Jim covered Congress and The White House during the George W. Bush administration for The Washington Times, and worked as a reporter, editorial writer and columnist for newspapers in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California. He has appeared on the Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, and many local and national talk radio shows to talk politics and policy.
Latest posts by Jim Lakely (see all)
I received the latest copy of Wired magazine last week, and the cover immediately caught my attention, in a big way. Wired often has some interesting articles on the technological cultural zeitgeist, but this cover was something different, and I knew we had come to a cultural turning point on the issue of environmental extremism; much like we had back in 1993 on the issue of the value of intact families when The Atlantic had a cover story declaring “Dan Quayle was Right.”
The title is highlighted by big white lettering that says, “APOCALYPSE NOT,” followed by,“Climate Collapse. Mass starvation. Deadly pandemics. Get a grip. Why the world won’t end in 2012 . . . or anytime soon.” Wow! Could this be it? I’ve lived through every supposedly inevitable environmental catastrophe known to man in the last four or five decades, and knew that every one of them was the hysterical hyperbole of anti-capitalist statists. Yet, people the world over have often been scared because of the pronouncements of so called “experts.”
The evidence against environmental extremists is literally 50 years long, with a trail of failed predictions that would make the Devil himself blush, but that doesn’t seem to keep the next predicted catastrophe from showing up on our doorstep, so-called “climate change” being only the latest and direst. I’m coming to see this as analogous to the failed social policies of modern liberalism over the same period. The “war on poverty” has not only not alleviated poverty, but as I argued here recently, contributed to and perpetuated intergenerational dysfunction in many of America’s inner cities. But so what; at least liberals care, right?
I think their record of failure on environmental predictions is even more difficult for them to explain away or ignore. A war on poverty is amorphous; even people who are technically poor still get food stamps and welfare checks, and they don’t end up in the street (as if these were the only options), but predicting massive starvation and untold millions of deaths by 1985? Well, that’s a bit harder to sweep under the rug. Not that the mainstream media haven’t tried mightily.
I could just quote the entire article, and it should be read by every child in American schools—heck every adult, too! Author Matt Ridley uses a clever device to categorize the many hysterical predictions over the years: he compares the allegedly approaching environmental apocalypse to the classic Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse found in the book of Revelation (that’s in the Bible). The four horsemen are as follows:
Under each heading he outlines a devastating (to the environmental extremists—are you listening, Al Gore?) critique of predictions and their utter failure to come true, and “utter” is actually cutting them some slack. Their predictions are not only wrong, they are grotesquely wrong; like getting in your car to head off to the local grocery store and ending up on Mars! That type of wrong. I’ll give an example or two under each of his horsemen.
1. Chemicals – DDT and other chemicals were said to cause cancer. The hype never matched the reality. Air pollution, according to a 1970 issue of Life magazine, was going to force urban dwellers to wear gas masks . . . within a decade! In the 1980s, acid rain was the scare de jure. The death of forests was predicted throughout Europe.
Ronald Reagan, you may remember, was a “denier,” which may sound familiar. In fact, just the opposite happened: those forests are healthier than ever. Soon this hysteria was replaced by the threat to the ozone layer caused by fluorocarbons, used in refrigerators and aerosol cans, reacting with sunlight. We were all going to burn up, or some such thing. Yet here we remain. Oops.
2. Disease – The predictions of pandemic have been like clockwork; the smartest people in the room know that one day, somehow, some way, some killer disease we can’t treat is going to wipe out huge swaths of the human race. We’re still waiting. In 1976 it was swine flu. A few years later, AIDS was discovered, and not only homosexuals but millions of heterosexuals too would look into the face of death. But maybe not. I quote Ridley on the next one:
The emergence of AIDS led to a theory that other viruses would spring from tropical rain forests to wreak revenge on humankind for its ecological sins.
Not long after AIDS, Ebola reared its ugly head, and we were advised to be afraid, be very afraid. But that didn’t work out. How about mad cow disease in the 1980s? Nope. SARS in 2003? Sorry. Bird flu in 2005? Hate to disappoint you. Again I quote Ridley to get at just how egregious are these failures of prediction were:
In 2005 it was bird flu, described at the time by a United Nations official as being “like a combination of global warming and HIV/AIDS 10 times faster than it’s running at the moment.” The World Health Organization’s official forecast was 2 million to 7.4 million dead. In fact, by late 2007, when the disease petered out, the death toll was roughly 200. In 2009 it was Mexican swine flu. WHO director general Margaret Chan said: “It really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic.” The outbreak proved to be a normal flu episode.
The truth is, a new global pandemic is growing less likely, not more.
Well maybe the third of the horsemen will have more luck.
3. People – The unfortunate truth for environmental doomsayers is that this one goes back a lot more than 50 years, all the way back to a demure English cleric who lived in the late 18th and early 19thcenturies, Thomas Malthus. In simple terms, Malthus argued that mother earth could not provide enough food for a growing population; eventually mass starvation would result as the population grew too much for the earth to handle it. World population in 1800? Around 900 million. Hey, you can’t get everything right.
Of course, the failure of Malthus’ predictions has had no effect on modern progressives, whose penchant for fantasy is unbounded. In 1966, Paul Ehrlich, whose career hasn’t been hurt at all by the obvious failure of his every prediction, stated in his book of that year, The Population Bomb, “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.” I seem to have missed this. And amazingly enough, just the opposite has happened. I quote Ridley again:
What actually happened was quite different. The death rate fell. Famine became rarer. The population growth rate was cut in half, thanks chiefly to the fact that as babies stop dying, people stop having so many of them. Over the past 50 years, worldwide food production per capita has risen, even as the global population has doubled. Indeed, so successful have farmers been at increasing production that food prices fell to record lows in the early 2000s and large parts of western Europe and North America have been reclaimed by forest. (A policy of turning some of the world’s grain into motor fuel has reversed some of that decline and driven prices back up.)
Meanwhile, family size continues to shrink on every continent. The world population will probably never double again, whereas it quadrupled in the 20th century. With improvements in seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, transport, and irrigation still spreading across Africa, the world may well feed 9 billion inhabitants in 2050—and from fewer acres than it now uses to feed 7 billion.
Not that the modern liberals would ever be confused by the facts. To many of them, mankind is a cancer on the earth, and there will always be too many people.
Finally, number four.
4. Resources – The end of oil and gas has been predicted for most of the 20th century, but doggone it, we keep finding more! I think this has something to do with human ingenuity, but the alarmists are great at denying this simple truth. The shale gas boom we are currently experiencing is only the latest example. Oil and gas were not the only resources that were supposed to disappear, but metals as well. One of the most instructive episodes in this sordid history of failure was Julian Simon’s wager with Paul Ehrlich in 1980 that five metals of their choice would be cheaper 10 years hence, thus proving they would be more abundant. I think you can guess that Ehrlich didn’t win.
Near the end of the article, Ridley asks an interesting and important question:
This raises a question that many find discomforting: With a track record like this, why should people accept the cataclysmic claims now being made about climate change?
“Discomforting”? I won’t even ask to whom, because that’s obvious, but why are some people so afraid of good news? With a track record like this, how can you not ask questions? Have not the environmental Chicken LIttles lost absolutely all credibility? Is this not the more apt question?
I make light of the failure of any of the predications of the apocalyptic environmental fear-mongers to come true, but this is serious business. These people are tried and true enemies of liberty; they are committed statists. They hate capitalism and detest everything that America stands for. And they will never stop, regardless of the accumulating mountain range of evidence that keeps contradicting their every assertion, as Ridley’s article makes abundantly clear.
The American people are not stupid; they can only be lied to and diverted from the evidence for so long. Most know that “climate change” hysteria is a crock, as public opinion surveys continually show. I think what the environmental apocalypse worshipers need is a continual stream of stinging mockery.
I have a suggestion: how about a full issue of The Onion dedicated to making them look as pathetic as they really are? I’ll give ‘em a call.