A few doomsday predictions from the first Earth Day that never quite materialized

Yesterday was Earth Day, so I hoped you hugged a tree or kissed a marmoset, or something.

But way back in 1970, when the first Earth Day was celebrated, several prominent scientists made a bevy of predictions about the near future that make us wonder what it was they were smoking.

Mark Perry of AEI compiled a nice little list of predictions made around the first Earth Day that are cringe-worthy for the predictor and hysterically funny for the rest of us.

Here are a few of the 18 that Perry dug up:

4. “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” Paul Ehrlich confidently declared in the April 1970 Mademoiselle. “The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”

5. “Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born,” wrote Paul Ehrlich in a 1969 essay titled “Eco-Catastrophe! “By…[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.”

6. Ehrlich sketched out his most alarmist scenario for the 1970 Earth Day issue of The Progressive, assuring readers that between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the “Great Die-Off.”

7. “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” declared Denis Hayes, the chief organizer for Earth Day, in the Spring 1970 issue of The Living Wilderness.

8. Peter Gunter, a North Texas State University professor, wrote in 1970, “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 and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”

9. In January 1970, Life reported, “Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….”

And no list of idiotic predictions from that time period would be complete without a nod to those who believed that the #1 problem facing humanity was global cooling:

18. Kenneth Watt warned about a pending Ice Age in a speech. “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years,” he declared. “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.”

Perry says to keep these predictions in mind when examining what's on the Earth Day website today:

Scientists warn us that climate change could accelerate beyond our control, threatening our survival and everything we love. We call on you to keep global temperature rise under the unacceptably dangerous level of 2 degrees C, by phasing out carbon pollution to zero. To achieve this, you must urgently forge realistic global, national and local agreements, to rapidly shift our societies and economies to 100% clean energy by 2050. Do this fairly, with support to the most vulnerable among us. Our world is worth saving and now is our moment to act. But to change everything, we need everyone. Join us.

These "predictions" remind us to be skeptical of all doomsday scenarios.  As we've seen over the last 45 years, the planet is a lot hardier, and people are a lot more clever, than some scientists said back in the day.  After all, planet Earth has absorbed some tremendous blows from space over the last couple of hundred million years, so that says something about Earth's resiliency.  And human beings got to be the dominant species on the planet because of our extraordinary ability to adapt to changing conditions. 

India and China are now mostly self-sufficient in food production.  Famines, while still a problem, are all the result of politics, not a failure of agriculture or "climate change."  The Clean Air and Water Acts – while oppressive in some respects – nevertheless forced us to confront air and water pollution head-on, and as a result, we live in a cleaner, safer country today.

The one thing all those "scientists" have in common is a lack of belief in human ingenuity.  Whether you believe that climate change is real or not, you have to acknowledge that in the past, humans were able to successfully adapt to change and that throwing in the towel by advocating draconian solutions that would actually stifle creativity in addressing our problems reveals a shortsightedness bordering on myopia. 

Human resourcefullness, when unleashed, is an awesome thing to behold.  Global warming scientists should keep that in mind when it's time to make their next set of hysterical predictions about climate doomsday.

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