This week, thousands of scientists issued a bleak and terrifying “second notice” to mankind about how we will destroy the planet unless we take “urgent” action. If this warning is as reliable as the first notice these scientists issued in 1992, we have nothing to worry about.
In an article published in the journal Bioscience, 15,364 scientists warned that we are “jeopardizing our future” and that “immediate action” is needed to “safeguard our imperiled biosphere.”
“Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out,” the scientists say.
The article is meant to be an update on a 1992 notice — ominously titled “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” and signed by 1,700 leading scientists — that predicted environmental catastrophes to come if humans remained on the current course.
But the 1992 statement was wildly off the mark in its dire predictions.
Back then, the world’s leading scientists said that, if current trends continued, air pollution would get worse, water supplies would run short, the world’s supply of fish would sharply decline because of dying oceans, land would become less productive, vast acres of forests would be “gone in a few years,” mass extinctions would limit the ability to develop new medicines, and unchecked population growth would cause more to live in poverty and suffer malnutrition.
“No more than one or a few decades remain,” the scientists warned 2-1/2 decades ago, “before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.”
Turns out that the world didn’t make any “fundamental changes” those scientists said were so urgently needed. If anything, it went faster in the same direction.
There was no concerted effort to control population, which grew by almost 1.9 billion — a 34% increase in 25 years. We didn’t “move away from fossil fuels” — global consumption climbed nearly 56% since 1992. We didn’t “greatly reduce overconsumption,” either. Consumer spending on goods and services soared some 56% from 1990 to 2010.
And what happened to the “fragile planet” that was supposedly on the knife’s edge of permanent destruction?
- Global supplies of clean water have increased. In 1990, 76% of the world’s population had reasonable access to drinking water. By 2010 that had increased to 89%, according to a report from the Food and Agricultural Organization at the U.N.
- The per-capita supply of fish worldwide climbed roughly 30% over those years.
- World hunger and poverty have dropped dramatically. The share of the global population that is undernourished declined more than 40% between 1990 and 2015, U.N. data show. The share of the global population living in abject poverty went down by more than 35%.
- Land has gotten far more productive, not less. In fact, the share of land devoted to agriculture hasn’t budged since 1990, according to the U.N. report. Think about that for a minute: We are able to feed 34% more people, and feed them better than ever, using the same amount of land!
- In the U.S. at least, air pollution is down since 1992 for every single pollutant the EPA measures. And our CO2 emissions are down since the mid-1990s, thanks not to government regulations, but because of the fracking innovation.
- That massive deforestation predicted by scientists? The amount of forest land in the world declined by just 3% from 1990 to 2010, the U.N. report says. (In the U.S., it’s increased.)
- How about the warning that we were cutting off new medicines by destroying species? The pharmaceutical industry is in a golden age of innovation, with more than 5,000 new treatments in the production pipeline.
What’s also interesting about the scientists’ 1992 warning is that it barely mentions global warming, which is the cause for all the current end-of-the-world predictions.
But today’s doomsday scientists are making the same fundamental mistake they made 25 years ago.
They are blind, apparently, to the fact that when people are emboldened by free-market capitalism they are amazingly innovative and will ceaselessly devise new technologies and new ways of doing things that are cheaper, less energy-intensive and less polluting. There’s no need for the massive central planning or worldwide austerity these scientists keep demanding.
Our bet is that when 2042 comes around, the terrifying “second notice” from the world’s leading scientists will look just as ridiculous as the first one does today.