February 28, 2010
We Are Doomed -- Again
Global warming is far from the first apocalyptic prediction, or even the first based on computer models. The belief that the world is coming to an end appears to be a universal concept based on an innate psychic need. All major religions -- Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism -- have a version of the end of the world. While the major religions' visions may be traced back to ancient Persia and Zoroastrian teachings, the Mayan and Hopi Indian visions of the end times are unlikely to have originated in the Middle East. While we still have religion-based suicidal groups (Heaven's Gate, the Branch Davidians, the Peoples Temple), these groups now have a competitor. In a secular society, we no longer put our faith in ancient revelations. The apparent psychic need for an apocalyptic myth may not have disappeared. The new apocalyptic visions are not based on revelation, but on "science."
In the 1960s, Paul Ehrlich's bestseller, The Population Bomb, predicted the end of civilization by 1983 as a result of overpopulation. Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies in the department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University and president of Stanford's Center for Conservation Biology, claimed that "the battle to feed all of humanity is over ... In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." He was the first to base his conclusions on computer modeling. In the 1970s, the Club of Rome predicted the depletion of many of our necessary resources, including the depletion of oil by 1992. Its report, "The Limits of Growth," sold 12 million copies.
During the Cold War, the West was gripped by the fear of a nuclear apocalypse celebrated (among others) by Jonathan Schell's The Fate of the Earth and the TV program "The Day After." "Thermonuclear education" became an important part of the school curriculum. Commentary magazine described this indoctrination as "gratuitous sadism." It elicited comments from young students such as, "Do you really think anyone will make it? If they do, will they want to? I pray I am lucky and die."
If famine or nuclear annihilation doesn't kill us, perhaps diseases will. In 1987, the New York Times headlined an article titled "AIDS May Dwarf the Plague." The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, told a congressional panel, "We could spend our energy on research and immunization and education and still not have any Americans left unless we're prepared to confront the crisis of AIDS." Oprah Winfrey announced that "one out of five heterosexuals will be dead of AIDS by 1990." The swine flu "pandemic" nearly devastated the tourist industry in Mexico. In October 2009, President Obama declared a state of national emergency because of the swine flu. It is quite possible that more people perish by falling in their bathtubs than have died of swine flu. So far, the president has not declared this a national emergency.
The crisis de jour is global warming. Much of the hysteria generated about global warming is the result of the research done by the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in Eastern England. It claims that the world's largest temperature data set and its work in mathematical models was incorporated into the IPCC's (United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Nobel Prize-winning 2007 report. Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, dismissed a report by the Indian government which said that glaciers might not be melting as fast as had been feared. Dr. Pachauri described the report as "voodoo science."
There are several problems with apocalyptic scenarios. For one, a genuine and avoidable crisis may be ignored due to crisis fatigue. Residents repeatedly told to evacuate because of oncoming hurricanes may become complacent in the face of a serious hurricane. Pathological science diminishes faith in genuine science. The world is full of swamis, faith healers, snake oil salesmen, and mountebanks. There are now thousands of professionals whose reputations are invested in maintaining the global warming hoax. Perhaps the most reprehensible characteristic of apocalypse-mongers is that they target children. According to Commentary magazine, thermonuclear education consituted "the most serious abuse of children."
The threat of global warming will eventually recede. The need for an apocalyptic vision, however, will not. The next threat will contain many of the characteristics of the global warming threat. It will predict the end of the world. It will be based on "scientific facts." It will require massive counseling for the psychological distress it will cause. It will require the creation of a massive bureaucracy. And it will require the transfer of massive amounts of money to the hypothesized victims of the future crisis.
John Dietrich is a freelance writer and the author of The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy (Algora Publishing).