decrees so:
All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety and happiness. For the advancement of these ends they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper.”
Mosquito larvae, like mosquito eggs and pupae, are unaffected by airborne pesticides, which kill only something like 80% of all adult mosquitoes within range (along with a lot of beneficial insects).