The first Earth Day was held in 1970 and gave agitated intellectuals a stage from which to pontificate about the future with a torrent of apocalyptic predictions. On the 30th anniversary of that beginning, Reason Magazine published an article that examined those prophecies.[i] The author concluded, “The prophets of doom were not simply wrong, but spectacularly wrong.” Here are a few as reviewed in a 2015 article: [ii]
- Harvard biologist George Wald estimated that “civilization will end within 15 or 30 years [by the year 2000] unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”
- “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” Paul Ehrlich confidently declared in the April 1970 Mademoiselle. “The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”
- In the 1970 Earth Day issue of The Progressive, Ehrlich furthered his alarmist scenario by stating that between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the “Great Die-Off.”
- 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….”
- Barry Commoner predicted that decaying organic pollutants would use up all of the oxygen in America’s rivers, causing freshwater fish to suffocate.
- Ecologist Kenneth Watt declared, “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.”
- Harrison Brown, a scientist at the National Academy of Sciences, published a chart in Scientific American that looked at metal reserves and estimated that humanity would totally run out of copper shortly after 2000. Lead, zinc, tin, gold, and silver would be gone before 1990.
- Sen. Gaylord Nelson wrote in Look magazine 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.”
- Kenneth Watt warned about a pending Ice Age in a speech. “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years,” he declared. “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.”
Ice age? Global warming? Might as well predict every possible apocalypse so some secular prophet will be right.
None of these prophecies had come true by the 30th anniversary of the first Earth Day, and to those who said in 2000, “Just wait a little longer,” we reply nothing approaching such apocalyptic scenarios has happened in the last 21 years either.
As for future predictions, climate activists today tiptoe more gingerly than did their counterparts in 1970, but the pictures they paint are similar. A recent article in The Guardian, couched in the reputation-saving term “if things continue as they are,” predicted these events by the year 2050: [iii]
Rising sea levels from melting Arctic and Antarctic ice will swamp unprotected stretches of land. Storm surges and high tides will reshape coastlines and blur boundaries between land and sea. More Venice-like cities.
Food production will decline by 2% to 6% in each of the coming decades because of land-degradation, droughts, floods and sea-level rise. Water supply systems could buckle and hunger will rise with dire humanitarian consequences.
Rising temperatures will strain social relations and disrupt economics, politics and mental health. Droughts will intensify. A breakdown of civilization may result.
And according to Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, “By 2050, if we fail to act, many of the most damaging, extreme weather events we have seen in recent years will become commonplace. In a world where we see continual weather disasters day after day (which is what we’ll have in the absence of concerted action), our societal infrastructure may well fail … We won’t see the extinction of our species, but we could well see societal collapse.”
Such predictions are not as specific with statistics and timelines as the Earth Day prophecies for the last third of the 20th century, but sufficiently visual nonetheless.
So what does it mean? I submit five takeaways for consideration:
First, we must, of course, be good stewards here on earth. No one is arguing against reasonable actions for cleanliness, careful management, and proper use of resources.
Second, have a little faith in God’s preparations. In D&C 104:17 we are told, “For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare ….”
Third, beware of those who attribute all climate problems to man’s improper actions. Climate-change activism uses scary apocalyptical predictions to rally people to contribute time and money to advance a political agenda. Be suspicious.
Fourth, God has used and will yet use weather phenomena to prod His children to repent of misdeeds and keep His commandments. Moral sins, far more than environmental sins, will be the reason.
Fifth, Satan builds on man’s fears. When mankind gets in a dither about the climate and fears the lack of resources, why wouldn’t the adversary exaggerate those fears and use the hubbub as inoculation against the true prophesied calamities that must precede the Second Coming? Then when famines, plagues, hailstorms, desolating sickness, and earthquakes happen, people will merely chalk it up to climate change and ignore the Lord’s weather-based messages.
Ah, the wisdom of the world with its clever reasons to ignore true prophecies and true prophets.
As President Russell M. Nelson expressed it in last month’s General Conference, “It takes faith to follow prophets rather than pundits and popular opinion.”
Gary Lawrence is a public opinion researcher and the author of “The Magnificent Gift of Agency; To Act and Not Be Acted Upon” available at Deseret Book.