Phony Fear-Mongering and Environmentalist Excess

Keystone pipeline protestNo one is listening to the howling chorus of dire warnings about climate change. Lots of environmentalists find that very frustrating, but we have heard more than enough about climate change.

Environmentalists have been issuing dire warnings about looming catastrophe since some time before the first Earth Day in 1970.  And they have consistently been wrong.

In last weeks post I expressed some surprise that the politicians Time highlighted under their “Environment” heading in 1970 were all Republicans. At the same time, as far as I have been able to find, all of the people most active in writing about environmental issues came from the far left wing of the political spectrum.

Today’s far left wing environmentalists may have forgotten the abject failure of the predictions made 45 years ago. Or perhaps they’re only hoping the public doesn’t remember.  But many of us do. And finding written evidence requires only a trip to the library.

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Overpopulation and famine

CrowdThe biggest single issue that got environmental activists into a lather was rampant population growth. Paul Ehrlich, author of the best-seller The Population Bomb, also wrote numerous magazine articles and appeared frequently on the lecture circuit. Here are some of his predictions:

From . “Ecological Destruction Is a Condition of American Life”

So aside from unbreathable air, filthy water, the disappearance of whole species of animals, and a variety of poisons all around us, mankind is also headed for vast famines. Make no mistake about it. (p. 189)

From “People Pollution”

In our desperate attempts to maintain such a bloated population, we will inevitably do further damage to our environment. Just as inevitably, the human population will complete its outbreak-crash cycle. We’ve had most of the outbreak—what remains in mainly the crash. For when a biological population outstrips its resources, it inevitably declines rapidly to a very low level—or to extinction. This normally occurs through a dramatic increase in the death rate

But the human population has some choice left—it can decrease its size either through a rise in the death rate, or through a drop in the birth rate, or some combination of the two. Some increase in the death rate seems unavoidable. (p. 5)

The most egregiously bad prediction, however, came from Peter A. Gunther, who was completing his first year in the faculty of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas).

Figuring conservatively, by the year 2000 the world’s population will have more than doubled from 3.5 billion persons to 7.2 billion. By the year 2070, one hundred years from now, every square foot of the earth’s surface, deserts, rivers, mountains, even oceans, will be built over—just to secure housing space for the planet’s twenty to thirty billion people. (p. 4)

A little later, on the same column of the same page, he wrote

Long before the sheer need for space outstrips the capacity of the earth to continue to support additional life, world population will outrun food supplies. Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China, the Near East, and Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions.

Didn’t he stop to think about the sheer impossibility of both predictions occurring? How could the population double in 30 years while most of the entire world would have been in famine during most of that time?

The only way to account for such drivel appearing in print is editorial irresponsibility, probably in combination of excessive awe of the author’s academic credentials.

Gunter hedged another wild prediction writing, “if present trends continue.” But that’s the whole problem with all of the predictions of looming disaster. Present trends never continue!

The mistaken notion that somehow they will has driven the rhetoric of overpopulation for centuries. Thomas Malthus was wrong in 1798. Ehrlich, Gunter, and many others were wrong in 1970.

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The coming ice age

AntarcticaOverpopulation and famine have disappeared from the shrill warnings of looming catastrophe, but the leading speakers and writers of the day made another mistake that’s directly related to why the majority of Americans pay no attention to climate change rhetoric.

Al Gore deliberately picked one of the hottest days of summer to announce his crusade against global warming. The climate is not at all the same thing as the weather—a fact that is all too conveniently forgotten by people on both sides of the argument.

But global warming wasn’t the issue in 1970. Everyone warned of the coming new ice age.

Here are some more excerpts from Ehrlich’s “People Pollution.” After describing green house gasses and the resulting warming, he wrote,

. . . the details of the generation of weather are complex and poorly understood. It is possible that an overall rise in temperature of a few degrees could produce a much colder climate in many localities, caused by changes in the speed or direction of circulation bringing more cold air from polar regions. (pp. 7-8)

And later on p. 8 of the same article

Man’s activities and construction also have significant local effects on weather, but it is his influence on large-scale climatic change that is of greatest concern, for there can be little doubt that such change has been accelerated on a global basis with almost complete disregard for possible consequences. Some of the changes which have been predicted would be cataclysmic—slippage of the Antarctic ice cap, causing tidal waves which would wipe out most of humanity; or the sudden onset of a new ice age.

Ehrlich was not alone. Unfortunately, I have been unable to trace some of the other predictions I have read about. One web site—which offers as a source only another very poorly documented website—quotes Kenneth Watt, identified there only as an ecologist. The quotation might be from his speech at the Swarthmore College teach-in, but I haven’t been able to locate the text.

The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.

Note once again the phrase, “if present trends continue.” Climate has been changing either slowly or rapidly for much longer than the human race has existed.

There is no question that our modern industrial lifestyle has affected both the weather and the climate. The notion that only modern industrial lifestyle affects climate is absurd.

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Attacks on mainstream society

The loudest voices making proclaiming that notion often seem to favor a radical, government-mandated redistribution of wealth. If a history of bad predictions weren’t enough reason why climate change rhetoric doesn’t resonate, the mindless attacks on the profit provide another.

But that, too, is leftover from 1970s environmental rhetoric. The population alarmists favored anything that would lead to a decrease in the American population (as well as everywhere else).

As much as many authors appealed to democracy, perhaps assuming from all the various protest movements that the general pubic was against the government, some of them couldn’t have cared less what the public thought.

Most chilling, here is an observation by Luther Gerlach in his review of two books, Ecotactics: The Sierra Club Handbook for Environmental Activists and The Environmental Handbook.

For instance, Garrett Hardin argues that man will not be motivated to decrease environmental despoliation simply by appealing to his conscience or warning him of impending disaster . . . Hardin explains that instead man must be coerced by official restrictions if he is to be restrained from exploiting his environment to its death” – p. 72

I wonder if that sentiment doesn’t still reside in some advocates “progressive” politics, with its use of courts to force unwanted policy changes and hateful rhetoric to demonize anyone who doesn’t go along. 

We have plenty of unsolved environmental problems left over from the 1970s. We probably have some new ones. The articles I found say surprisingly little about waste management, and the problems of the “sanitary” landfill were not yet apparent.

Maybe we’d make more progress on the environment if we didn’t also have plenty of empty fear mongering and other ideological excesses left over.

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Ehrlich, Paul. “Ecological Destruction Is a Condition of American Life” Madamoiselle (April 1970): 188+
Ehrlich, Paul. “People Pollution” Audubon 72 (May 1970): 4-9
Gabriel, Jon. 13 Worst Predictions Made on Earth Day, 1970
Gerlach, Luther P. “Eco-Gemini: Two for the Teach-In” Natural History 79 (May 1970): 71-75.
Gunter, Peter A. “Mental Inertia and Environmental Decay.” Living Wilderness 34 (Spring 1970): 3-7

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Photo credits:
Protest rally. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons. I couldn’t find usable pictures from 1970 on line, so the picture is a 2013 rally against the Keystone Pipeline in Washington,

Crowd. Some rights reserved by James Cridland. The best cartoons are not in public domain. This crowd leaving a concert looks about as packed as Gunter said the whole earth would be.

Snowy mountains. Some rights reserved by Eli Duke. That’s Antarctica, not the Appalachians.

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