Sometimes the people in charge think they know better than nature about how things should be done. Making changes can have disastrous results.
The Four Pests Campaign
Photo credit: US National Library of Medicine
It’s never a good idea to screw around with nature, even if you’re an all-powerful dictator. But Mao Zedong wasn’t exactly an expert when it came to conservation, so when he initiated the “Four Pests Campaign” in 1958, he thought he was saving China from all its ills and woes.
Much like Stalin over in the Soviet Union, Chairman Mao wanted to push China out of its agrarian past into a modern, 20th-century future. For example, he wanted to rid China of plague and pestilence, so he decided to eliminate four particularly irritating animals: mosquitoes, flies, rats, and sparrows. While the bugs and rats carried all sorts of diseases, the birds had a bad habit of raiding grain and rice farms. Chinese scientists crunched a few numbers and concluded that one single sparrow eats 4.5 kilograms (10 lb) of grain each year. So if you killed a million sparrows, that’s food for 60,000 hungry people.
Inspired by the “science,” Mao initiated the Great Sparrow Campaign. A massive propaganda machine churned out thousands of posters featuring bright-eyed children and dead sparrows. Workers built scarecrows and flags to scare the birds, and people marched through town, banging pots and pans to frighten the sparrows away.
Birds were poisoned, eggs were crushed, and special zones were set up where marksmen and women could pick off sparrows as they flew by. Some say hundreds of millions of birds died, while others put the number at one billion. Whatever the death toll, the Four Pests Campaign nearly drove sparrows in China to extinction. Then the locusts showed up.
When doing their calculations, those Chinese scientists forgot an important piece of information. Birds keep insects in check. If you remove sparrows from the equation, things get real biblical real fast, and in 1960, the bugs absolutely destroyed Chinese crops, forcing Mao to remove the sparrow from his Four Pests Campaign. (Our fine feathered friend was replaced with the bedbug.)
Though it wasn’t the only factor involved, the Sparrow Campaign certainly played a key part in bringing about the Great Chinese Famine. The famine lasted four long years, and by the time it was over, approximately 30 million people were dead.
You would think that after all this time, we would finally start to get the message. However, mankind can be his own worst enemy, it seems. I wonder how many more times nature will kick us in the butt before we finallyt start to get the message?
Coffee out on the patio, even though it's hot already.