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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Modern man as "apocoholic" who craves more frightening predictions of apocalyptic doom

The media keep feeding us more doomsday stories of fear that never come true. Modern man seems to be an "apocoholic," always craving more frightening predictions of apocalyptic doom. Why do people keep falling for it?

Best-selling ecologist Paul Ehrlich said in 1968: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s ["and 1980s" was added in a later edition] the world will undergo famines—hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” Jimmy Carter said in a speech in 1977: “We could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.”

Laughable, except that people actually believed this junk. And continue to believe similar predictions of doom. Why do they keep getting it so wrong? And why do people fall for it? Matt Ridley (Wired Magazine) spells it all out in an excellent article on this topic.

Predictions of global famine and the end of oil in the 1970s proved just as wrong as end-of-the-world forecasts from millennialist religious zealots. Since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring kickstarted the modern environmentalist movement in 1962, prophecies of doom on a colossal scale have become routine. The past 50 years have brought us warnings of population explosions, global famines, oil exhaustion, climate catastrophes, plagues, Y2K bugs, water wars, mineral shortages, ozone holes, acid rain, nuclear winters, mad cow epidemics, and cell-phone-induced brain-cancer epidemics. So far all of these predictions have turned out to be exaggerated.

In 1976 people were panicked about swine flu. Then in the 1980s, the media scared the hell out of Americans with the threat of the heterosexual AIDS epidemic: "... one in five heterosexuals could be dead from AIDS at the end of the next three years. That’s by 1990." It never happened of course. Then came Ebola.

The biggest threat of all is "us." Humans are the disease that must be eradicated. Activists like Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society: “We need to radically and intelligently reduce human populations to fewer than one billion." And other experts agreed. “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” said Denis Hayes, organizer of the first Earth Day in 1970. Sending food to India was a mistake and only postponed the inevitable, William and Paul Paddock wrote in their best seller, Famine—1975!

Ever since Thomas Robert Malthus, doomsayers have tended to underestimate the power of innovation. In reality, driven by price increases, people simply develop new technologies.

In the 1970s experts were predicting that lead, zinc, tin, gold, and silver would all be gone by 1990, bringing about a collapse of civilization when we'd no longer have the raw materials to make machinery. These claims were soon being repeated in schoolbooks. We were told that the world’s known supplies of oil, tin, copper, and aluminum will be used up within our lifetime. The fearmongers scare us repeatedly with dubious predictions. And many people are gullible enough to believe this nonsense. Just take a look at the results of a famous wager between Paul Ehrlich and economist Julian Simon when the metals did not run out. Indeed, they grew cheaper.

Over the past half century, none of these threatened eco-pocalypses have played out as predicted. With a track record like this, why do people keep on falling for various cataclysmic claims? Humanity is a fast-moving target. We will combat our ecological threats in the future by innovating to meet them as they arise. We always do.

Apocalypse Not: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry About End Times
by Matt Ridley (Wired Magazine)

Doomsayer Paul Ehrlich Strikes (Out) Again
by Michael Fumento

The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS
by Michael Fumento