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Wild Green Alarmism Then and Now


Congratulations on making it to Earth Day 2013! This is quite an achievement, given that the greens of the 1970s predicted we would all be living in a post-apocalyptic world of environmental despoliation, à la Soylent Green—that is, if we were living at all.

Washington Policy Center once collected some of the choicest predictions from the decade in which Earth Day was first inaugurated:

“…civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind,” biologist George Wald, Harvard University, April 19, 1970.

By 1995, “…somewhere between 75 and 85 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.” Sen. Gaylord Nelson, quoting Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, Look magazine, April 1970.

Because of increased dust, cloud cover and water vapor “…the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born,” Newsweek magazine, January 26, 1970.

The world will be “…eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age,” Kenneth Watt, speaking at Swarthmore University, April 19, 1970 […]

“It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes, The Living Wilderness, Spring 1970.

“By the year 2000…the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America and Australia, will be in famine,” Peter Gunter, North Texas State University, The Living Wilderness, Spring 1970.

Surely the failure of these early predictions has inspired today’s greens to take a more humble approach to environmental futurology. Surely it tempered their enthusiasm for doom and gloom, and taught them that climate is a complex phenomenon that is hard to understand and harder to predict:

“We didn’t know how fast or how hard this would pinch,” McKibben said of what was predicted for climate change 23 years ago. “The story of the past 20 years and even the last three or four years is that it is pinching much harder and faster than even the most dire predictions” would have indicated.

Okay, maybe not.

Of course, today’s green Nostradamuses will argue that, this time is different. Their predecessors may have gotten it wrong, but now we really are headed for diaster. It reminds us of the ploy some millenarian sects use to cope with the world’s stubborn refusal to end on schedule: the last prediction was wrong, but we’ve got it right this time.

Forgive us if we’re skeptical.

[Earth image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Andrew Allison

    Some commentary on the deluge of alarmist news since it became clear that temperature peaked in 1997. The simple fact is that nobody knows where it goes from here, but the panic among the alarmists is palpable.
    “The story of the past 20 years and even the last three or four years is that it is pinching much harder and faster than even the most dire predictions” would have indicated.” is, quite simply, false.

  • Marty Keller

    Humility is not a human trait.

  • Kavanna

    In the most recent warming trend (since the late 70s), yes: temperatures rose the most in the 80s, peaked some time in the 90s, and have been falling since.

    Over the last 150 years, the warmest period was probably 1910-1940, roughly, the Dust Bowl era. This is just from looking at common trends and doesn’t require one of those bogus spatial temperature averages that mean nothing.

    Over the last few thousand years, all that’s happening now is a recovery from the Little Ice Age (c. 1350-1750). We’re still not as warm as the Medieval Warm Period (c. 850-1250), and even further from the warmest period since the end of the last ice age, the so-called Hypsithermal or Holocene Climate Optimum. There’s no evidence whatsoever that anything extraordinary is happening now.

  • Martin Berman-Gorvine

    There is in fact not enough attention paid to the ongoing mass extinctions caused by human destruction of the environment. Mock at your own peril.

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