Earth Day Predictions that Were “Spectacularly Wrong”

Image from the Wellcome Collection gallery (click for credit)

Probably because yesterday was Earth Day, I ran across an article written by Ronald Bailey for Earth Day 2000. It reviews some of the predictions made by “environmentalists”* in the 1970s, when the first Earth day was celebrated. As Bailey noted back in the year 2000:

The prophets of doom were not simply wrong, but spectacularly wrong. (emphasis his)

There are a lot of failed predictions in the article, but I want to start with the one I highlighted in the meme above. Here is the full quote, which is found in the Spring 1970 issue of The Living Wilderness:

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. (emphasis his)

Notice how Dr. Gunter starts. He uses the consensus argument. He says that demographers (those who study human populations) “agree almost unanimously” with his grim forecast. I have no idea whether or not that statement was correct back in the 1970s, but it is eerily similar to what we hear now in reference to global warming, AKA climate change. Climate alarmists insist that we must listen to them, because climate scientists agree almost unanimously that doom is right around the corner. In light of this fact, it is useful to note that the supposed “consensus” has been spectacularly wrong before.

Another spectacularly-failed prediction involved the availability of crude oil. I remember sitting in high-school calculus and watching a video in which a mathematician “proved” that the world would be out of oil by the year 2000. Back in those days, such predictions were common. Bailey highlights ecologist Kenneth Watt’s 1970 prediction about oil:

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.”

Of course, that scenario never happened, despite the fact that on average, the world’s use of crude oil has been rising since the 1970s.

Of course, I understand the motivation behind such wild predictions. Most doomsayers honestly believe that a global cataclysm is right around the corner. Thus, they think they must emphasize just how bad it will be if people don’t do something right now. To them, these wild predictions are necessary motivators for the uneducated masses. To the actual people who have to produce the change, however, they don’t serve as motivation. They serve as a reminder of how the doomsayers were wrong before.

While articles like Bailey’s give gory details about the spectacularly-failed predictions from years past, most people don’t need such articles. They remember sitting through videos telling them that we would run out of oil, videos telling them they would have to wear gas masks to leave their homes, and videos telling them that the increase in the world’s population would lead to massive starvation and disease. They remember such predictions and now, decades later, they see just how silly those predictions were. This makes them much less likely to believe the predictions of the current doomsayers.

So if you want to convince people that there is an economic or environmental catastrophe ahead, don’t use fear. Use facts. The fear will probably do more harm than good.

NOTE: I put quotes around the word “environmentalist” because many who call themselves “environmentalists” are actually working against the well-being of the planet. If you want to care for the planet, science must be your guide. Unfortunately, many who call themselves “environmentalists” ignore science, promoting emotion instead. As such, they are probably doing the planet more harm than good.
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11 Comments

  1. Sj says:

    I also remember hearing dire warnings of how the world was going to enter a new ice age.

  2. Alaska Nivanuatu says:

    There seems to be something distinctly prejudice, racist even, about a prediction stating that only the continents that are predominantly populated by Caucasians would be the only ones not to succumb to world famine

    1. Christopher says:

      I could be wrong, but I think it has more to do the fact that those countries are typically classified as first world countries. Infer from that what you will, but I don’t think that statement was made on the basis of race.

      1. Alaska Nivanuatu says:

        Yeah, you could be right. Still, even if the prediction wasn’t directly racist, it still seems prejudiced. As if they thought people in third world countries were too stupid to grow food…

  3. Chris says:

    Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. While we have to allow that they could be wrong it is also possible they could be right in this instance. The prudent approach is to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These changes will at least reduce consumption of fossil fuels and extend the life of resources, and reduce dependence on countries that control those resources.

    1. Jay Wile says:

      That sounds good in principle, Chris, but what about the cost? Do we force developing countries to use more expensive, low-emission processes to produce energy? If so, that will kill people. Do we force developed countries to do that, increasing the cost of energy? If so, that will kill people. Inexpensive, abundant energy saves lives. When we make energy less abundant and more expensive, we kill people. How many people should we kill to stave of a “crisis” that we don’t know will happen?

      1. Chris says:

        And what if it does happen? How many people will that kill? But actually I think moving to renewables will in the not too distant future make energy more abundant and cheaper. We will no longer be subject to cartels that push up the price of oil and we won’t have to go to risky and expensive offshore drilling. In many places poor people have no electricity available or can’t afford it. Cheap renewables like biogas and solar panels could benefit these people more than expensive mains power.
        Perhaps in the mix there is a place for a small proportion of coal or gas fired power stations to provide robustness in the system.
        It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.
        However I do take your point that the science of climate change is much less certain than some would claim.

        1. Alaska Nivanuatu says:

          I personally think that the much of the future of renewable energy will be in biogas. Biogas digesters are fairly easy to build and maintain, and they produce energy that comes from biodegradable matter (poop and plants) which is basically free! Also, they provide a clean, smokeless alternative to wood fires (with a minor risk of hydrogen sulfide) which benefits the health of rural communities. Also, if waste from livestock is being utilized, biogas systems help keep the animal pens clean! One of the few downsides, though, is that biogas systems produce a lot of overflow waste, (because you need to mix organic material with a ratio of water to produce the most gas) which needs to be used or disposed of properly, which is why it is a great idea to use biogas systems in conjunction with gardening systems. Biogas overflow slurry makes the best fertilizer, but it does need to be diluted with water (again) so as not to kill the plants.

  4. Brett says:

    What are some of the popular predictions put off into the future that climate scientists say will occur and why do you think those predictions aren’t going too happen? New learner regarding climate science and just getting back into Creation science again. Thanks for your blog Dr. Wile!

    1. Jay Wile says:

      Thanks for your question, Brett. Apocalyptic predictions abound in climate alarmism. Sea ice will be reduced, which will kill the polar bears. Sea ice is being reduced, but polar bear populations have been rising since the 1980s. The rise in sea level will accelerate, destroying island and coastal nations. Actually, the sea has been rising for well over 100 years, and the rate, as far as we can tell, has been relatively constant. Also, the most extensive study of an island nation (Tuvalu) indicates that they have gained land area over the past 40 years. Hurricanes and tornadoes will increase. Actually, there has been no pattern to the number or energy of hurricanes over the past 40 years, and while we don’t have worldwide numbers for tornadoes, the number of tornadoes in the U.S. has shown no pattern since the 1950s. The models used to predict future temperatures have consistently predicted much warmer temperatures than we have actually experienced.

  5. John D. says:

    I has a college professor in 1999 telling all his classes that he could personally guarantee “If you recently purchased a new car, it will be the last gasoline car you ever drive”.

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