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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, March 2, 2024

PestWorld Boston 2022: Could this be the “pest” time of your life?

Bottle_of_Paraquat_as_pesticide_at_Changhua_20110829
A bottle of pesticides is pictured.

Where can you find an opening ceremony led by the Boston Police Gaelic Column of Pipes and Drums, a speech by Seinfeld star John O’Hurley, and a 5K run that donates 20% of its earnings to Comfort Zone Camp? You guessed it — PestWorld Boston 2022! It was love at first sight; I knew this was the perfect convention for a casual pesticide enjoyer like myself. However, apart from the $600 entrance fee, there is one condition holding me back: Is it ethical to attend PestWorld Boston 2022?

It's no surprise that attending a convention sponsored by pesticide companies implies supporting pesticides themselves, meaning we have to first decide on the impact of pesticides to determine the moral value of attending PestWorld. 

Something people often forget about pests is that they are not intentionally causing harm. Although it is obvious that they don’t share the same cognitive abilities that we do, we can examine the idea that pests are unaware of their impact by turning to the old Socratic adage: “No one does wrong intentionally.”

To illustrate this within the animal kingdom, we can observe the behaviors of Australia’s brown falcon. Part of a notorious group of birds now coined “firehawks,” these predators live up to their name by deliberately spreading forest fires — via dropping burning sticks onto dry grass — with the goal of forcing their prey to flee from cover. Are these “firehawks” committing injustice? Well yes, but not intentionally. While their injustice brings them short-term gain, it will ultimately bring them long-term pain. Simply put, they are too ignorant to understand the implications of their actions. The essential logic is similar for pests’ actions: Whether it be ants who damage the structural integrity of your dorm’s wooden foundation, bees whose hives wear down your walls and insulation or wasps who tunnel into the beams of your house, the injustice caused upon you is not voluntary or intentional.

Though the immediate inclination to seek help from pesticide companies looks tempting, I prod you to turn again to Socrates. He once said, “If I corrupt [the youth] unwillingly, the law does not require you to bring people to court for such unwilling wrongdoings, but to get hold of them privately, to instruct them and exhort them.” Socrates believes rather than punishing injustice, we should instruct the guilty with better judgment. Despite how desperate I am to educate domestic pests on justice, this is currently infeasible. However, there are plenty of alternative ways to remove pest infestations from your living space while avoiding complete annihilation. 

Furthermore, using pesticides, whether agriculturally or domestically, is an injustice in itself. By using excessive pesticides, we are committing an injustice to our bodies. The risks of pesticide exposure vary widely from headaches and dizziness to disruption of hormonal balances necessary for proper functioning. 

On a broader scale, low-income families are more likely to live near pesticide manufacturing facilities that violate environmental acts such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. Constant exposure to the chemicals resulting from pesticide production enhances the bodily damages brought upon by pesticides. On a global scale, the United States still allows for banned pesticides within its borders to be exported beyond its borders. Nearly 80% are sent to low- to middle-income countries; annually, 72% of those countries are estimated to have over 30% of their workforce harmed by pesticides. 

I often find myself caught in the crossroad between the implications of justice and my choices. As a fan of Gaelic music and Mr. O’Hurley, the allure of PestWorld beckons me to bring out my wallet to pay that $600. But I, and you too, should always remember to consider, no matter how absurd, the justice of our actions and the moral implications of where we spend our time and money. Let’s hope that before we take action, a gadfly comes by, stinging us into an internal Socratic dialogue on the morality of what we are about to undertake.