April 22, 2015

Happy Lenins Birthday!

18 spectacularly wrong apocalyptic predictions made around the time of the first Earth Day in 1970, expect more this year

On the 30th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970, Ronald Bailey wrote an excellent article in the May 2000 edition of Reason Magazine titled “Earth Day, Then and Now.” In that article, Bailey noted that around the time of the first Earth Day, and in the years following, there was a “torrent of apocalyptic predictions” and many of those predictions were featured in his Reason article.  Well, now that more than 40 years have passed, how accurate were those predictions around the time of the first Earth Day? Wrong, spectacularly wrong, and here are 18 examples:
1. Harvard biologist George Wald estimated that “civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”
2. “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation,” wrote Washington University biologist Barry Commoner in the Earth Day issue of the scholarly journal Environment.
3. The day after the first Earth Day, the New York Times editorial page warned, “Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.”
4. “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” Paul Ehrlich confidently declared in the April 1970 Mademoiselle. “The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”
5. “Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born,” wrote Paul Ehrlich in a 1969 essay titled “Eco-Catastrophe! “By…[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.”
6. 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.”
7. “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” declared Denis Hayes, the chief organizer for Earth Day, in the Spring 1970 issue of The Living Wilderness.
8. 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.”
9. In January 1970, Life reported, “Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: 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 earth by one half….”
10. Ecologist Kenneth Watt told Time that, “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.”
11. Barry Commoner predicted that decaying organic pollutants would use up all of the oxygen in America’s rivers, causing freshwater fish to suffocate.
12. Paul Ehrlich chimed in, predicting in his 1970 that “air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.” Ehrlich sketched a scenario in which 200,000 Americans would die in 1973 during “smog disasters” in New York and Los Angeles.
13. Paul Ehrlich warned in the May 1970 issue of Audubon that DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons “may have substantially reduced the life expectancy of people born since 1945.” Ehrlich warned that Americans born since 1946…now had a life expectancy of only 49 years, and he predicted that if current patterns continued this expectancy would reach 42 years by 1980, when it might level out.
14. 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.'”
15. Harrison Brown, a scientist at the National Academy of Sciences, published a chart in Scientific American that looked at metal reserves and estimated the humanity would totally run out of copper shortly after 2000. Lead, zinc, tin, gold, and silver would be gone before 1990.
16. Sen. Gaylord Nelson wrote in Look that, “Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, 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.”
17. In 1975, Paul Ehrlich predicted that “since more than nine-tenths of the original tropical rainforests will be removed in most areas within the next 30 years or so, it is expected that half of the organisms in these areas will vanish with it.”
18. Kenneth Watt warned about a pending Ice Age in a speech. “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years,” he declared. “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.”
MP: Let’s keep those spectacularly wrong predictions from the first Earth Day 1970 in mind when we’re bombarded tomorrow with media hype, and claims like this from the official Earth Day website:
The fight against climate change is at an impasse and life on Earth hangs in the balance. Help us save polar bears and other wildlife as their habitats disappear and their food sources become scarce. Like the polar bear, human life is under threat, too. Storms are becoming stronger, droughts are becoming more severe, and rising sea levels encroach on our cities. We need an active informed public to stand tall, stop and reverse climate change and protect our children’s future!
Finally, think about this question, posed by Ronald Bailey: What will Earth look like when Earth Day 60 rolls around in 2030? Bailey predicts a much cleaner, and much richer future world, with less hunger and malnutrition, less poverty, and longer life expectancy, and with lower mineral and metal prices. But he makes one final prediction about Earth Day in 2030: “There will be a disproportionately influential group of doomsters predicting that the future–and the present–never looked so bleak.” In other words, the hysteria and apocalyptic predictions will continue, promoted by the “environmental grievance hustlers.”

April 05, 2015

Human beings will be religious one way or another.


At the risk of sounding like Paul Krugman — who returns to a handful of cherished topics over and over again in his New York Times column — I want to revisit one of my hobby horses, which I most recently raised in my discussion of Hobby Lobby.
My own cherished topic is this: Liberalism's decline from a political philosophy of pluralism into a rigidly intolerant dogma.
The decline is especially pronounced on a range of issues wrapped up with religion and sex. For a time, electoral self-interest kept these intolerant tendencies in check, since the strongly liberal position on social issues was clearly a minority view. But the cultural shift during the Obama years that has led a majority of Americans to support gay marriage seems to have opened the floodgates to an ugly triumphalism on the left.
The result is a dogmatic form of liberalism that threatens to poison American civic life for the foreseeable future. Conservative Reihan Salamdescribes it, only somewhat hyperbolically, as a form of "weaponized secularism."
The rise of dogmatic liberalism is the American left-wing expression of the broader trend that Mark Lilla identified in a recent blockbuster essay forThe New Republic. The reigning dogma of our time, according to Lilla, is libertarianism — by which he means far more than the anti-tax, anti-regulation ideology that Americans identify with the post-Reagan Republican Party, and that the rest of the world calls "neoliberalism."
At its deepest level, libertarianism is "a mentality, a mood, a presumption… a prejudice" in favor of the liberation of the autonomous individual from all constraints originating from received habits, traditions, authorities, or institutions. Libertarianism in this sense fuels the American right's anti-government furies, but it also animates the left's push for same-sex marriage — and has prepared the way for its stunningly rapid acceptance — in countries throughout the West.
What makes libertarianism a dogma is the inability or unwillingness of those who espouse it to accept that some people might choose, for morally legitimate reasons, to dissent from it. On a range of issues, liberals seem not only increasingly incapable of comprehending how or why someone would affirm a more traditional vision of the human good, but inclined to relegate dissenters to the category of moral monsters who deserve to be excommunicated from civilized life — and sometimes coerced into compliance by the government.
The latter tendency shows how, paradoxically, the rise of libertarian dogma can have the practical effect of increasing government power and expanding its scope. This happens when individuals look to the government to facilitate their own liberation from constraints imposed by private groups, organizations, and institutions within civil society. In such cases, the government seeks to bring those groups, organizations, and institutions into conformity with uniform standards that ensure the unobstructed personal liberation of all — even if doing so requires that these private entities are forced to violate their distinctive visions of the good.
As the old (flagrantly illiberal) saying goes: If you want to make an omelet, you've got to break some eggs.
Consider some of the ways that liberalism's dogmatism has expressed itself in recent months.
  • Brendan Eich resigned as the chief executive of Mozilla, a company he helped found, after gay rights activists launched a boycott against the company for placing him in a senior position. Eich's sin? More than five years earlier, he donated $1,000 to the campaign for California's Proposition 8, which sought to ban same-sex marriage in the state. It didn't matter that he'd explicitly assured employees that he would treat them fairly, regardless of their sexual orientation. What mattered was that Eich (like the 7 million people who voted in favor of Prop 8) had made himself a heretic by coming down on the wrong side of an issue on which error had now become impermissible.
  • Liberals indulged in a wildly overwrought reaction to the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, with seasoned journalists likening the plaintiffs to the Pakistani Taliban, and countless others taking to social media to denounce a government-sanctioned theocratic assault on women's health — all because some women working for corporations that are "closely held" by religiously conservative owners might have to pay out of pocket for certain forms of freely available contraception (as, one presumes, they currently do for toothpaste). Apparently many liberals,including the Senate Democrats who seem poised to gut the decision, consider it self-evident that these women face a far greater burden than the conservative owners, who would be forced by the government to violate their religious beliefs. One highly intelligent commentator, inadvertently confessing his incapacity to think beyond the confines of liberal dogma,described the religious objection as "trivial" and "so abstract and attenuated it's hard to even explain what it is."
  • Beyond the Beltway, related expressions of liberal dogmatism have led a Harvard undergraduate to suggest that academic freedom shouldn't apply to the handful of conservatives on campus — because their views foster and justify "oppression." In a like-minded column in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a professor of English at the University of Pennsylvaniaargued that religious colleges should be denied accreditation — because accrediting them "confers legitimacy on institutions that systematically undermine the most fundamental purposes of higher education," one of which is to pursue "skeptical and unfettered" (read: dogmatically liberal and secular) inquiry.
But wait, some will object: You can't reduce contemporary American liberalism to the illiberal outbursts of loudmouthed activists, intemperate journalists, foolish undergraduates, and reckless Ivy League professors!
To which the proper response is: True!
Still, I wonder: Where have been all the outraged liberals taking a stand against these and many other examples of dogmatism — and doing so in the name of liberalism? I've been doing that in my own writing. And I've appreciated the occasional expressions of modest support from a handful of liberal readers. But what about the rest of you?
A final thought: One area where Lilla's essay cries out for further elaboration is on the question of why the demand for individual autonomy has become so dogmatic at the present moment in history. Lilla himself leaves it at the assertion that since the end of the Cold War we have "simply found ourselves" in a world dominated by libertarian dogma.
I'd like to venture a tentative explanation — one that has nothing to do with the end of the Cold War.
From the dawn of the modern age, religious thinkers have warned that, strictly speaking, secular politics is impossible — that without the transcendent foundation of Judeo-Christian monotheism to limit the political sphere, ostensibly secular citizens would begin to invest political ideas and ideologies with transcendent, theological meaning.
Put somewhat differently: Human beings will be religious one way or another. Either they will be religious about religious things, or they will be religious about political things.
With traditional faith in rapid retreat over the past decade, liberals have begun to grow increasingly religious about their own liberalism, which they are treating as a comprehensive view of reality and the human good.
But liberalism's leading theoreticians (Locke, Montesquieu, Jefferson, Madison, Tocqueville, Mill) never intended it to serve as a comprehensive view of reality and the human good. On the contrary, liberalism was supposed to act as a narrowly political strategy for living peacefully in a world of inexorably clashing comprehensive views of reality and the human good.
The key to the strategy was the promulgation of the pluralistic principle of toleration.
Which is why the proper response to the distinctive dogmatism of our time is to urge liberals to return to their tolerant roots. That's what I've been trying to do in my own writing, and my efforts will continue until more liberals come to their senses and begin recalling their comrades to a robust defense of their own pluralistic principles.