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Earth Day 2017: A look back at the fun prediction failures

Earth Day 2017: A look back at the fun prediction failures

Improbable history, indeed!

April 22 marks the 47th anniversary of Earth Day!

The eco-holiday was inaugurated in 1970, and the organizers chose the third week in April because it was conveniently between the booze-filled festivities of Spring Break and the caffeine-fueled horror of final exams. Inspired by the anti-war movement, Earth Day was suppose to be an annual “teach in” about environmental protection.

Here are some of the doom-filled climate predictions that long-ago era.

(I thought a trip with Peabody and Sherman in the Way Back Machine might be a fun way to celebrate!)

Mark Perry of American Enterprise Institute featured these gems from 1970:

  • Harvard biologist George Wald estimated that “civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”  (We are still going strong 47 years later, though the appearance of man buns is now a cause for concern.)
  • Paul Ehrlich sketched out his most alarmist scenario for the 1970 Earth Day issue of The Progressive, assuring readers that between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the “Great Die-Off.” (Current human population = 7.5 Billion<).
  • Peter Gunter, a North Texas State University professor, wrote in 1970, “Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.” (Currently, the only regions at risk for famine are the Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen.…for reasons that have us much to do with civil unrest as much as climate.)

In fact, those famine predictions were the basis of one of my favorite movies:

The Federalist contributor Robert Tracinski offers this 1970’s vintage climate alarmist-memory: Man-caused global cooling!

We were causing the ice age and bringing the glaciers down on our own heads. Deforestation was going to increase the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface, causing light from the sun to bounce back into space without heating the Earth. Meanwhile, emissions of “particulates,” i.e., smoke from industrial smokestacks, was going to block out the light before it even got here. No, really: Life Magazine in 1970 reported that “by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half.”

As I noted in my post on California’s air pollution levels, great strides have been made in technology so that the level of atmospheric contaminates has been reduced. And a little more than a decade later, the planet was in the midst of the Global Warming scare!

Ronald Baily of Reason noted that in 1970, the planet was poised to run out of critical resources because of greedy mankind.

“We are prospecting for the very last of our resources and using up the nonrenewable things many times faster than we are finding new ones,” warned Sierra Club director Martin Litton in Time’s February 2, 1970, special “environmental report.” Ecologist Kenneth Watt declared, “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. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.'”

Fracking and horizontal drilling have opened up vast new petroleum options, and new technologies has reduced the long-term environmental impacts in oil drilling and processing operations.

A trip through the Way Back Machine shows that an episode of Peabody and Sherman’s history was far more probable as history than what was projected by the smart-set in 1970 to be the history that we were suppose to experience.


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buckeyeminuteman | April 22, 2017 at 8:11 am

It would be nice if we could find a better way to farm without bulldozing over the rainforest. I’m glad we’ve made headway in cleaning up industrial pollution so the Cuyahoga River doesn’t catch fire again. And people who litter should definitely be fined for their arrogance and stupidity. But when it comes to using natural resources and raising our quality of life, I say “Drill Baby Drill”.

Even without fracking we would not be running out of oil. We keep finding more oil.

    No, fracking is the gusher. And it is cheap and plentiful in America. All of the other “finds” are deep water, in the Arctic and relatively small and EXPENSIVE!

    Oil reserves are calculated based on price. So when price went from north of $110 to where they are today, the reserves from traditional sources were greatly reduced. The new discoveries have not replaced those recalculation “losses”.

    And the price of oil is likely to stay far below where they need to be to make deep water competitive against shale. So shale wins.

    To celebrate, I plan to make today’s Earth Day my biggest electricity consumption day of the year. It may hurt my “excellent” rating from Pasadena Water and Power for the month but it’s worth it.

    Fannano in reply to davod. | April 22, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Who ever said the Earth has stopped making it either…

And the media still reports on the beliefs of the beta boys like it was gospel. The sky has been falling most of my lifetime and surprise we are still here.

You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’

Well, they almost got it right. We still have plenty of gas…but all the pump jockeys have disappeared!

Although there are hydraulic drilling rigs, there is no such thing as “hydraulic drilling”.

Horizontal drilling, yes.

I’d have to go with horizontal drilling as having the major impact on the oil industry.

Hydraulic fracturing has been around since 1947 but the horizontal drilling in the late 80s, coupled with the fracturing, really started effective oil production.

This is a page on the Continental Resources web page that discusses advanced technologies – . They do have an interesting concept of an “eco-pad” where they drill four deep wells at one site.

One interesting fact from that page is that a meteor impact site in Oklahoma has massive amounts of oil and gas (Ames Meteor).

Now, if we could just stop using corn ethanol in the gas tank, the hunger problem and rising food costs could be reduced.

    Ragspierre in reply to Liz. | April 22, 2017 at 11:21 am

    To be precise, “fracking” has been around since the ’40s, but it was not “hydraulic fracking” in the early days. It was explosive fracking, using a diesel and fertilizer mixture.

    “Hyraulic” fracking was wonderfully more controlled and a LOT less exciting…

      Using wikipedia (I know, not the best reference, but just the easiest to access), fracturing began around the 1860’s using dynamite! But, using liquids (hydraulic)did start in the 40’s and Halliburton used it in commercial wells in 1949 (OK and TX).

      Massive or high volume hydraulic fracturing started in 1968, also in OK.

      You are correct in that hydraulic fracturing is less exciting. It’s the high-pressure, high volume wastewater injection wells that are exciting. At least the OK Corporation Commission has been responsive in restricting as well as shutting down the wells.

Those predictions were made about 50 years ago, and were by no means globally accepted. The scientific tools today, from satellites to supercomputer data analysis, are vastly superior to what they were. Moreover, the amount of data collected over the past half century is enormous. Don’t buy into the bias of trillion dollar industries whose short-term profits are dependent on turning a blind eye to the devastation they wreak.

They seek to divide us, politically, on what are not partisan issues, and seem to be succeeding. Go out in the woods, visit a rural mining community or industrial zone, drink the water and go swimming in their rivers. Study the state of our oceans. No predictions here about those things: they’re already happening.

Please don’t put political ideology ahead of intelligent observation. Earth Day is not a partisan event.

    Paul in reply to Cnidarian. | April 22, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    It most certainly IS a partisan issue. The hard-left uses the fear of climate disasters to push their socialist agenda. For them it is about regulation, control, taxation and power.

    Yes, there is more data and more powerful tools. But you know what? Garbage-in, Garbage-out. I had a first-hand, insiders view of the financial collapse of 2008. I worked for one of the largest technology companies that served virtually all of the global mortgage lenders and wall street firms.

    Believe me when I tell you that the “best and the brightest” in terms of data science, statistical analysis and computer science serve this industry; the hot shots in the field are most certainly NOT studying the climate. And the money the financial industry pours into their computers and models and data analysis dwarfs the money spent on climate modeling by many orders of magnitude.

    And how did all of their models turn out? They failed miserably. In retrospect it was laughable how fundamental issues crippled them. No matter how “good” a model is, if it completely fails to account for important variables then it’s going to suck. Housing default risk models failed to account for a collapse in housing prices. They also failed to account for the “moral hazard” of people simply walking away from their homes.

    In similar fashion, we know that climate models ignore many variables that are proven to have a far greater impact on warming that C02. As a result, anyone who understands statistical modeling can ascertain that those models suck too. We can also simply look at their performance against measured temperatures over recent years and see that they suck.

    And despite all the prog left’s caterwauling about “science”, building predictive models that are based on jimmied data that then fail to predict actual events is NOT the scientific method. Far from it.

    The real story here is that market forces have greatly reduced our carbon footprint over the past couple of decades. And market forces will continue to result in higher efficiency and less pollution. Foisting a bunch of Marxist twats into power and giving them regulatory control over the entire economy will NOT fix anything. In fact, history shows us that it will most certainly fuck things up far worse than they are now.

    Walker Evans in reply to Cnidarian. | April 24, 2017 at 1:35 am

    A computer model of any complex system – and global climate is as complex as it gets – has to be able to “predict” in retrograde as well as forward; i.e., it has to be fed enough variables to be able to accurately ‘hindcast’ what has already happened as well as forecast what will happen. No climate model has ever been able to do either one without the people building the model massively fudging the data and even then they are no better than flipping a coin.

    The single biggest problem is the literally mind boggling number of variables involved. Take the “Butterfly Effect” as an example: in order to account for it there would have to be variables input for every butterfly in the world! A silly example? Perhaps, but the number of actual variables is that great or greater.

    Earth Day is largely a touchy-feely event to make some people feel they are making a difference but in truth, most people only really think about it on that one day a year … and the impact that makes is so negligible as to be unnoticed.

Thanks to free trade, over the last few decades the world’s manufacturing has moved to countries with no environmental regulations whatsoever which are industrializing rapidly to meet demand. But for some reason the environmental protestors didn’t go with them — I wonder why.

Actually, people making noise about unfettered industrialization ARE going to those countries. But even more importantly, people who live in those countries are rising up to bring attention to the labor and environmental abuses happening there, in many cases risking their lives to do so. It’s a story of the powerful runnibg roughshod over the weak. C’mon, I dare you, go look, see what’s happening.

Industrialization and industry are great, and enrich our lives. But we know, historically, that we cannot trust those whose short-term profits increase when they pollute to self-regulate. If we could, well, there wouldn’t be regulations imposed on them. We’ve already been down that road, and the egregious acts are what led to the outcry and regulations in the first place! Remember, it was Richard Nixon who signed into law most of the regulations in place today.

Once the people who run these industries become concerned adults, with a long-term eye not only to financial profits but global responsibility commensurate with their power, then the regulations can relax. Am I crazy in thinking this is reasonable?

    Paul in reply to Cnidarian. | April 22, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    You had me right up to “…then the regulations can relax.”

    When does an entrenched bureaucracy ever relax? When does a “civil servant” who is earning fat jack with a guaranteed-benefit pension plan ever voluntarily agree that his/her position is no longer necessary?

    tyates in reply to Cnidarian. | April 22, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    You might want to rethink whatever perceptions you have of conservatives. I have a graduate degree in International business and between myself and my immediate family we have lived in and/or traveled to about 40 countries. And the more places I went, and the more about the world I leaned, the more conservative I became.

    Ragspierre in reply to Cnidarian. | April 22, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    John D. Rockafeller was an environmental pioneer. He hated waste of any kind, and often took over marginal production companies who were big polluters and revamped their operations to efficiently use every resource they controlled.

    You’ll see the same phenomenon in capitalist nations vs. communist ones. The communists are appalling polluters.

    Markets TEND to use resources efficiently, and raise the standard of living for everyone. Nothing else even comes close.

    Ragspierre in reply to Cnidarian. | April 22, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    “Remember, it was Richard Nixon who signed into law most of the regulations in place today.”

    Yes. Nixon was a big, fat Progressive. AND he loved the Fascist economic model. See Amtrak.

I’ve really enjoyed my first look at this blog. Thank you all for bearing with my trolling, and for your comments and feedback. I’m doing something difficult for me, which is to communicate with people with very different worldviews than my own. It”s too easy to sing to my own choir. I really do want to understand. I feel like people on here are intelligent, and can talk without stooping to name-calling or abuse. Nice.
I sense a big fear of centralized government, a deep faith in free market forces. My fear really is that absent government by the people and the rule of law, we wind up instead with rule by wealthy oligarchies who buy and sell lawmakers. I would be a Libertarian, if I could trust in the benevolence of the wealthy, who would probably benefit the most from a Libertarian, conservative platform.

    Ragspierre in reply to Cnidarian. | April 23, 2017 at 9:31 am

    But your fears are illogical. You WANT lawmakers to make laws you think you want, while not realizing that bootleggers LOVE Baptists! The oligarchs you fear LOVE do-gooders and lawmakers. The fondest lovers of regulation are incumbent enterprises that effectively use government to raise the costs to potential competitors who might be coming up. This is called “regulatory capture” of markets.

    IF you manage to convince enough consumers that some environmental policy is good, the market will provide you enterprises who agree with that position, or at least operate as if the do. Markets are wonderfully subtle and responsive. The law is a clumsy, too expensive, hammer…never a scalpel.

    I can readily imagine you’ve learned that Rockefeller was a rapacious old monopolist who had a politician in every pocket. Almost the exact opposite is true. He was a benefactor to the masses, bringing (among other things) light from cheap, clean kerosene into millions of homes that would have been limited to candles for light. There’s an excellent little book you should read; the Myth Of The Robber-barons.

Ragspierre, I’ve put a library hold on Robber Barons,and will read it. My background: I’m an attorney, did 10 yrs in bankruptcy work, representing small businesses, military vets, and lower and middle class folks. I’ve talked to thousands of people in some of the darkest days of their lives. Hard working people that got laid off, contractors that got caught in the real estate bubble. About half got sick or injured, and their bodies couldn’t do it anymore; most could not afford insurance. I also was a marine biologist, and I currently am a tax policy analyst for a state in a bipartisan role.

Here’s my quandry. I’ll use an example.
Let’s say an alternate-universe George Soros decides to get heavily into fossil fuels. He creates a series of subsidiaries to compete in the global oil market. One company owns and operates a plant near your town which produces a product sold in a global market. One-third of the town works in the plant. Corporate culture pushes employees and management to eliminate waste, but in so doing, takes safety shortcuts. Noxious chemicals start to leak into the water supply. Management finds out, but decides to hide this.
Your daughter starts getting sick. It turns out it’s cancer. Other people in the town start getting the same kind of cancer, too. You and your neighbors are pretty sure it’s the pollution from the plant. Your goals are to get money to help your daughter, and to stop and clean up the noxious waste. You have insurance, but it does not come close to paying bills. The company refuses to accept responsibility. You are white, and Republican.
1. Liberal approach: Sue company under tort laws, and through CERCLA civil claims, and ask EPA and DOJ and local agencies to assist in investigation and possible criminal prosecution. Use media to get attention and to put pressure on local lawmakers and law enforcement.

Ok, so now conservatives get everything they want. We dismantle the EPA, repeal CERCLA, and leave only tort remedies. Tort reform has capped liability at $500,000. Insurance companies are now free to deny coverage for preexisting conditions. Or insurance in the high risk pool is too expensive, now that your daughter’s been sick and incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses.

You’re dad. What is the conservative solution? How does the free market work, given that the pollution is hidden, and the product is sold in a global market?

    Ragspierre in reply to Cnidarian. | April 24, 2017 at 9:30 am

    I won’t waste time answering your silly, vexed hypothetical, except to note…

    1. I believe tort law (which I practice as a civil law generalist) evolved along with market economics, and is a market response to issues created in the natural course of market developments

    2. As you know, or should, damage caps generally do not limit recovery for intentional or knowing acts

    3. Conservatives do not advocate NO regulation. We DO advocate limited regulation and know that that is the kind of regulation that is most effective

    4. Your bad actors are sensitive to market pressure. Persuade people that a company is acting irresponsibly with REAL data, and people will discipline bad actors

    5. I once did a search for “insurance” and “pre-existing” and found many pages of companies offering that kind of policy, pre-ObamaDoggle. I’d bet all the of them are now gone

*sigh* why disparage me? It’s detrimental to heathy adult conversation. My example is far from silly. It based on an actual case. All real, just different names.

Who’s going to pay for the collection of REAL data? Also, even if you could get proof of intentional acts, have you ever sued a huge entity with enormous resources? (and yes, I have). And done so when you and your neighbors work for the very company you’re suing? Also, please take a look at the cost of those insurance policies you reference. In the case I used, the plaintiffs that did not die of cancer wound up with about $2,000 in damages apiece-20 years after starting the lawsuit. I can show you many similar real-life examples. And that is happening under current law.

I have pledged not to disparage conservatives who are making the effort to explain their worldview. It hurts, and discourages productive, honest, communication. Without meaningful communication, you might as well be talking to a wall.

    Cnidarian, I think that your attempt to engage us in civil conversation is admirable, and I thought I’d chime in to help you understand why your attempt is not quite hitting its mark.

    You start from a place of misinformation and misunderstanding. Your example is flawed because it’s based on faulty thinking and wrong-headed assumptions.

    The first faulty assumption–and most onerous because it makes your entire Erin Brockovich scenario silly–is that we don’t want any government, any regulations, any oversight or recourse via local, state, or federal government.

    This is a typical problem (and tactic) of the left and will always result in a failure to communicate or reach common ground. As an example in addition to your own scenario, Obama and his radical hordes constantly posited “all or nothing” false choices: ObamaCare or people dying in the streets; massive ground war or gentle chiding,finger waving, and leading from behind; allow men who say they feel like women into little girls’ bathrooms and showers or you want all LGBT people to die a gruesome death. I could go on, but you get my point.

    This kind of silliness–and yes, it is silly–shuts down conversation, and as you must be aware, does so by design.

    So, let’s look at your all-or-nothing scenario. One of the issues that I have as Constitutional conservative who is about as far-right as one can get without looping back around to the far left and its love for fascism is that you trot out a handful of agencies (EPA, DOJ, and “local agencies; you don’t mention the CDC, but you know that’s in there, too, as are the zillions of subagencies devoted to civil rights, social justice, enviro-justice, and on).

    The very fact that there are so many government agencies responsible for and conducting oversight and etc. is a problem. We don’t need a zillion alphabet agencies to deal with a relatively simple problem (knowingly contaminating a water supply). Limited government types like myself very very much dislike the sprawling behemoth of our federal government, and all of these agencies, with overlapping interests and in far too many cases identical functions are exactly the problem.

    You’ve noted above that you distrust large corporations and big business, but at no point do you note that the federal government itself is little more than a sprawling corporation. It’s run with little concern about factors that actually matter to business: customer satisfaction, cost effectiveness, and effectively achieving a stated goal. We’ve been at war with poverty since Johnson; how’s that working out? If a business failed as completely and totally at achieving its objective, it would be out of business in a couple years. Here we are half a century later, and instead of fixing our approach or addressing (even acknowledging the abject failure of the “war on poverty”), we simply toss more money at it . . . and create more poverty.

    The federal government is chock full of people who can never be fired, who could not possibly care less about you as a person, and who–as one goes up the ladder, particularly in the executive but also in the legislative branch–misuse and abuse not only the public trust but the public’s money.

    The federal government should be our recourse against damages, not the purveyor of all things; in the latter instance, you have no where to turn. Take health care as an example: if the left had its way, we’d have socialized medicine. Your doctor, who now works for the federal government in a federal health care facility, misdiagnoses your daughter, and she dies as a result. What do you do? You can’t sue your doctor or the hospital, so you sue the government. Good luck with that. Just ask our nation’s veterans and their surviving relatives how that works out (not that they have the mountains of millions that would be required to sue the feds).

    Big business has to answer not only to consumers and the market but to government oversight (again, we do want that, and we do want regulations, just not mountains of them that cripple our nation’s economy.). In theory, of course, government answers to the people, but we all know that’s a load of crap. The vast majority of federal government employees are there for life, and the ones who are not–i.e. are elected officials–always exempt themselves from the laws, rules, and regulations under which the rest of us must live.

    I’ve gone on for a while now, but my point is that you can’t have a conversation with people about whom you have a completely faulty and woefully incomplete understanding. Without a clear understanding of what we believe, you indeed might as well be talking to a wall. One place to start is to understand that not everyone on the right is a conservative. 😛

    Ragspierre in reply to Cnidarian. | April 24, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    IF you were citing a “real” situation, you should have referred to it. You know, BY NAME!

    I suspect you didn’t for reasons of obfuscation.

    I view with a gimlet eye any hand-waving allusion to “sick child” and “pollution”. You’d have to prove the mechanism for that ASSumption, for one thing.