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Alarmism Now – and Then (Modern Malthusianism in its 6th Decade)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- May 9, 2024

“Many people think that the threat of ‘global warming’ arose only towards the end of the twentieth century…. Climate change, either natural or anthropogenic, has been discussed from the classical age onwards, evolving from the expected benefits of climate engineering to today’s fear of global disaster.”

– Hans von Storch and Nico Stehr, “Climate Change in Perspective,” Nature, June 8, 2000, p. 615

It is all gloom, what Michael Mann cautioned against as “doomism.”[1] Such alarm has been the mainstream narrative—and wrong—since the 1960s. And warnings about how exaggeration can backfire (New York Times: “In Climate Debate, Exaggeration Is a Pitfall“) have been thrown to the wind in the futile, costly pursuit of Net Zero.

This post presents the climate alarm quotations of today with the quotations from Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome in the late 1960s/early 1970s for historical perspective.

Guardian (May 8, 2024)

We begin with The Guardian US story by environmental editor Damian Carrington, “We Asked 380 Top Climate Scientists What They Felt about the Future … They Are Terrified, but Determined to Keep Fighting. Here’s What They Said

An exclusive Guardian survey of hundreds of the world’s leading climate experts has found that:

  • 77% of respondents believe global temperatures will reach at least 2.5C above pre-industrial levels, a devastating degree of heating;
  • almost half – 42% – think it will be more than 3C;
  • only 6% think the 1.5C limit will be achieved.

So the Guardian contacted every available lead author or review editor of all IPCC reports since 2018. Almost half replied – 380 out of 843, a very high response rate.

Quotations in Article

“Sometimes it is almost impossible not to feel hopeless and broken. After all the flooding, fires, and droughts of the last three years worldwide, all related to climate change, and after the fury of Hurricane Otis in Mexico, my country, I really thought governments were ready to listen to the science, to act in the people’s best interest.”

“We have seen these extreme events happening everywhere. There is not a safe place for anyone. I find it infuriating, distressing, overwhelming…. I got a depression.”

– Ruth Cerezo-Mota (National Autonomous University of Mexico)

“I’m relieved that I do not have children, knowing what the future holds.”

Anonymous expert

“It looks really bleak, but I think it’s realistic. It’s just the fact that we’re not taking the action that we need to.”

“Scientists are human: we are also people living on this Earth, who are also experiencing the impacts of climate change, who also have children, and who also have worries about the future. We did our science, we put this really good report together and – wow – it really didn’t make a difference on the policy. It’s very difficult to see that, every time.”

Lisa Schipper, University of Bonn

“I expect a semi-dystopian future with substantial pain and suffering for the people of the global south. The world’s response to date is reprehensible – we live in an age of fools.”

African scientist (anonymous)

“Running away from [unescapable reality] is impossible and will only increase the challenges of dealing with the consequences and implementing solutions.”

Joeri Rogelj, Imperial College, London

“Humanity is heading towards destruction. We’ve got to appreciate, help and love each other.”

Scientist, Pacific Island nation (anonymous)

“It is the biggest threat humanity has faced, with the potential to wreck our social fabric and way of life. It has the potential to kill millions, if not billions, through starvation, war over resources, displacement. None of us will be unaffected by the devastation.”

James Renwick, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

“I am scared mightily – I don’t see how we are able to get out of this mess.”

Tim Benton, Chatham House

“Most people do not realise how big these [tipping point] risks are.”

Wolfgang Cramer, Mediterranean Institute of Biodiversity and Ecology.

“[Climate change] is an existential threat to humanity and [lack of] political will and vested corporate interests are preventing us addressing it. I do worry about the future my children are inheriting.”

Lorraine Whitmarsh, University of Bath, UK

“The tacit calculus of decision-makers, particularly in the Anglosphere – US, Canada, UK, Australia – but also Russia and the major fossil fuel producers in the Middle East, is driving us into a world in which the vulnerable will suffer, while the well-heeled will hope to stay safe above the waterline…. Civil disobedience [is the next step].”

Stephen Humphreys, London School of Economics

“The enormity of the problem is not well understood. So there will be environmental refugees by the millions, extreme weather events escalating, food and water shortages, before the majority accept the urgency in reducing emissions – by which time it will be too late.”

Ralph Sims, Massey University, New Zealand

“I feel resigned to disaster as we cannot separate our love of bigger, better, faster, more, from what will help the greatest number of people survive and thrive. Capitalism has trained us well.”

US scientist (anonymous)

“… our societies will be forced to change and the suffering and damage to lives and livelihoods will be severe.”

Michael Meredith, at the British Antarctic Survey

Paul Ehrlich: 1960s Forward

A half century ago, the Malthusian mainstream, the establishment, was equally alarmed.

“At the moment we cannot predict what the overall climatic results will be of our using the atmosphere as a garbage dump. We do know that very small changes in either direction in the average temperature of the Earth could be very serious. With a few degrees of cooling, a new ice age might be upon us, with rapid and drastic effects on the agricultural productivity of the temperature regions.  With a few degrees of heating, the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps would melt, perhaps raising ocean levels 250 feet. . . .  In short, when we pollute, we tamper with the energy balance of the Earth.”

Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (Cutchogue, New York:  Buccaneer Books, 1968, 1971), p. 39.

“As University of California physicist John Holdren has said, it is possible that carbon-dioxide climate-induced famines could kill as many as a billion people before the year 2020.”

Paul Ehrlich, The Machinery of Nature, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1986, p. 274

MIT/Club of Rome (1972)

“If all the policies instituted in 1975 in the previous figure are delayed until the year 2000, the equilibrium state is no longer sustainable. Population and industrial capital reach levels high enough to create food and resource shortages before the year 2000.”

  • Donella Meadows et al., The Limits to Growth (New York: Universe Books, 1972), p. 169.

“Although we have many reservations about the approximations and simplifications in the present world model, it has led us to one conclusion that appears to be justified under all the assumptions we have tested so far. The basic behavior mode of the world system is exponential growth of population and capital, followed by collapse.”

  • Donella Meadows et al. The Limits to Growth, p. 142.

Limits to Growth … ‘astonishingly young’ (the oldest was 30) authors were true believers. Dennis and Donella Meadows retreated to a New Hampshire farm after completing the book ‘to learn about homesteading and wait for the coming collapse.’ ‘We definitely felt like Cassandras,’ Donella Meadows added, ‘especially as we watched the world react to our work’.”

  • Quoted in Robert Bradley, Capitalism at Work: Business, Government, and Energy (2009), p. 234.

And older …

“Climate apprehension did not begin in 1988 or in 1957, or even in 1896.  There were colonial, early modern, and even ancient precedents. . . .  We have arrived, late in the twentieth century, at a climate discourse that is again saturated with metaphor, values, and apprehensions.”

  • James Rodger Fleming, Historical Perspectives on Climate Change (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 136.

“‘Something is wrong with the weather’ is the title of a recent article in U.S. News and World Report, and an article in Saturday Review asks, ‘Is man changing the climate of the earth?’  The layman, and the nonspecialist on reading these articles and the many others in the newspapers will probably be convinced that the climate is changing, for the accumulating evidence is considerable. He will probably be confused also, for the reasons given for the change are as varied as the authors. One author will blame the change on sunspots, another on the consumption of fossil fuels producing an increase in the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere. Still another author will suggest air pollution as a significant cause, and another maintains that a complicated feedback of energy between sea and air is sufficient to produce irregular climate fluctuations. . . .   Who is right?”

  • Reid Bryson, “‘All Other Factors Being Constant . . . ’ A Reconciliation of Several Theories of Climate Change,” Weatherwise, April 1968; reprinted in John Holdren and Paul Ehrlich, Global Ecology: Readings Toward a Rational Strategy for Man (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1971), pp. 78-79.

“The debate over climate change, both from natural causes and human activity, is not new.  Although the Baron C.-L. de Montesquieu is undoubtedly the best known Enlightenment thinker on the topic of climate determinism, others, notably the Abbe Du Bos, David Hume, and Thomas Jefferson, observed that climatic changes exerted a direct influence on individuals and society and that human agency was directly involved in changing the climate.”

  • James Rodger Fleming, Historical Perspectives on Climate Change (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 11.

“As public awareness of global warming reached an early peak in the mid-1950s, the popular press began to carry articles on climate cooling.  Fortune published an article in 1954 entitled ‘Climate: The Heat May Be Off,’ and in 1958, just as the IGY was winding down, journalist Betty Friedan wrote an article for Harper’s Magazine on the coming of a new ice age.  Her article was a review of a recent theory by Maurice Ewing and William Donn which held that climate warming could lead to a breakup of the Arctic ice pack.”

  • James Rodger Fleming, Historical Perspectives on Climate Change (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 131-32.

[1] States Mann, “hot takes, hyperbole, and polarizing commentary best generate clicks, shares, and retweets. I often encounter, especially on social media, individuals who are convinced that the latest extreme weather event is confirmation that the climate crisis is far worse than we thought…. increasingly today we see it with climate doomists…. This is not true, or at best partly true.”

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