NATURE WARS by Mark L. Winston


People vs. Pests
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 Call it a long shot, a miracle even, but Winston (The Biology of the Honey Bee, not reviewed) manages to shape the art and science of pest management into a fascinating subject. Pests eat our homes and crops and clothes, they transmit disease, they plague our skin, hair, and digestive tracts. They have bugged us from day one: The ancient Syrians exorcised scorpions from Antioch, Sumerians deployed elemental sulphur to control mites, and the Romans drained swamps to oust mosquitoes and their ilk. Today chemicals--pesticides, herbicides, fungicides--rule in humankind's ``modern war against nature,'' in which insects are a prime enemy. And, Winston asserts, ``it is time to reconsider the terms of engagement.'' Why? Because chemicals attack a pest's nervous system, which (unfortunately) resembles our own rather closely. The consequences: The author cites one million cases, worldwide, of human pesticide poisoning annually (and 20,000 fatalities among those). Moreover, pest resistance to chemicals is growing even as the chemicals continue to decimate natural predator populations essential to the earth's balance. Winston suggests various remedies for our faulty attitudes and strategies. He challenges and critiques our assumptions about pests, too: Does that single cockroach scuttling around the kitchen really demand an application of Malathion, or does our paranoia deserve some doctoring? As alternatives to dangerous chemical weapons, he proposes biologically based programs that consider (and benignly maneuver) the facts of insect ecology and behavior: sterile insect release, pheromone spraying, and genetic engineering. Winston recommends that chemical pesticides can be used, but only as a last resort; that pest management should indeed manage--but not eradicate- -pests; and that perhaps only the most damaging pests should be managed at all. Like a new Rachel Carson for the new millennium, Winston delivers a nontoxic dose of much-needed common sense.

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1997
ISBN: 0-674-60541-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1997


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