The Right Opinion

Apocalypse Not

By George Will · Aug. 19, 2012

WASHINGTON – Sometimes the news is that something was not newsworthy. The United Nation's Rio+20 conference – 50,000 participants from 188 nations – occurred in June, without consequences. A generation has passed since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, which begat other conferences and protocols (e.g., Kyoto). And, by now, apocalypse fatigue – boredom from being repeatedly told the end is nigh.

This began two generations ago, in 1972, when we were warned (by computer models developed at MIT) that we were doomed. We were supposed to be pretty much extinct by now, or at least miserable. We are neither. So, what when wrong?

That year begat “The Limits to Growth,” a book from the Club of Rome, which called itself “a project on the predicament of mankind.” It sold 12 million copies, staggered The New York Times (“one of the most important documents of our age”) and argued that economic growth was doomed by intractable scarcities. Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish academic and “skeptical environmentalist,” writing in Foreign Affairs, says it “helped send the world down a path of worrying obsessively about misguided remedies for minor problems while ignoring much greater concerns,” such as poverty, which only economic growth can ameliorate.

MIT's models foresaw the collapse of civilization because of “nonrenewable resource depletion” and population growth. “In an age more innocent of and reverential toward computers,” Lomborg writes, “the reams of cool printouts gave the book's argument an air of scientific authority and inevitability” that “seemed to banish any possibility of disagreement.” Then – as now, regarding climate change – respect for science was said to require reverential suspension of skepticism about scientific hypotheses. Time magazine's story about “The Limits to Growth” exemplified the media's frisson of hysteria:

“The furnaces of Pittsburgh are cold; the assembly lines of Detroit are still. In Los Angeles, a few gaunt survivors of a plague desperately till freeway center strips. … Fantastic? No, only grim inevitability if society continues its present dedication to growth and 'progress.'”

The modelers examined 19 commodities and said 12 would be gone long before now – aluminum, copper, gold, lead, mercury, molybdenum, natural gas, oil, silver, tin, tungsten and zinc. Lomborg says:

Technological innovations have replaced mercury in batteries, dental fillings and thermometers, mercury consumption is down 98 percent and its price was down 90 percent by 2000. Since 1970, when gold reserves were estimated at 10,980 tons, 81,410 tons have been mined and estimated reserves are 51,000 tons. Since 1970, when known reserves of copper were 280 million tons, about 400 million tons have been produced globally and reserves are estimated at almost 700 million tons. Aluminum consumption has increased 16-fold since 1950, the world has consumed four times the 1950 known reserves, and known reserves could sustain current consumption for 177 years. Potential U.S. gas resources have doubled in the last six years. And so on.

The modelers missed something – human ingenuity in discovering, extracting and innovating. Which did not just appear after 1972.

Aluminum, Lomborg writes, is one of earth's most common metals. But until the 1886 invention of the Hall-Heroult process, it was so difficult and expensive to extract that “Napoleon III had bars of aluminum exhibited alongside the French crown jewels, and he gave his honored guests aluminum forks and spoons while lesser visitors had to make do with gold utensils.”

Forty years after “The Limits to Growth” imparted momentum to environmentalism, that impulse now is often reduced to children indoctrinated to “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” Lomborg calls recycling “a feel-good gesture that provides little environmental benefit at a significant cost.” He says “we pay tribute to the pagan god of token environmentalism by spending countless hours sorting, storing and collecting used paper, which, when combined with government subsidies, yields slightly lower-quality paper in order to secure a resource” – forests – “that was never threatened in the first place.”

In 1980, economist Julian Simon made a wager in the form of a complex futures contract. He bet Paul Ehrlich (whose 1968 book “The Population Bomb” predicted “hundreds of millions of people” would starve to death in the 1970s as population growth swamped agricultural production) that by 1990 the price of any five commodities Ehrlich and his advisers picked would be lower than in 1980. Ehrlich's group picked five metals. All were cheaper in 1990.

The bet cost Ehrlich $576.07. But that year he was awarded a $345,000 MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant and half of the $240,000 Crafoord Prize for ecological virtue. One of Ehrlich's advisers, John Holdren, is Barack Obama's science adviser.

© 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

22 Comments

Jeremy in CA said:

Ah yes. The complex web of liberal stupidity...

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 12:40 AM

Doktor Riktor Von Zhades in Western KY said:

It has been even longer since the first "Earth Day" rally in NYC. Moi was there to witness the event. Admittedly I was a younger mush-headed, naive youngster. However, even then I took their dire predictions of "the new coming ice age" with a larger dose, (not grain) of salt. My thoughts were, these folks know nothing about science.

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 7:49 AM

TruthInAction in TX said:

Great work, George. This type of work is what makes you special.

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 8:16 AM

JohnInOKC in OKC, OK said:

"a feel-good gesture that provides little environmental benefit at a significant cost."

I'm all for recycling, simply because it reduces the trash going into the ground with the subsequent hazards going into the one place we can't afford to loose in the Western US, groundwater. However, the largest offender in this category is the darling of the environmental movement ....global IT/Apple. If there was ever was a place for a recycling tax, this industry would be it with their commitment to incompatible/throw away parts, lower cost/less quality and in general complete disregard for conserving anything. However, they are viewed as a "green" industry and heaven forbid the Limo Libs go without the latest iPod, iPad, iCrap etc..

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 8:52 AM

cookie in Indiana said:

A loving God who provides us with our daily needs was left out of your equation.

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 11:04 AM

Gregory in Yakima Wa. said:

George Will makes a pretty good living "tellin 'em what they want to hear." He writes in generalities with a few anecdotal comments in order to sound plausible. However, those who eagerly lap up one side of an issue do their understanding a disservice.

Consider this too: "It's good to be skeptical...up to a point. The Patron Saint of Global Warming skepticism is Richard Muller, a research physicist at University of California Berkeley and cited by global warming skeptics everywhere. Muller raised doubts on global warming citing ambiguous data, incomplete analysis and other imperfections of research technique.

But not anymore. Unfortunately for those who wished or held out hope that global warming is wrong, Muller made this statement following a new comprehensive study done by none other than Richard Muller. "Global warming is real". His research team known as the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project set out to discredit global warming but the evidence is overwhelmingly convincing the other way.

Muller admitted his Damascus Road style conversion in written comments to the Wall Street Journal, adding "When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues". He continued "Our research turned out results very close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that"

Muller's in depth study and verification of global warming was partially funded by the Koch brothers. Politicians and others who only tell you what you want to hear are playing you for suckers.

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 12:25 PM

wjm in Colorado replied:

More clueless drivel from the queer in WA. Greg, you deluded fool, if it comes from Beserkley, it is definetely an outright fabrication of liberal idiocy, but you just keep drinking your marxist koolaid, and big government will keep you warm and cozy in your slavery.

Monday, August 20, 2012 at 11:45 AM

Will in Ashburn, Virginia said:

George said, "The modelers examined 19 commodities and said 12 would be gone long before now".

This is a false statement. Nowhere in the book was there any mention about running out of anything by 2000. Instead, the book's concern was entirely focused on what the world might look like 100 years later. There was not one sentence or even a single word written about an oil shortage, or limit to any specific resource, by the year 2000.

http://www.energybulletin.net/node/1512

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 2:05 PM

Dave in Wyo-braska replied:

Hell, dude, I remember the news being chock-full of stories just like this every night. I find it odd that you would accuse such an astute American as Mr. Will of outright lying........

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 4:38 PM

Dave in Wyo-braska replied:

"To highlight how dire the situation with nonrenewable resources was, the MIT researchers calculated how quickly exponential consumption could deplete known reserves of various minerals and fossil fuels. Even if global consumption rates didn’t increase at all, the MIT modelers calculated 40 years ago that known world copper reserves would be entirely depleted in 36 years, lead in 26 years, mercury in 13 years, natural gas in 38 years, petroleum in 31 years, silver in 16 years, tin in 17 years, tungsten in 40 years, and zinc in 23 years. In other words, most of these nonrenewable resources would be entirely used up before the end of the 20th century."

Care to try that again?????

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 4:57 PM

Gregory in Yakima Wa. said:

from an NPR interview by Ira Flatow:

Richard Muller: "But about nine months ago, we reached a conclusion that global warming was indeed taking place, that all of the effects that the skeptics raised could be addressed, and to my surprise, actually, the global warming was approximately what people had previously said.

It came as a bigger surprise over the last three to six months when our young scientist Robert Rohde was able to adopt really excellent statistical methods and push the record back to 1753. With such a long record, we could then separate out the signatures of solar variability, of volcanic eruptions, of El Nino and so on. And actually, to my surprise, the clear signature that really matched the rise in the data was human carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. It just matched so much better than anything else. I was just stunned.

FLATOW: You know, you wrote in your book, even, page 75: The evidence shows that global warming is real, and the recent analysis of our team indicates that most of it is due to humans."

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 3:32 PM

Bruce R Pierce in Owensboro, Ky replied:

How about this for CO2 stats, before the industrial revolution CO2 levels were estimated at .028% of the atmosphere, current levels are at .038%. Yes it is a third higher than it was but the actual rise was .01% nothing to worry about. To put in perspective until recently .01% arsenic was allowed in our drinking water, I'd be much more worried about arsenic than an odorless colorless gas we breathe out with every breath. The only reason for the CO2 hoax is control, life on the Planet is all carbon based so it should be of no surprise that carbon is part of the chemical cycle of everything. Making who controls the carbon controls life and history shows where that leads.

Monday, August 20, 2012 at 12:45 PM

Kevin from Arkansas in USA said:

Ah yes, 1970 Earth Day predictions:

“Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.” • George Wald, Harvard Biologist

“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.” • Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“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.” • Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“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.” • Peter Gunter, professor, North Texas State University

“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….” • Life Magazine, January 1970

“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.” • Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

“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.” • Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 3:37 PM

Dave in Wyo-braska said:

I noticed that Gregory cites NPR and Berkeley as sources. Yes we are aware of how wonderfully "reputable" these sources are.

I'm old enough now to remember (vividly) all of the dire predictions of a new "ice age". The "ice age" didn't materialize, so they came up with a new one: We're all gonna cook to death. That hasn't happened yet, either. So now they have to whine about the temperature not being a nice, comfy 72 degrees 24/7/365. Go ahead, wonk all you want about temperature records being broken all over the country this year. I can remember several years where it was just as hot, and just as dry. Guess what? We're STILL HERE. People have simply gotten spoiled with constant climate controlled environments, and they wuss out as soon as there's a little heat.

Another question: If "starvation" (which is caused by greedy 3rd world governments) was/is such a problem, why are we diverting so much of our corn crops to ethanol production? I still remember the days of seeing pictures of starving children on TV, and then looking out my window at the nearest elevator and seeing millions of bushels of grain being piled on the ground because there was no place to put it. I remember seeing warehouse after warehouse piled to the ceiling with powdered milk, because there was no way to get rid of it. I remember seeing container after container of food/medical aid being sent to said 3rd world countries to help the "starving" people, only to be commandeered by the local warlord. The list goes on.

I used to have the utmost respect for science and scientists, but when "scientific consensus" (an oxymoron in itself) flies in the face of what my own two eyes can see, I have a bit of a problem accepting it as "gospel". There is only one Gospel, and that ain't it.

You liberal, tree-hugging sexual deviant lovers can go jump off a cliff as far as I'm concerned. Think the world is "over populated"? You first.........

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 4:30 PM

Gregory in Yakima Wa. said:

Dave, your own two eyes might tell you the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, or that the earth is the center of the galaxy and etc. Of course those things are not true and we know better because of scientific proof.

George Will offers up anecdotes, Richard Muller and thousands of scientists offer facts as best they can be determined with current scientific means.

The problem for doubters is that their anecdotal "evidence" doesn't hold up to scientific scrutiny. You're going to believe what you choose and that's the way it goes. I'll take facts because I don't have an emotional investment in irrational beliefs.

By the way, as a political issue climate change skepticism is a loser.

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 4:58 PM

Dave in Wyo-braska replied:

And therein, Greg, lies your problem. If some "scientist" says it, it must be true. What say you to the FACT that 30 years ago we were gonna freeze to death, and now we're gonna boil, NEITHER of which has happened? I've told you before, show me a scientific study pointing one way, I can show you another one that points the opposite way. In the end, you've proven nothing. It's called a stalemate.

And as for your inference to me being a member of the "Flat earth society", I send to you a hearty one-fingered salute. How DARE you try to infer that I am somehow nowhere near as "enlightened" as you. I've seen the results of your "progressive" mantra, and I'm still waiting for my pie-in-the-sky Nirvana.

You go ahead and worship your "scientists". I'll worship the TRUE creator of the universe. We'll see who comes out on top....

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 5:47 PM

Dave in Wyo-braska replied:

Oh, and by the way, it's called "CLIMATE". It's SUPPOSED to change. It's not a STATIC system, it's a "DYNAMIC" system. You know, millions of LITTLE things have an effect on climate. And it you truly believe that CO2 is an actual "cause" of "climate change" (or whatever TODAY'S vernacular is) by all means, feel free to STOP BREATHING anytime.

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 5:51 PM

Dave in Wyo-braska replied:

"if". (damn keyboard)

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 5:52 PM

Scotch62 in O-town FL replied:

No Gregory, your "experts" offer theories, sold as facts. Like the Keynesian economists, these eggheads try to use models with 8 or 10 variables that have coefficients that are created by their own speculation to approximate an equation with millions of variables. Of couse, human nature would say that often the biggest variable is weighted by the desired outcome of the group paying the bills. Interestingly enough, governments who want the power to control resources and "their subjects", have unlimited dollars to spend on "facts" to support their programs. (can you say IPCC database scandal?) I choose to continue to think critically knowing that the science is not settled and that humans, even scientists and government hacks act in THEIR best interest, something that the "sheeple" seem to forget. For example, for the $2 trillion implementing a failed Kyoto Accord over the last decade the useless UN could have brought clean water to the African continent and saved how many lives? Socialists say they want power to take care of everybody but history says they just want power. I'll not be a useful idiot helping in their quest.

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 11:34 PM

enemaofthestatistquo in GA said:

Progressives use nothing but "anecdotal" evidence, Listen to any Leftist speech since the dawn of time. TheWorld is getting hotter, NO we just have better equipment to record with. 3/4 of the Earth is water surface which is always coller than land temps. I can take a tempearature on the floor of Death Valley, the Dead Sea, Sahara, etc. 24/7/365, try to keep a ship stationary at (pick an oceanic coordinate here) or even by satellite. Wer do have more oceanic data now, but it will Never be conclusive, but all Leftist want to snapshot all data. My neighborhood bank is always 10 degrees hotter than the broadcast temp, because it is in the direct Sunlight. & BTW, carbon is the basic chemical of all Life on Earth. But also the "cause" of global climate change. We must reduce carbon emissions, start with Gregory?

Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 10:19 PM

rab in jo,mo said:

The Earth warms, the Earth cools. It's a natural cycle and has more to do with that big heat engine 93 million miles away that we orbit than it does with anything mankind does or doesn't do.

BTW, methinks Richard Muller's "Damascus road conversion" probably had more to do with grant money than anything else...

Monday, August 20, 2012 at 10:11 AM

Sammy in Kansas said:

Gregory's gas emissions from his brain farts probably put more pollution into the atmosphere than my huge gas guzzling pickup.

Monday, August 20, 2012 at 10:18 AM