What is it with the modern left and the mainstream media that makes them so enamored with predictions of the coming apocalypse? Perhaps it is thanks to the old rule of journalism that bad news sells newspapers.
The media has broadcast far and wide the latest primal scream by the federal government and hundreds of scientists that all life on earth by the end of the century could be severely threatened due to climate change. Chicago could turn into Phoenix and its desert conditions. Economic losses will eventually total trillions of dollars. Early death, food shortages, and pestilence will become the norm without “radical” changes in the way we live and use energy. The alarmist report warns that climate change is already destroying the planet, as evidenced by the strange occurrence of natural disasters that have almost never happened in history, like forest fires in California, hurricanes in Florida, and floods in other nations.
How could a government report prepared by hundreds of scientists and with the official imprimatur of the federal government be wrong? The obvious answer is that they have been consistently wrong for decades in predictions of environmental devastation. Anyone over the age of 50 knows that we have heard these sensational, false malthusian forecasts from the federal government, and that reality has contradicted them in almost every instance. Look at history and consider the track record.
In the 1960s, the world became captivated by the likes of media darling and Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich, who warned of a population bomb as humans propagated like field mice. He said people will live elbow to elbow, leading to mass starvation, and there was a 50/50 bet that Britain would survive as a nation. India, we were told, was beyond saving. These false worries became the basis for some terrible population control strategies, like the gruesome one child policy of China.
In the 1970s, the infamous Club of Rome report on “limits to growth” in the world, which was sponsored and funded by the federal government, saw the planet not surviving much past the year 2000 due to poverty, pollution, starvation, overcrowding, climate change, and natural resource depletion. It was all so horrifying that people across the country started wearing lapel pins that said, “Stop the planet, I want to get off.”
In the 1980s, the Carter administration spent millions of dollars on the most comprehensive environmental report ever undertaken by the federal government, employing hundreds of top scientists from more than two dozen agencies. (Sound familiar?) The end product dismally concluded, “If present trends continue, the world in 2000 will be more crowded, more polluted, less stable ecologically, and more vulnerable to disruption than the world we live in now. Serious stresses involving population, resources, and environment are clearly visible ahead. Despite greater output, people will be poorer in many ways than they are today.”
When skeptics raised the red flag on these forecasts, they were accused of questioning the “settled” science of the day. Only a few courageous “deniers” such as my mentor, the great economist Julian Simon, had the courage to call out the report as fallacious from the start. Simon was right, and the federal government and the hundreds of scientists were dead wrong. The next two decades delivered the best period of global prosperity, pollution reduction, lower poverty rates, rising living standards, more food production, and falling energy prices in history.
In every one of these cases, the media uncritically splashed these spooky government forecasts on front pages of nearly every newspaper and on nightly broadcasts of every network across the globe. Environmental groups raised billions of dollars to amplify and combat these crises. How many times do the “apocalyptics” have to be discredited before the media calls them out as “propagandists”? Would you invest money with a finance manager who was wrong year after year in his stock market forecasts?
After every false prediction of doom, the left jumps seamlessly onto the next scare tactic. Think about the progression of false fears over the last several decades. It started with overpopulation, then DDT killing all the birds, then nuclear winter, then mass famine, then toxic air pollution levels that would require humans to wear gas masks, then low sperm counts, then peak oil, then a modern ice age, then earth running out of clean water, then species extinction, then loss of farmland, and on and on.
It does not seem to matter that it is mostly the same people and the same organizations peddling all this nonsense. The scientific community, environmental groups, and journalists have become so invested in such death star scenarios that one gets the sense they are rooting for these things to be true. Even the most laughable predictions in this latest federal government report are regurgitated by the press as if irrefutable truths handed down from God on stone tablets. For example, the same federal government that has issued this climate report on what the world will look like in 80 years could not even come close, back in 1980, to predicting what the world would look like 20 years into the future.
The same analysts who tell us how much climate change will cost the economy in terms of lost gross domestic product cannot tell us with much accuracy what output will be two years from now. Can someone please show me in this “scientific report” where it is shows how much ending the use of cheap abundant fossil fuel energy would cost mankind in terms of the trillions of dollars of lost output and gigantic increases in poverty over the next decade? Affordable reliable energy is a linchpin of human progress. By my own calculations, moving toward 100 percent renewable energy would cost the planet tens of trillions of dollars in output by 2100 by raising the cost of everything and totally eclipsing the losses that the government predicts from rising temperatures.
Today, hopefully we look back at the bogus predictions of the last several decades and roll our eyes that people could be so distracted by mass hysteria. Sure, some of the worries were legitimate, such as rising energy prices in the 1970s and one billion people living at subsistence levels in India, but what scientists always leave out of their conclusions is the power of human ingenuity, intelligent discovery, and technological improvement to advance our progress. It turns out that humans do not reproduce like field mice. It turns out that food and energy production always outpace depletion. Solutions to the problems of nature, like the hundreds of thousands of years of climate change, almost always come from the private sector and free enterprise, not from politicians or organizations seeking to expand authority through “collective” action.
Scientists should have the wisdom and the modesty to admit that we have no idea what will happen to our planet as climate change continues over the next century. There are too many variables to hazard a decent guess. But the one indomitable lesson of history is that giving the government more power is the most dangerous threat to the future of our planet.
Stephen Moore is a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and an economic consultant with FreedomWorks. He served as an adviser to the Donald Trump campaign and is the author of “Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy.” You can follow him on Twitter @StephenMoore.