Earth Day: Not a Single Environmental Prediction of the Last 50 Years Has Come True

Nicolas Loris, Bangor Daily News

This Earth Day, it almost feels like we should be carving some turkey. Why? Because we have a lot to be thankful for since the first Earth Day event occurred 49 years ago.

We should be thankful that the gloom-and-doom predictions made throughout the past several decades haven’t come true. Fear-mongering about explosive population growth, food crises and the imminent depletion of natural resources have been a staple of Earth Day events since 1970. And the common thread among them is that they’ve stirred up a lot more emotions than facts.

“By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate … that there won’t be any more crude oil,” ecologist Kenneth Watt warned around the time of the first Earth Day event. “You’ll drive up to the pump and say, ‘Fill ’er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, ‘I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’” Watt also warned of global cooling and nitrogen buildup rendering all of the planet’s land unusable.

The issue, however, is that present trends do not continue. They change dramatically for a number of reasons. Innovation happens. Consumer behavior changes. Importantly, price signals play a huge role in communicating information to energy producers as well as consumers. Higher prices at the pump encourage companies to extract and supply more oil. Expensive gas prices, meanwhile, motivate entrepreneurs to invest in alternatives to oil, whether that’s batteries, natural-gas vehicles or biofuels. Drivers will examine their consumption options as well, whether carpooling, finding alternative modes of transportation or, over time, purchasing a more fuel-efficient vehicle.

Here we are, 19 years past Watt’s arbitrary deadline, and drivers are pulling up to the pump saying, “Fill ’er up, buddy” (figuratively speaking, as Watts also didn’t foresee self-service stations) without any cause for concern. Thanks to human ingenuity and the entrepreneurial drive of energy producers, the United States is now the world’s largest oil producer, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration — and continually breaking records.

While global energy poverty and food insecurity remain a pressing challenge, the problems are getting much better, not worse. World Bank and United Nations data show extreme poverty and global hunger has noticeably droppedsince 1970. And according to the International Energy Agency, the number of people without access to electricity fell to below 1 billion people for the first time.

Clearly, there’s work to be done. But signs are pointing in the right direction.

In the United States, the common perception is that the country’s environmental state is deteriorating. On the contrary, through investment in new technologies, and through legislation, environmental trends have improved significantly in the United States. Pollutants known to cause harm to public health and the environment are declining. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest air quality trends report, the combined emissions of the six common air pollutants have decreased 73 percent between 1970 and 2017.

We should be thankful for economic liberties that provide people with the means to protect the environment. As a country grows economically, it increases the financial ability of its citizens and businesses to care for the environment and reduce pollutants emitted from industrial growth. Countries with greater economic freedoms have cleaner environments and greater environmental sustainability. The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom and Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index show a highly positive correlation between a country’s environmental performance and its economic freedom.

Freer economies have access to more products and technologies that make our lives healthier and the environment cleaner. For instance, the availability of simple products such as soaps, cleaners and detergents makes our homes dramatically cleaner and healthier. The development of sanitation systems and availability of garbage collection greatly reduce many types of diseases and curb toxins in the air and water.

These products and services may not be what immediately come to mind on Earth Day, but they’ve have an enormous impact on cleaning up the planet.

And we should be thankful for clearly defined and protected private property rights. One of the first lessons I learned in economics is that nobody washes a rental car — because you don’t care for what you don’t own.

Property rights are a central hallmark in the United States and around the world for improved environmental stewardship, conservation and health of species, wildlife, habitats, forests and other resources. The absence of enforced private property rights in developing countries remains one of the largest barriers to improved prosperity and environmental well-being.

Failed Mirth Earth Day predictions

Via iHateTheMedia, here are a few of the predictions made on the first Earth Day. Don’t these sound like the predictions today that fail, like the 50 million climate refugees by 2010followed by the moving of the goalposts to 2020?

“We have about five more years at the outside to do something.”

• Kenneth Watt, ecologist

“Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”

• George Wald, Harvard Biologist

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

• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“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.”

• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.”

• Denis Hayes, chief organizer for Earth Day

“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.”

• Peter Gunter, professor, North Texas State University

“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….”

• Life Magazine, January 1970

“At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.”

• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

“Air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.”

• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’”

• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

“Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.”

• Sen. Gaylord Nelson

and this classic:

“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.”

• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

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Notice there is not one mention of global warming. It's cooling they warned about.

Yep. They had to change the narrative because there's no money to be made from global cooling because they couldn't figure out a way to blame it on people. So now the threat is global warming because, you know, people exhale a product that fictitiously overheats the atmosphere therefore a tax can be applied to it because that will somehow solve the problem. Another brilliant application of the Hegelian Dialect! I really must start using that formula myself. It never fails!

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