Seven Doomsday Myths about the Environment

By Bailey, Ronald | The Futurist, January-February 1995 | Go to article overview

Seven Doomsday Myths about the Environment


Bailey, Ronald, The Futurist


As the author of Eco-Scam: The False Prophets of Ecological Apocalypse, I know by surprising experience that what I am about to say is going to make many people angry. But here goes.

THE END IS NOT NIGH! That's right--the Apocalypse has been postponed for the foreseeable future, despite the gloomy prognostications by the likes of Paul Ehrlich, Lester Brown, Al Gore, Stephen Schneider, and Carl Sagan. There is no scientific evidence to support the often heard claim that there is a global ecological crisis threatening humanity and life on the entire Planet Earth.

There are local environmental problems, of course, but no global threats. Instead, there is a record of enormous environmental progress and much to be optimistic about. As far as the global environment is concerned, there is a brilliant future for humanity and Planet Earth.

Of course, millions of people believe that we have only a few more years before the end, and no doubt some such doomsters are among the readers of this article. But I would like to remind them of seven false doomsday predictions--many of which are still being peddled by unscrupulous activists--and take a hard look at what actually happened.

False Doomsday Prediction No. 1:

Global Famine

"The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines--hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now," predicted population alarmist Paul Ehrlich in his book The Population Bomb (1968).

Two years later Ehrlich upped the ante by also painting a gruesome scenario in the Earth Day 1970 issue of The Progressive, in which 65 million Americans would die of famine and a total of 4 billion people worldwide would perish in "the Great Die-Off" between the years 1980 and 1989.

What really happened?

While the world's population doubled since World War II, food production tripled. The real price of wheat and corn dropped by 60%, while the price of rice was cut in half. Worldwide life expectancy rose from 47.5 years in 1950 to 63.9 years in 1990, while the world infant mortality rate dropped from 155 to 70 per 1,000 live births. Even in the poorest countries, those with per capita incomes under $400, average life expectancy rose spectacularly from 35 years in 1960 to 60 years in 1990.

And there's even more good news--for the last decade, grain output rose 5% per year in the developing world, while population growth has slowed from 2.3% to 1.9% and continues to fall. These figures strongly bolster University of Chicago agricultural economist Gale Johnson when he claims, "The scourge of famine due to natural causes has been almost conquered and could be entirely eliminated by the end of the century."

False Doomsday Prediction No. 2:

Exhaustion of Nonrenewable Resources

In 1972, the Club of Rome's notorious report, The Limits to Growth, predicted that at exponential growth rates the world would run out of raw materials--gold by 1981, mercury by 1985, tin by 1987, zinc by 1990, oil by 1992, and copper, lead, and natural gas by 1993.

What really happened?

Humanity hasn't come close to running out of any mineral resource. Even the World Resources Institute estimates that the average price of all metals and minerals fell by more than 40% between 1970 and 1988. As we all know, falling prices mean that goods are becoming more abundant, not more scarce. The U.S. Bureau of Mines estimates that, at 1990 production rates, world reserves of gold will last 24 years, mercury 40 years, tin 28 years, zinc 40 years, copper 65 years, and lead 35 years. Proven reserves of petroleum will last 44 years and natural gas 63 years.

Now don't worry about the number of years left for any of these reserves. Just as a family replenishes its larder when it begins to empty, so, too, does humanity look for new mineral reserves only when supplies begin to run low. …

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