A Little Unhinged
Tales of Woe


The Thin Man directs us to this item at the Washington Policy Centre, on Earth Day predictions of yore.

Seattle – Another Earth Day is upon us. This is a good time to look back at predictions made on the original Earth Day about environmental disasters that were about to hit the planet. Most Earth Day predictions turned out to be stunningly wrong. In 1970, environmentalists said there would soon be a new ice age and massive deaths from air pollution. The New York Times foresaw the extinction of the human race. Widely-quoted biologist Paul Ehrlich predicted worldwide starvation by 1975. Documented examples are below.

“By 1985... air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the earth by one half.” Life magazine, January 1970

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

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

“By 1985, air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half...” Life magazine, January 1970.

Ehrlich also predicted that in 1973, 200,000 Americans would die from air pollution, and that by 1980 the life expectancy of Americans would be 42 years.

Our purpose on Earth Day 2008 is not simply to point out how often environmental activists have been wrong, but to learn from the mistakes made during past Earth Days. Learning from the past will give us a better understanding of our world and the threats that face it. By being sceptical about routine portents of doom, we can stay focused on the real threats that face our planet, and on the reasonable and achievable actions we as a society can take to meet them.

The Thin Man also points out a not entirely unrelated phenomenon, noted by, among others, Richard Tomkins of the Financial Times:

At the time Elvis Presley died in 1977, he had 150 impersonators in the US. Now, according to calculations I spotted in a Sunday newspaper colour supplement recently, there are 85,000. Intriguingly, that means one in every 3,400 Americans is an Elvis impersonator. More disturbingly, if Elvis impersonators continue multiplying at the same rate, they will account for a third of the world’s population by 2019.

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