Even as anti-gas tax riots raged in France this week, naturalist David Attenborough warned a crowd at a United Nations climate change summit in Poland that “the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” U.N. General Assembly President Maria Espinosa told the media that “mankind” is “in danger of disappearing” if climate change is allowed to progress at its current rate.
Speakers, who flew in to swap doomsday stories, advocated radical changes to avoid this imminent environmental apocalypse. These days, “the point of no return” is almost always in view yet always just out of reach.
Sorry, but by now, this rhetoric is familiar. You can go back to 1970, when Harvard biologist George Wald, riding a wave of popular environmental panic during the decade, estimated, “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”
Or you can go back to 1977, when Barack Obama’s future science “czar,” John Holdren, co-authored a book with Paul R. Ehrlich predicting that global warming could lead to the deaths of 1 billion starving people by 2020. (The authors theorized, “Population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution.”)
Or you can go back to 2006, when Al Gore warned in his Oscar-winning documentary that sea levels would rise by 20 feet “in the near future.” The producers even offered chilling depictions of cities underwater. Gore was only off by 20 feet or so. Anyway, South Beach is still with us.
The problem for alarmists is that warming is now here — allegedly the cause of an untold number of disasters, small and large — yet somehow humanity slogs onward, living longer, safer, richer lives. People internalize this reality, no matter what they tell pollsters.
At a big 2005 conference of concerned climate scientists and politicians in London, attendees warned that the world had as little as 10 years before it would reach “the point of no return on global warming.” They warned that humans would soon be grappling with “widespread agricultural failure,” “major droughts,” “increased disease,” “the death of forests” and the “switching-off of the North Atlantic Gulf Stream,” among many other terrible calamities.
Who knows? Maybe one day, humanity will be ravaged by new diseases because of a rise in temperature. Right now, though, we are on the cusp of eradicating such diseases as polio, measles and syphilis.
There is new hope that all mosquito-borne diseases will be eradicated someday, that a cure for AIDS is within reach and that a vaccine will be able to cut Alzheimer’s disease cases in half. Cancer survival rates have soared.
So perhaps in some far-flung era, humans will be toiling in a dystopian world of “widespread agricultural failure” as alarmists have been warning for many decades, but trends do not look promising for the Chicken Littles. Since 2005, humans have seen a spike in the use of genetically modified crops, as well as advances in heat-resistant crops, leading to booming yields in agriculture. According to the U.N., there were 200 million fewer hungry people in 2015 than there were in 1990.
Although not so big as the massive spike in climate change hysterics since 2005, there also has been a spike in fossil fuel consumption among nations that are slowly embracing the most effective poverty-killing program ever invented by man. And capitalism, even its worst iterations, runs best on cheap energy. This reality has produced a giant reduction in poverty, the extreme variety being cut in half around the world, according to the World Bank. The less poverty there is the more cars we will see and the less the U.S. and Europe can do about it.
Fortunately, Attenborough, Gore and the 22,000 delegates attending the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change can’t begin to contemplate the staggering number of advancements in productivity and science that await humans.
Of course, simply because Malthusians have been completely wrong about human ingenuity and adaptability for more than 100 years doesn’t necessarily mean they are wrong now. On the other hand, at no point in history has a massive top-down social engineering project ever worked as intended. It’s worth noting, for example, that the 10 worst famines of the 20th century were caused not by the excesses of capitalism or by environmental disasters but by collectivists trying to control human nature.