A century ago, the secular press could be counted upon to lampoon the false prophets of the apocalypse. Indeed, stories about failed doomsday predictions became a trope familiar to late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century North American newspaper readers. Adventist prophets like Eva Brown, shown below in 1910, would establish a specific date for the end of the world. That fateful day would come and go. The disappointed seers would regroup, do some quick calculations and announce that they had not been wrong about the world's demise but simply premature. Smart, secular editorialists and their readers would then indulge in a hearty laugh.
Those days are done. Now progressive media can be counted upon to countenance even the most outrageous doomsday prophesies—as long as they accord with the ideological premises of radical environmentalism. On Thursday, for example, London's Guardian newspaper ran a feature on Stanford biology professor Dr. Paul Ehrlich. It opened with Ehrlich's dramatic prediction that "a shattering collapse of civilization is a 'near certainty' in the next few decades due to humanity’s continuing destruction of the natural world that sustains all life on Earth." From there the piece rolled out, entirely uncritically, the tenets of Ehrlich's unique brand of ecological salvation—reducing the global human population to two billion (you read that correctly), detoxifying the Earth, radically redistributing wealth, and preventing "climate disruption [which] is killing people." Lest Guardian readers wonder whether the article was meant to be read as satire, it was accompanied by a Black Friday-styled photo of rabid shoppers fighting over big-screen TVs.
Ehrlich may not be familiar to the young radicals who have taken charge of the green revolution, but boomers will remember him as the author of the 1968 book The Population Bomb. "The battle to feed all of humanity is over," Ehrlich proclaimed in that book. "In the 1970s the world will undergo famines—hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death." When Ehrlich made this macabre prediction, there were 3.5 billion people in the world, roughly half the global population today. And what can be said of human progress since then? According to historian Johan Norberg, author of the award-winning 2016 book Progress, "we are witnessing the greatest improvement in global living standards ever to take place. Poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, child labour and infant mortality are falling faster than at any other time in human history." Not only was Ehrlich dead wrong, but his false prophesies had disastrous real-world consequences (click the video link above). And, thanks to his gift for self-promotion and the obliging complicity of gullible news and entertainment media—Johnny Carson was his foremost booster—he was for years enormously successful in terrifying everyone within range of a television set.
So now it's 2018, the fiftieth anniversary of The Population Bomb, and the septuagenarian Ehrlich is back on the interview circuit—as much as ever the darling of the neo-Malthusian we're-breeding-ourselves-to-death set. Is he apologetic? Does he want to set the record straight after all these years? Hardly. He's as "proud" of his book as ever, he tells the Guardian, for it "helped start a worldwide debate on the impact of rising population that continues today. The book was correct overall."
We should thank the Guardian for burnishing yet again the reputation of one of the world's most influential and dangerous scientist-activists. Revisiting Ehrlich's long career as an eco-alarmist gives us a window into the mind-set of the many secular adventists he helped to inspire. Prominent among the latter are James Hansen and Al Gore, true believers whose climate prognostications have proved as preposterous as the master's but who continue to dominate our public conversations with unerring certitude—presumably in the belief that, like Miss Eva Brown, all they have to do is keep postponing the date of the impending apocalypse and no one will notice.