Earth Day, on April 22, promotes environmental awareness. I was in elementary school when the nation first celebrated Earth Day in 1970.
On the positive side, people have become aware of their impact on the planet since then. Earth Day reminds us to make small changes in our daily lives to reduce environmental impact.
Others take environmentalism to an extreme. People like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have turned concern into hysteria and theology. When AOC and other extremists speak about the end of humanity in twelve years (and that was four years ago), it’s wise to remember history.
The end of the world has been a common theme in various cultures and texts for millennia.
The Bible contains apocalyptic stories. A New York Baptist preacher, William Miller, had many followers predicting the end of times in 1844. The Mayan civilization had a prophecy about the world ending in 2012. Through it all, Mother Earth lives.
In the 20th century, environmental concerns became a primary reason people began predicting global catastrophes. Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles formed The Heaven’s Gate Cult in the 1970s. They believed that Earth would be “recycled” and that their only chance to survive was to leave their physical bodies behind and ascend to a spaceship they thought was following the Hale-Bopp comet. The result was the tragic mass suicide of 39, including Applewhite, in 1997.
More recently, science became the deity used to predict the end of the planet. Before anybody concludes I am a “science denier,” this is a cautionary tale of history.
At the time of the first Earth Day, there were dire predictions about humanity’s future.
“The Population Bomb,” written in 1968 by Paul Ehrlich, was a popular book at the time. Ehrlich, a Stanford University biologist, is one of my favorites because he boldly made so many incorrect predictions. “The Population Bomb” was about the rate of human growth outpacing the increases in food supplies. In 1970, he predicted that “100 – 200 million people per year would die of starvation during the next ten years.”
In the 1970 Earth Day issue of “The Progressive,” Erlich predicted that during the 1980s, four billion people, including 65 million Americans, would succumb in the “Great Die-Off.”
The chief organizer of the first Earth Day, Denis Hays, shared Ehrlich’s views. He declared, “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” in the Spring 1970 issue of “The Living Wilderness.”
Wisconsin Senator, Gaylord Nelson, considered the founder of Earth Day, wrote in “Look,” “The 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.”
Others were more pessimistic. Harvard biologist George Wald predicted, “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years.” Sound familiar?
Climate was an issue on the first Earth Day. Back then, it was global cooling:
“The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. 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,” said Kenneth E. F. Watt, an ecologist, author, and professor at the University of California, Davis. Like Erlich, Watt made many predictions that were completely wrong.
Watt wasn’t worried about carbon. In 1970 his concern was nitrogen: “At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.”
In 1974, Time magazine featured a story called “Another Ice Age?” The graphic showed how Arctic ice was expanding. The article explained that it was so profound that “38 ships and 13 aircraft, carrying scientists from almost 70 nations,” were assembling an international scientific project called GARP (Global Atmospheric Research Program).
University of Toronto climatologist Kenneth Hare, a former president of the Royal Meteorological Society, warned: “I don’t believe the world’s present population is sustainable if there are more than three years like 1972 in a row.” He must have been familiar with Ehrlich’s work.
Newsweek confirmed the news in a 1975 article, “The Cooling World.” It reports “the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded. One hundred forty-eight twisters killed more than 300 people and caused more than a half billion dollars worth of damage ($2.85 billion in today’s dollars) in 13 U.S. states.” Yet, today the media behaves like tornadoes never happened outside Kansas.
The article included scientific data:
- “A survey by Dr. Murray Mitchell of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals a drop of a half degree in average ground temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere between 1945 – 1968.”
- “According to George Kulka of Columbia University, satellite photos indicated a sudden, large increase in Northern Hemisphere snow cover in the winter of 1971-72.”
- “A study by two NOAA scientists notes that the amount of sunshine reaching the ground in the continental U.S. diminished by 1.3 percent between 1964-1972.”
After three decades of cooling, the planet started warming.
While the earth has demonstrably warmed over the past several decades, the catastrophic results prophets predicted have not.
“Within a few years, children aren’t going to know what snow is.’” – David Viner, senior research scientist at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, 2000. While some parts of the country didn’t see snow this year, Minneapolis saw 89.9 inches, just off the record (91.1) during the winter of 1981-82.
Vice President Al Gore became one of the most famous global warming advocates. In a 2009 United Nations climate conference speech, Gore predicted, “The Arctic Ocean is expected to become ice-free in summer before the year 2010.” The Arctic Ocean still had sea ice as of the Summer of 2022.
The United Nations established the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which is the scientific consortium that provides “objective and scientific” assessments of climate change and its potential impacts.
“Climate change” replaced the term “global warming.” It can explain anything Mother Nature throws at humanity.
The IPCC states that it is extremely likely, with almost 100 percent probability, that human activities have been the dominant cause of climate change. They are as confident as Paul Ehrlich and Kenneth E. F. Watt were about their predictions on Earth Day in 1970.
The fundamental change over 53 years is climate change has become big business.
According to the Global Change Research Program, the U.S. government spent $2.6 billion on climate research in 2020. The Biden administration requested $8.5 billion for climate science research in 2022.
The Global Change Research Program is a federal program that coordinates and integrates scientific research on global environmental changes and their impacts on society. Established by a presidential initiative in 1989, it includes thirteen federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. In other words, they are not “science deniers.”
In the European Union, the Horizon Europe research program has allocated over €35 billion (over $38 billion) for climate and environmental research from 2021 to 2027. Other countries, including China, Japan, Australia, and Canada, have invested significantly in climate research.
In addition to government funding, private foundations, and philanthropic organizations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation, also contribute significant amounts of funding to climate change research.
If one axiom has proven true over generations in Washington, regardless of which Party is in power, it is “follow the money.” Call me a science denier if you like, but researchers who don’t determine that humans are the primary contributor to climate change receive little of the research money.
The existential threat discovered by scientific research requires more government programs. According to Office of Management and Budget reports, federal climate change funding was $13.2 billion across nineteen agencies in 2017. Three bills passed under the Biden administration will increase spending to an estimated $500+ billion over the next ten years.
I do not doubt that the planet cooled for three decades or that it is now getting warmer. It’s wise to use natural resources prudently. Contrary to what some believe, conservatives do not want dirty water or polluted air. We all breathe and drink the same stuff. The word conservative starts with conserve. Republican Teddy Roosevelt was a conservationist.
We can be good stewards of the earth during our time here without the alarmism and hysteria Ehrlich and Watt used in 1970 or the hysterics AOC and Greta Thunberg practice today.
The transition to non-fossil fuels should happen over time as the private sector creates technology, not as environmental zealots and the government dictates.
For Earth Day 2023, take a walk, breathe deep, and enjoy Mother Earth.
Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio). He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.