February 2016 Brief: Volume 23, Number 6
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Doom and Gloom = 0, Human Ingenuity = 10
by Deborah D. Thornton
Prophesies and predictions about a dreadful future and the end of the world have existed for thousands of years – and continue today. There is a fascination in thinking about, and thus preparing yourself mentally for, the worst-case scenario. Who hasn’t thought about what they would do if a major disaster affected them or their family? While some of the predictions have come true, sort of, and current dire warnings may come true in the future, a review of some of the predictions, allegations, and facts seems in order.
Though one could go back further, let us begin with Nostradamus. He began writing his astrologically based four-line quatrain predictions beginning in 1555. In the almost 500 years since, some can be characterized as coming true – especially those earlier ones concerning events which might have been predicted by any astute political observer. Other major actions which appear to have come true in/around the timeframe predicted include the great fire of London, the French Revolution, the rise of Napoleon, Louis Pasteur, Hitler, the atomic bomb, and the Kennedy assassinations. The most famous prediction, which has definitely not come true, is that the “King of Terror” would rain down from the skies in 1999 and remain for seven months.
The Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus theorized that the population of the earth will, sooner or later, be held in check by famine and disease. The reason? Primarily the overproduction of children, resulting in a lack of resources to feed and raise them, and the irresponsibility of the lower classes in having these children. The solution? Controlling the family size of the poor. Though there are still hungry people in the world today and short-term famines have caused loss of lives, the Earth supports vastly many more people than 200 years ago and modern agriculture enables us to produce huge quantities of food. So much that in many countries obesity, not starvation, is the problem. In areas with food shortages, the lack of food is not the primary problem, but instead the timely distribution of food to those who need it. Population growth has slowed, but not because of any lack in the earth’s ability to produce subsistence. Specifically, since the mid-1800s, and before Malthus could know and analyze it, the Industrial Revolution exponentially increased the production of food and goods for all people.
In the 1970s the “global cooling” prophecy took hold. Dr. George Wald, a biologist from Harvard, said, during the first celebrations of Earth Day in 1970, “Civilization will end within 15-30 years unless immediate action is taken.” If that “end of the world” prediction had come true, we would not be here today and would have been gone for the last 15 years.
As other experts jumped on the global cooling bandwagon, an infamous 1975 Newsweek story by Science Editor Peter Gwynne said, “There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production – with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now.”
Predictions made during this same time period by the University of California-Davis ecology professor Kenneth Watt said, “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. 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.”
During the 1990s, alarmists began talking about “Y2K.” The Y2K crisis began when someone realized that computers were only programed to record the last two digits of the year, not the first two. Asking if this would make a difference to the smooth mathematical operations of your computer system was a logical and sensible question. The worldwide, hysterical response was not.
What is the moral of the story? The world has been predicted to be ending many times. It has not. In all likelihood it is not ending today and will not end until God’s own time – hopefully many hundreds of millions of years in the future. Should we “protect” the earth and treat it with respect? Yes, of course. We should treat both the Earth and the people who inhabit it with respect. Does that mean we need government and elite, self-appointed leaders to dictate our every action? No, we need government and these people to get out of the way.
Imagination and hard work has solved most of our problems, resulting in a standard of living for a vast number of people which was unimaginable only 200 years ago. That same imagination and hard work, by mostly unsung heroes, has made fools of many, many supposedly smart and wise people and negated their dire predictions. Be very, very careful about making predictions about the future of the world, and be even more careful about what assumptions you use to make those predictions. In all likelihood, you will be wrong.
There are problems in the world today, and there are certainly solutions. As illustrated by these examples and stories, few – if any – of these solutions came from government or taxpayer money. They came from people’s imagination and hard work. We would do well to remember this. We would also do well to remember, gloom and doom = 0, human inspiration, imagination, hard work, innovation, and pure luck = 10! The world hasn’t ended yet, and isn’t likely to anytime soon. And if it does, the government bureaucrats, regulators, and tax collectors can’t stop it.
Public Interest Institute Policy Study, Doom and Gloom = 0, Human Ingenuity = 10; The World Hasn’t Ended Yet! is available at http://www.limitedgovernment.org/ps-16-1.html.
Deborah D. Thornton is a former Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact her at Public.Interest.Institute@LimitedGovernment.org.
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