March 12, 2019
“The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change, and your biggest issue is how are we gonna pay for it?” – Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), January 21, 2019.
In her first full day in Congress, as the youngest woman ever elected to that august body, AOC actually said, “The world is going to end in 12 years,” unless we re-invent our way of living, from scratch.
Instead, maybe she could read some history books or listen to some of us old codgers who have endured worse scares. Instead, she parrots the fears of a generation that has grown up with warnings of worst-case scenarios of global warming (now called “climate change” to cover all possible outcomes). Scary videos have convinced an army of youthful non-scientists that we are about to die, but these fears are not new.
Shortly after I graduated from college in 1967, a slew of books came out warning of similar Apocalypses:
- In 1967, the brothers William and Paul Paddock wrote a book called “Famine 1975,” in which they said that it was impossible for food production to keep up with population growth. The first chapter was titled “The Population-Food Collision Is Inevitable; It Is Foredoomed.”
- In 1968, Paul Ehrlich published “The Population Bomb,” in which he opened by saying, “The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of millions of people will starve to death,” leaving “only 22.6 million starved Americans alive in 1990.”
This was only the beginning of our sorrows. By Earth Day 1970, many renowned professors were equally dismal. Washington University biologist Barry Commoner said, “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation.” Harvard biologist George Wald said that “civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.” 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, 30 years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”
In January 1970, LIFE magazine 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.” LOOK magazine reported that “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.”
Then came the books about how we will soon run out of natural resources. “The Limits to Growth” came out in early 1972 and eventually sold 16 million copies in over 30 languages. In short, the report’s authors projected that, at the exponential growth rates they expected to continue, all the known world supplies of zinc, gold, tin, copper, oil, and natural gas would be completely exhausted by 1992. In the same year, Harrison Brown, a scientist at the National Academy of Sciences, published a chart in Scientific American that estimated that all of our lead, zinc, tin, gold, and silver would be gone before 1990
In that era, the “Coming Ice Age” was considered more of a risk than global warming, since the planet had actually cooled slightly between 1940 and 1975. Cal-Davis professor Kenneth Watt warned about a pending Ice Age: “The world has been chilling sharply for about 20 years,” he declared. “If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but 11 degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.
Sadly, I believed all these threats and wrote about them in major magazines in the 1970s and 1980s until I realized it was all nonsense. In the 1990s, I formed a whimsical group called “Apocaholics Anonymous,” a haven for those who once preached the end of the world but who now avoid parroting such pessimism.
Is Today Really “The Most Divided” America Has Ever Been?
You think America is divided today? Just look at 50 years ago, when Vietnam War protests on the UC Berkeley campus turned so violent that National Guard helicopters indiscriminately sprayed tear gas on student demonstrators. Half a million protesters surrounded the White House protesting Vietnam, especially after pictures of the My Lai Massacre were published, showing our brutality in that war.
Domestic terrorism? In a four-month period in the summer and fall of 1969, eight bombings rocked major institutions in New York City. That’s in addition to the Manson family killings on August 8-9, when they cruelly slayed seven people, including Sharon Tate, hoping to launch a civil war. On August 20, a bomb equal to 24 sticks of dynamite ripped open three sides of the Marine Midland bank on Broadway.
In one 18-month period in 1971-72, there were over 2,500 domestic terrorist bombings, an average of five per day (see Brian Burrough’s book, “Days of Rage,” about “The Forgotten Era of Domestic Violence”).
We obsess over a minor face-off between a Kentucky high school boy and a Native American in Washington DC, but in 1969, Indian demonstrators took over the former federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay and stayed there for 19 months, declaring it their own sovereign nation.
President Trump mocks the press and its “fake news,” but President Richard Nixon compiled an “enemies list” of his press tormenters and had them audited. He also used VP Spiro Agnew as his attack dog. Agnew called the press “an effete corps of impudent snobs” and “nattering nabobs of negativism.”
All through this, the U.S. economy kept growing, with the GDP reaching $1 trillion for the first time in history. The federal budget was balanced for the last time – until 30 years later, in 1999. The Boeing 747 made its debut, and the U.S. made two round trips to the moon – Apollos 11 and 12 – all in 1969.
We can focus on all the bad news, or we can look at the progress mankind is continuously generating. Likewise, we can plot historic trends into the future using inaccurate static (straight-line) projections of past trends to create computerized models of doom, but they haven’t worked in the past and will not likely come true this time, either, since mankind tends to seek and find solutions we can’t see in advance.