Recently, the world celebrated the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. Looking back at the beginning of Earth Day in 1970, the big issue was the earth’s population and the predicted explosion of the “population bomb” and imminent global famine that, according to many scientists, was sure to follow. As a matter of fact, there were numerous fantastic predictions made by some of the professed smartest people of the day. Here are just a few of those predictions made on that first Earth Day 45 years ago:
- “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we can make; the death rate will increase. At least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next 10 years.” – Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University Biologist
- “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.” – Denis Hayes, Chief organizer of Earth Day
Kenneth Watt, professor emeritus at the University of California at Davis, had several eyebrow-raising predictions in 1970 that are worth noting:
- “Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support the prediction that 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 the earth by half.”
- “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.”
- “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.”
We were told in 1970 that if action was not taken immediately then all these dire predictions would come true. Of course, neither these, nor other “doomsday” predictions ever came to pass. In reality, the opposite has occurred in many instances. There is not widespread famine, there is no run away population explosion, and in many ways air quality has vastly improved over levels seen in 1970. We have more crude oil and natural gas reserves today than we ever thought possible and we are not experiencing anything close to a modern day ice age. What is interesting is that in 1970, the scientific experts were predicting that increased air pollution would block sunlight and thereby cause the earth to cool rapidly and that there would be a sharp decrease in food production. Today, this generation of scientific experts is telling us just the opposite – that man-made air pollution being trapped in our atmosphere is now the primary cause of global warming and that immediate action must be taken by governments across the world in order to avoid our demise.
As it was on that first Earth Day, today we are repeatedly told that the science is irrefutable, “settled” and anyone who dares question today’s scientific prediction will be labelled a denier, or more insulting yet, a “flat earther”. We are told by today’s experts to not even bother trying to debate the global warming subject. In so many ways, the rhetoric of today’s climate experts has the same alarmist tone as that of the first Earth Day predictions. It begs the question – if the scientists were so completely wrong and missed the mark with their predictions in 1970, what makes anyone believe that the scientific predictions made today regarding climate conditions and future ramifications are any more accurate or any more likely to come to fruition?
Regardless of your personal thoughts on Earth Day then or today’s global warming predictions, it is important to point out some inaccurate predictions as we know them now some 45 years after the first Earth Day. Instead of widespread famine and mass starvations as predicted in 1970, today’s farmers and ranchers are producing roughly one third more food on one third less inputs than just a generation ago according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. Was there any mention of this positive environmental story by scientists at this year’s Earth Day celebrations? What about air quality predictions? From a local perspective, the electricity that Nebraskans use is generated from sources that are collectively 35 percent carbon free. As new pollutant control technology is used on existing base load sources, and as more renewable generation technology is deployed, the environmental track record of Nebraska’s electricity industry will get even better. More broadly, I am not aware of a single American city where air quality is so bad that it is mandatory to wear some type of gas mask in order to breathe. As a matter of fact, in many of our biggest cities, air quality has vastly improved over where pollution levels were in 1970. Lastly, where on earth is the ice age? Back around the first Earth Day, it was predicted that we would be covered up in ice by the year 2000 due to rapid global cooling caused by the air pollution blocking out the sun. Today, we are now told that air pollution is causing rapid global warming and will melt the Antarctic ice cap within decades if nothing is done. Well, which is it…a pending ice age or a global warming catastrophe?
I agree with the opinion that the reason we study history is to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. It is always important to look back on key events such as the original Earth Day and separate fact from fiction. When others make sweeping and definitive scientific statements in an attempt to exact changes in environmental public policy, it is our responsibility to practice an abundance of caution and due diligence before we start down the path of addressing the “settled” science surrounding climate change. Just imagine just how much warmer the atmosphere would be today had we immediately implemented the policy changes that global “cooling” scientists were calling for in the 1970s? In reality, the earth as a whole is doing just fine. There will always be environmental issues our practices can be improved upon, but the earth is more resilient than many scientists and many of us give it credit for. After 45 years of celebrating Earth Day, the environmental sky is not falling at all, and from a power generation perspective, we certainly have plenty to be proud of and thankful for.