Earth Day 2021: Restore Our Earth

Earth Day 2021: Restore Our Earth


Earth Day has been held annually on April 22nd since 1970 to “demonstrate support” for environmental protection around the world. EARTHDAY.ORG claims that it is “the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 75,000 partners in over 190 countries to drive positive action for our planet”. Among its activities, it seeks to influence youth around the world in its approach to environmental activism.  Its success in media coverage is apparent, as newspapers around the world devote many column-inches to its activities on Earth Day every year.

Earth Day is all about advocacy of the “global environmental movement”. It appeals in a missionary style, offering sermons of an imminent ecological catastrophe with a series of threats and warnings (increasing frequency of extreme weather events, biodiversity decline and mass extinction, climate disruption, planetary toxification, etc.). It then presents the good news of salvation to be achieved by series of actions, with the usual exhortations against use of fossil fuels, changing everyday behaviour that reduces use of energy-intensive goods and services, promote “organic” farming to reduce oil-based fertilizers and so on.

Climate predictions play a central role in the liturgy of Earth Days. Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich has played an exemplary role as a serial predictor of global cataclysm. He has made predictions of “environmental collapse going back to 1970 that he has described as having ‘near certainty’”. Another favourite prognosticator is Prince Charles who said in July 2009 that humanity had only 96 months to save the world from “irretrievable climate and ecosystem collapse, and all that goes with it” caused by unchecked consumerism. There are of course many others, from the teenage icon Greta Thunberg to US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

When such predictions inevitably fail, new predictions are made with new end-dates, and the process repeats. This was the subject of a fascinating study of predictions of global environmental apocalypse in the International Journal of Global Warming that assessed 79 predictions of climate Armageddon going back to the first Earth Day in 1970. Just over 60% of the predictions had already expired by 2020. A significant proportion of these predictions (43%) never allowed for uncertainty about dates of the end of the world, like those proffered by Paul Ehrlich and Prince Charles. The average time horizon for climate apocalypse was about 20 years, and little has changed over the past half century.

It would seem that the parable of the ‘little boy who cried wolf’ needs updating if the little boy is replaced by prominent men with weighty titles whose pronouncements are amplified by the mainstream media. Often, the loudest voices with the most sensational declarations of humanity’s doom get the most media attention, proving the old editor’s adage of “if it bleeds, it leads”. Benjamin Zycher of the American Enterprise Institute suggests that the unbroken prediction record of environmental doom, stretching over 50 years, will continue indefinitely. Those who “truly believe” and those whose livelihood depends on the persistence of such beliefs makes it imperative that such predictions will continue to be made, and to be believed.

A recent well-researched empirical survey of trends in a wide variety of climate- and weather-related phenomena and commonly accepted indicators of human and environmental of wellbeing provides a useful reference. Contrary to the received narrative, cyclones, tornadoes, floods and droughts are not getting any worse; wildfires are less extensive than they used to be; cereal yields and food supplies have increased; and coastal margins and beaches have not been shrinking. With respect to human welfare, virtually every metric or indicator shows significant if not dramatic improvement: life expectancy and income levels have improved; poverty levels have declined; people are living longer and healthier lives and the World Bank’s human development index has advanced virtually everywhere.

Since the 1920s, the global death rate from extreme weather events, for instance, has fallen by 98.9% despite the tripling of the world’s population. Average global life expectancy at birth in 1850 was just over 29 years; a century later is was over 45 years, and in 2019, it was almost 73 years. In 1820, 84% of the global population lived in absolute poverty. By 2015, this had dropped to 10% despite a sevenfold increase in world population.

As environmental pessimism is ideological, no amount of empirical data can dissuade believers. There are indications however that this is beginning to change as more scientists are beginning to correct the record. To be sure, a number of sceptical scientists including William Happer, a Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at Princeton University, and Richard Lindzen, a retired Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have long been active in their critiques of mainstream coverage of climate change issues. More recently however, there has been increasing recognition of the fact that implausible worst case scenarios of global warming “have been peddled to the public”. A recent article in Nature bluntly stated “Stop using worst case scenarios as the most likely outcome”.  Holman Jenkins, a Wall Street Journal columnist, remarked “Even David Wallace-Wells, the author of 2019’s climate-crisis book “The Uninhabitable Earth,” was moved to call on fellow activists to revise their advocacy “in a less alarmist direction.”

The doubts cast by the intelligentsia in the affluent countries of the West on the value of economic growth — on the basis of alarmist model-based forecasts of a complex and chaotic climate system going out 80 or 100 years — seem particularly misplaced. For the hundreds of millions of citizens that have newly emerged from poverty in recent decades and are beginning to enjoy the fruits of economic growth and technological progress across Asia, Africa and Latin America – among the greatest achievements in human history – the angst over modern life and may seem indulgent, if not altogether egregious. The theme of Earth Day 2021 is “Restore Our Earth”. The question should be asked, “restore to what?”.



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