For decades, environmental groups have (metaphorically speaking) rung bells and worn sandwich boards predicting the end of the world as we know it. But for the most part, their track record in foreseeing eco-disasters has been as lousy as that of the doomsday prophets of old, leading to a loss of credibility with the public. From overstating the dangers of melting polar ice caps to overestimating the detrimental effects of population growth, environmentalists are turning out to be their own worst enemies by crying 'wolf' too many times.

Environmentalist Paul Ehrlich stated in his 1968 book The Population Bomb that "the battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date, nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate." He predicted that during each year of the '70s, ten million people, mostly children, would die. As methods of population control, Ehrlich promoted financial rewards for families with fewer children, luxury taxes on children's items, and forced vasectomies for family men in Third World countries. In 2004, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page called Ehrlich "a stupendously bad prophet," noting that "globally, women are having fewer and fewer babies, so the world's population will likely peak at around eight billion in 50 years or so."

A 1997 article in The Economist stated that, "Despite continuing warnings of impending worldwide famine, since 1961 the population of the world has almost doubled, while food production has more than doubled--resulting in food production rising by 20 percent per capita since then."

In 1972, the Club of Rome predicted the total depletion of global oil reserves within the next decade; by 1990, unexploited proven reserves were at 900 billion barrels, plus hundreds of billions of barrels of tar shales.

An influential 1980 report titled "Global 2000" that was submitted to President Carter foresaw that by 2000, food prices would rise 35% to 115%... instead, the world food commodity index fell by 50%.

In the 1970s, environmental activists warned that the Alaskan oil pipeline would devastate the Central Arctic caribou population; since then, the herd's numbers have quintupled.

Environmentalists also predicted that due to deforestation, Nepal would turn into a desert and regional fauna be eradicated. Thanks to successful conservation efforts, wildlife numbers rose so fast that lack of habitat became a problem.

In the few cases where the ecological Cassandras were right, their interventions may have caused more harm than good. For example, they correctly claimed that the use of the insecticide DDT was a threat to bald eagles, preventing the eagles' eggs from hatching. But since then, the ban on DDT--which FOX News labeled "genocidal"--has been responsible for tens of millions of people dying of malaria in the Third World each year.

"Environmental alarms have been screeching for so long that, like car alarms, they are now just an irritating background noise," says New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas D. Kristof.

Even with one of its longest-standing top priorities, climate change, the U.S. environmental movement has made little progress. Although global warming keeps making headlines, America is no closer to ratifying the Kyoto Treaty, introduced in 1997 to curb greenhouse gas emissions, than it was eight years ago.

"Over the last 15 years, environmental foundations and organizations have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into combating global warming. We have strikingly little to show for it," concluded two young environmentalists, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, in their controversial 2004 essay The Death of Environmentalism that caused a stir in the environmental community.

Another example, the environmentalist battle against 'demon' nuclear power, has resulted in continued reliance on the far dirtier coal and oil burning forms of power plants. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that it is one of the cleanest, most efficient and environmentally safe sources of energy. And even though some activist groups have actually started to support nuclear power within the last years, by and large its development has been retarded by environmentalist hysteria at every stage.

With a track record like this, it is no wonder that a 2000 survey cited in The Death of Environmentalism found that 41% of Americans consider environmental activists to be "extremists." At the same time, 75% agree that "this country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment."

So, is there hope for the environmental movement? Yes, says Nicholas D. Kristof, but moderation is the magic word. "It's critical to have a credible, nuanced, highly respected environmental movement. And right now, I'm afraid we don't have one."

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Posted 04-18-2005 2:48 PM by Doug Casey