Maligning Earth Day

Published on April 23rd, 2014

The other day an acquaintance sent me a list of predictions supposedly made at the time of the very first Earth Day in 1970. Among them:

  • “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.” — Harvard biologist George Wald
  • “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation.” — The Closing Circle author Barry Commoner
  • “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.” — Denis Hayes, chief organizer for Earth Day
  • “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.” — Life magazine
  • “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.” — University of California Davis professor Kenneth E.F. Watt

While I can’t vouch for the accuracy, attributions and context of these remarks, compiled by libertarian science writer Ronald Bailey for Reason Magazine in 2000, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were indeed uttered or written by the individuals or publications cited. Certainly many such intemperate comments were made back then that look silly with the benefit of hindsight. 

Earth Day 1970 was a heady and historic moment – a massive grassroots awakening to what seemed a new era of ecological peril, fragility and awareness. All sorts of wild and crazy predictions were issued both by authoritative scientists and earnest or arrogant activists mesmerized by their own soaring and apocalyptic rhetoric. Much of the hyperbole was simply to shock an apathetic America from its slumber.

All of these lamentations were variations on a theme:

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

And yet 44 years later, the sky is still above us and we can still breathe the air, in spite of a hole poked through the ozone layer, more CO2 molecules floating overhead, and millions of tons of mercury, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, lead, particulates and other pollutants spewed recklessly into the atmosphere. 

Just because all too many outlandish and absurd assertions and exaggerations were made – easy to lampoon 44 years later – doesn’t mean that the environmental crisis wasn’t and isn’t real.

Playing dirty – Heartland Institute’s billboard comparing global warming believers with mass murderer Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.

Those who smirk today at such early Earth Day excesses err in believing that the ecological predicament of humankind – and the related overpopulation dilemma – are nothing but a joke, junk science or a hoax perpetrated by wacky wing nuts and tenured, leftie college professors who still wear granny glasses like John Lennon. 

Whenever someone of malicious intent seeks to malign an entire movement or paradigm, they select its most extreme expressions and distortions and misrepresent them as typical. Thus, the troll who compiled the wacky list above also claims that the first Earth Day was “organized in part by then hippie and now convicted murderer Ira Einhorn” rather than World War II Army veteran, former two-term Wisconsin governor, and three-term U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson.

In fact, while Einhorn apparently did participate in Philadelphia’s Earth Day in 1970, years before he committed murder, he had nothing to do with organizing even that one event, to say Earth Day as a whole, which consisted of thousands of such celebrations with tens of millions of participants all over America.

Linking Earth Day with a vicious murderer is as dishonest and despicable as the Heartland Institute’s ill-fated 2012 billboard campaign maligning believers in global warming by comparing them with the mass-murdering Unabomber.   

Those of us who advocate reduced immigration are all too familiar with such slimy tactics and calumny on the part of our own unscrupulous opponents, who cannot win on the facts or logic and therefore resort to flinging mud and crud. 

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