Maybe we aren’t doomed after all

Apocalypse Not: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry About End Times

When the sun rises on December 22, as it surely will, do not expect apologies or even a rethink. No matter how often apocalyptic predictions fail to come true, another one soon arrives. And the prophets of apocalypse always draw a following—from the 100,000 Millerites who took to the hills in 1843, awaiting the end of the world, to the thousands who believed in Harold Camping, the Christian radio broadcaster who forecast the final rapture in both 1994 and 2011.

Religious zealots hardly have a monopoly on apocalyptic thinking. Consider some of the environmental cataclysms that so many experts promised were inevitable. Best-selling economist Robert Heilbroner in 1974: “The outlook for man, I believe, is painful, difficult, perhaps desperate, and the hope that can be held out for his future prospects seem to be very slim indeed.” Or best-selling ecologist Paul Ehrlich in 1968: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s [“and 1980s” was added in a later edition] the world will undergo famines—hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked on now … nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.” Or Jimmy Carter in a televised speech in 1977: “We could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.”

Predictions of global famine and the end of oil in the 1970s proved just as wrong as end-of-the-world forecasts from millennialist priests. Yet there is no sign that experts are becoming more cautious about apocalyptic promises. If anything, the rhetoric has ramped up in recent years. Echoing the Mayan calendar folk, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock one minute closer to midnight at the start of 2012, commenting: “The global community may be near a point of no return in efforts to prevent catastrophe from changes in Earth’s atmosphere.”

Over the five decades since the success of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 and the four decades since the success of the Club of Rome’s The Limits to Growth in 1972, prophecies of doom on a colossal scale have become routine. Indeed, we seem to crave ever-more-frightening predictions—we are now, in writer Gary Alexander’s word, apocaholic. The past half century has brought us warnings of population explosions, global famines, plagues, water wars, oil exhaustion, mineral shortages, falling sperm counts, thinning ozone, acidifying rain, nuclear winters, Y2K bugs, mad cow epidemics, killer bees, sex-change fish, cell-phone-induced brain-cancer epidemics, and climate catastrophes.

So far all of these specters have turned out to be exaggerated. True, we have encountered obstacles, public-health emergencies, and even mass tragedies. But the promised Armageddons—the thresholds that cannot be uncrossed, the tipping points that cannot be untipped, the existential threats to Life as We Know It—have consistently failed to materialize. To see the full depth of our apocaholism, and to understand why we keep getting it so wrong, we need to consult the past 50 years of history.

The classic apocalypse has four horsemen, and our modern version follows that pattern, with the four riders being chemicals (DDT, CFCs, acid rain), diseases (bird flu, swine flu, SARS, AIDS, Ebola, mad cow disease), people (population, famine), and resources (oil, metals). Let’s visit them each in turn.

I am not an environmentalist. Nowadays saying that that doesn’t upset people so much. Back in the 80’s, especially for a liberal, that was like saying “I am a serial killer.” People would look at you in shock and hope you were joking.

To me, an environmentalist is someone who thinks a beaver dam is a thing of beauty but a hydroelectric dam is an abomination, even though hydroelectric dams provide drinking water, irrigation water, electricity and recreation for huge numbers of people. When you consider all the pluses and minuses of technology vs. “nature” it’s really no argument. Humans have to live on this planet too.

This article is one of those you should read even if you disagree with it – or maybe especially if you disagree.

I want to focus on just one part of it:

Silent Spring, published 50 years ago this year, was instrumental in the emergence of modern environmentalism. “Without this book, the environmental movement might have been long delayed or never have developed at all,” Al Gore wrote in his introduction to the 1994 edition. Carson’s main theme was that the use of synthetic pesticides—DDT in particular—was causing not only a massacre of wildlife but an epidemic of cancer in human beings. One of her chief inspirations and sources for the book was Wilhelm Hueper, the first director of the environmental arm of the National Cancer Institute. So obsessed was Hueper with his notion that pesticides and other synthetic chemicals were causing cancers (and that industry was covering this up) that he strenuously opposed the suggestion that tobacco-smoking take any blame. Hueper wrote in a 1955 paper called “Lung Cancers and Their Causes,” published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, “Industrial or industry-related atmospheric pollutants are to a great part responsible for the causation of lung cancer … cigarette smoking is not a major factor in the causation of lung cancer.”

In fact, of course, the link between smoking and lung cancer was found to be ironclad. But the link between modern chemicals and cancer is sketchy at best. Even DDT, which clearly does pose health risks to those unsafely exposed, has never been definitively linked to cancer. In general, cancer incidence and death rates, when corrected for the average age of the population, have been falling now for 20 years.

There is probably no chemical that has been as unfairly maligned as DDT. I’, not gonna tell you that DDT is completely safe and harmless because it’s not. It’s a chemical pesticide – a poison. Wikipedia:

DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) is an organochlorine insecticide which is a white, crystalline solid, tasteless, and almost odorless. Technical DDT has been formulated in almost every conceivable form including solutions in xylene or petroleum distillates, emulsifiable concentrates, water-wettable powders, granules, aerosols, smoke candles, and charges for vaporisers and lotions.[2]

First synthesized in 1874, DDT’s insecticidal properties were not discovered until 1939, and it was used with great success in the second half of World War II to control malaria and typhus among civilians and troops. The Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1948 “for his discovery of the high efficiency of DDT as a contact poison against several arthropods.”[3] After the war, DDT was made available for use as an agricultural insecticide, and soon its production and use skyrocketed.[4]

For most of human history pestilence has been a major threat to our survival. Insects consume crops and stored grains. Some, like locusts, can destroy entire fields in a matter of hours. After pestilence comes famine.

Insects also transmit deadly diseases. Millions of people used to die every year from malaria, typhus and other insect-borne killers. Even today hundreds of thousands of people still do.

So do the math. On one hand you have millions of deaths from disease and millions more from starvation caused by destroyed crops. On the other hand you have thousands of deaths (maybe) caused by DDT. It’s no contest – DDT wins.

When DDT first came into use as an insecticide it was like a miracle chemical. Early insecticides like nicotine were highly toxic and dangerous to use as well as expensive to mass produce. DDT was effective, cheap and relatively safe to use.

DDT isn’t perfect. There are very real problems with it.

As I have said before, in an earlier life I was a pest control technician, also known as an exterminator or more commonly, “the Bug Man.” I got started in that occupation shortly after leaving the army in 1981. Although DDT had been banned in 1972 many of the guys I worked with had used the pesticide and its analogs, Chlordane and Lindane.

When I started out the industry had switched from chlorinated hydrocarbons to organic phosphates. (If you want to know what those names mean ask a chemist.) Organic phosphates are actually more toxic when first applied but they break down quicker. That means they have to be applied more often.

They are also more expensive. This wasn’t a major problem for us here in the United States, but when you’re trying to eradicate malaria in on a low budget in underdeveloped nations you need maximum bang for your buck. That’s why DDT is still in use today.

When I say I’m not an environmentalist I don’t mean I want to destroy the environment. But humans have to live on this planet too. The eco-freaks like Earth First are full of shit. If the whole world was forced to live by their rules a billion people would die.

I don’t know about you but I kinda like it here.

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55 Responses to Maybe we aren’t doomed after all

  1. myiq2xu says:

    I have been watching the livestream waiting to see if Assange makes an appearance or not. Apparently every socialist nutjob in England will be speaking first.

  2. votermom says:

    Early insecticides like nicotine were highly toxic and dangerous to use as well as expensive to mass produce.

    Don’t forget arsenic which used to be one of the most common pesticides.

  3. About how I think and feel about it, too. We are as arrogant as we ever where. We assuming our piddling little selves are capable of “destroying” a planet. Thing is, even if we made the environment unsuitable for human life (unlikely, in any event), the planet would still exist, and life would still thrive. We need to get over ourselves.

    • yttik says:

      That’s how I feel, too.

      LOL, I blame sexism. We call her mother nature and than apply all these stereotypes about her being fragile, delicate, weak, in need of our constant protection. It’s actually demeaning and disrespectful. Apparently nobody has ever stood in the middle of a hurricane or watched a mountain explode. Trust me, the planet will be fine. We on the other hand, frequently get ourselves evicted.

      • Good point, Yttik.

      • myiq2xu says:

        Yeah, Mt. St. Helens was a major polluter of the Northwest a few years back. If Yellowstone ever blows it will be even worse.

      • WMCB says:

        My husband, who minored in physics, gets annoyed at the whole “we will destroy the earth” hysteria as well. Matter is matter.

        Everything is “natural”, even our plastic and landfills. Unless you are capable of creating new matter from nothing, EVERYTHING that exists is merely a rearranging of substances already here, i.e. “natural”. The earth does not give one shit if quartz is sitting around in the form of crystals, or in the form of glass bottles. We could kill ourselves off, or take some species with us. But new ones would arise. The earth can shrug us off like a flea, and evolution will go on.

        The arrogance of assuming that we MUST preserve the tiny snapshot of earth as we see and know it, complete with current temps, species, landscapes, etc, for the infinitesimal amount of geological time that we’ve been paying attention, is just silly. What is the “correct” climate for earth? What species should not go extinct? Isn’t species going extinct a PART of evolution, and how it progresses? Hell, it’s been everything from a lot hotter to a lot colder than it has the past few hundred years – and will be again. Why is the temperature and environment we’ve seen for the last few hundred the “right” one, that must be preserved? The arrogance is just laughable when you look at it in the eons and millenia that the REAL earth measures in (not the cozy humanized “Gaia” of their silly religion.)

    • DailyPUMA says:

      Well they do say that actual species are dying out at an alarming rate.
      The issue that is craftily being avoided in this article is that the methods used to feed our human needs grow more insatiable by the year, and eventually, that will prove unsustainable.

      What this article also fails to acknowledge is just how fragile western civilization really is. Shut down the water for less than a week and see what happens. Shut down the water and power for a week and what would happen?

      Even those with a survival plan, you gonna start burying the inevitable body count in a timely fashion to prevent all kinds of diseases that will almost instantly be transmitted by our friend the mosquito.

      The idea of using less and enjoying it more just does not compute at the moment for most conservatives, and liberals as well.

      • myiq2xu says:

        When I was a kid “they said” we would be packed like sardines all across the world by now. Oil was supposed to run out by now too.

      • WMCB says:

        The panickers of the 60’s wrote books and predicted worldwide famine and crisis from overpopulation to be seen as early as the late 70’s. They were wrong. Humans adapt. Technology advances to more efficient use of resources. Also, population growth tends to level out over time. Especially as countries become more prosperous, the birth rate goes down. It’s not a fixed trajectory that you can extrapolate for decades and centuries.

        Myiq isn’t “craftily avoiding” anything. Nor is he saying “lalala, no worries, consume it all!” He’s pointing out that the official and learned apocalyptic doomsayers have been REPEATEDLY wrong in their predictive models. We don’t know and understand everything. Never have.

  4. WMCB says:

    Environmentalism, to many, has become a religion. Complete with a God (the earth and “nature”), a devil (mankind/technology), rituals, celebrations, emotional appeals, and a heaping helping of perpetual guilt, self-flagellation, and avenues for penance. Man is seen as somehow outside of, a stain on the perfect world- rather than the most highly evolved animal in it. It’s ridiculous.

    I am not an environmentalist. I am, within reason, a good old conservationist. Remember those? I don’t think technology, even sometimes harmful technology, is bad. The question is always, “do the benefits outweigh the harm?”

    For instance, I have no problem with offshore drilling, even though accidents WILL happen. I do think that safety should be paramount, and laxness or breaking of the rules penalized. But despite my anger at the BP gulf spill, I never thought it was the DOOM tragedy that others did. Awful, yes. Could have been avoided, yes. If corners were cut, someone needs to pay.’ But when I heard the wailing enviro-prophets crying that the gulf was dead forever, and would be unfishable for 100 years, I just rolled my eyes. They said the same thing about Exxon Valdez. That coast is fine now. And the gulf is remarkably unchanged, bounding back after the cleanup.

    When I say things like that, I get accused of not caring about oil spills, or that I “think they are ok”. Bullshit. I think they are awful, tragic, sad, and to be avoided. I just don’t think it’s the eternal apocalypse and the end of all life in the area forever when they happen. And so far, I have been RIGHT about that. Not that the devoted environmental religionists care about actual facts.

    • You know, I think we SHOULD produce as much of our own energy as we can. We are gluttons with it, and it’s quite frankly unfair to make people in poorer nations pay the price for that.

      One thing people forget is that IF we can manage this shift, you can be damn sure safety WILL be a factor and technological advances to assist in that safety WILL happen. And those advances will ripple out, making it safer for those poorer countries and their workers to participate in the market too.

      There’s a shift happening that the left hasn’t quite caught onto yet. It’s going to result in the redemption and ascendency of the right again. Realignment is happening, and it’s actually pretty interesting this time around, because it is partially based in a modern notion of self-reliance born of compassion. Real compassion, not that conservative compassion BS Bush sold.

    • Lulu says:

      The problem is that the enviros substitute it for other ethical standards. In their mind it takes the place of what used to be considered necessary “virtues” such as civility, honesty, generosity, tolerance or kindness that are needed to co-exist in the world. They remind me of the most ignorant (un)Christian fundamentalists who demand that everyone else follow their fanaticism. They environmentalists were taken over by financial hustlers of green new tech some time ago and it is a scam. Most of them are just following a marketing trend that meshes with their own psychological needs to be different and/or moral. It is amazing how many hoarders are also recyclers who never discard anything with the convenient reason preventing filling up landfills. The notion of buying or accumulating less crap never enters their heads.

      • WMCB says:

        It’s really hilarious that many of them, who would react with scorn and horror to early Puritan communities who had things like shunning and shaming and rigid unspoken codes of behavior, completely replicate those same attitudes to a tee. And like the Puritans, some of the result is good, and a lot bad. But they get the same sense of satisfaction in their “purity”, the sense of being among the community of the righteous. A system of morality, and enforcing morality in a community, is something human beings naturally gravitate to. It has immense emotional reward. These idiots cannot see that they have built a religion – complete with the devoutly devout, the nominally devout, the “observant of the forms but don’t really care”, and the sense of belonging and righteousness that the whole social system conveys.

        Even the reactionary social dynamics are similar. People respond to a ridiculously restrictive moral code by flaunting something shocking. Not because they really are in favor of no morals at all and unbridled lasciviousness, but just to rub the noses of the prudes in it. I am seeing the same thing with environmentalism. A social backlash that flaunts the gas guzzler and the styrofoam, just to say “fuck you”.

        The social dynamics of it all are fascinating.

        • Lulu says:

          I know guys and gals who wash their recyclables (glass and plastic) with oodles of hot water to prevent bugs and slime (and spray Lysol on the bins) and drive huge pick up trucks or Escalades. It is crazy.

    • myiq2xu says:

      My hometown calls itself “The Gateway to Yosemite” because you used to have to pass through town to get to the western entrance. Depending on where you’re coming from you still do. Yosemite Valley is about 90 miles from here. When I was a kid you could see Half Dome on a clear day.

      Yosemite is basically the holiest spot on Earth to environmentalists, thanks in large part to John Muir and Ansel Adams. Muir wanted to preserve the “pristine wilderness” of the Sierra Nevadas, forgetting that humans had been there for thousands of years. Except they didn’t call it “camping” and they didn’t do it for fun.

      Half Dome is an example of the raw destructive power of Mother Nature. A glacier scraped away half a mile-tall mountain.

    • tommy says:

      Honk, honk, honk! Every Clinton democrat should read this, and self-reflect. I know many repubs who honestly care about the environment, but they believe that the dems have gone too far. Its almost become a religious cause. Hard to find middle ground.

  5. Bitter clingers still tap-dancing the same old song and dance about the Reagan-era GOP at Petition to Draft Hillary this morning. It’d be funny if it weren’t so sad. The echo of a dying ideology is a pathetic thing to witness.

  6. HELENK says:

    What I am getting tired of is the environment being used for political or profit making schemes.
    We have an out of control EPA that is hurting not helping the country.

  7. DandyTiger says:

    It would seem that the people that make these predictions are really, really stupid people. There are so many frick’ing variables to take into consideration that the modeling is a really wild guess. We don’t even come close to modeling the ocean much less even enough ocean (or wind) currents to understand warming or cooling trends. So we make lots of guesses. Which is fine. Best we can do. But then lots of idiots take those OK guesses and run with them as if they’re fact.

    Built into these sorts of predictions is a stunning arrogance what we rule the world. That our presence and the things we do dominates the globe. Pffft, we’re mosquitoes. We’re irrelevant. The earth will be fine after we’re long gone.

    We should of course be concerned with our habitat and not poison or otherwise kill ourselves with our own stupidity. There are clearly effects. We are changing things in ways that effect our health. So we’d be stupid not to pay attention and not to try to shit where we eat as they say.

    The thing that bothers me the most though is the authoritarian asswipe approaches we often see in environmentalism. E.g., being able to take your land and not pay you a penny if they see an endangered species of rat on your land. Yeah, fuck you. Just the very idea of paying a fair price for confiscated land in situations like that is apparently heresy among some of these groups.

    • WMCB says:

      It’s because the underlying belief system (and yes, it IS a fucking belief system, papered over with dubious science) is that the dear dear rat is holy, an innocent of “nature”, a touchstone and icon of the sublime Gaia. Whereas you, filthy guilty human, are a selfish parasite on the face of the pure sinless earth.

      It’s not this or that particular “cause” I object to, or the idea of, as you say, “not shitting where you eat.” It’s the underlying religious devotion of it all, the palpable distaste for unnatural (may as well read dirty and sinful) man – the assumptions and BELIEFS that drive the movement.

      • myiq2xu says:

        They wanted us to quit using paper bags to save the trees. So we switched to plastic. Now they want us to quit using those too.

        • WMCB says:

          They wanted us to stop doing controlled burns to clear out forest undergrowth. So we get horrendous wildfires, which we try to put out as fast as we can. Many species rely on the deadwood getting regularly burned out, and suffer when it gets congested and clogged.

          Our choices are a) let the wildfires burn unchecked, as they did centuries ago, b) try to replicate those natural fires in a safe controlled way, or c) refuse to burn ourselves, but stamp out the wildfires when they occur.

          Of those choices, c is the stupidest and the least helpful to both man and nature. Guess which one the enviros insist upon? Because it’s about emotion, not logic.

        • myiq2xu says:

          The Native Americans used to do controlled burns. That’s why the Europeans were amazed at the park-like forests in the New World.

        • Lulu says:

          I think they want us peasants to go out in the woods and cut the undergrowth by hand and pick up the sticks for fuel like the royal forests were cared for in the Middle Ages. And we can’t shoot any deer or bunnies either or they will cut off our hand. Only the elite will have fire logs, lumber, venison and sturgeon. The peasants can have split peas, rye and barley cultivated with plows pulled by humans, eels, and sticks. They forget we are descended from the very people who said enough of this shit and left.

    • yttik says:

      We can’t even successfully predict the weather. The TV weathermen were I live are pretty funny, they have all sorts of new technology and fancy graphs, but there’s only about a 50% chance that they’ll get it right. It depends where you live I guess, but up here it’s like, we have this low pressure building that’s either going to take a left or a right. O-kay….that was helpful.

      • myiq2xu says:

        Back in the 70’s people were predicting an ice age.

        • WMCB says:

          Shhhhhh! That one is shoved down the memory hole and never mentioned. We are supposed to believe it was a few crackpots, not a major “consensus” of the best and brightest replete with govt grants. As soon as those of us who REMEMBER die off, it will be as if that never happened.

        • WMCB says:

          It was the depletion of the ozone layer that was supposed to deflate our atmosphere like a big hole in a balloon, making earth incapable of retaining heat. They took away my fucking hairspray that sprayed and didn’t clog over that shit.

          So my question is, if we’ve now got a greenhouse effect that is holding in too much heat, why don’t they GIVE ME BACK MY DAMN HAIRSPRAY so I can spray them another big-assed ozone hole and let some heat out? But nooooooo…….. it’s never “correct the last stupid shit senseless thing we did”. It’s down the memory hole and on to the next fad. Same with the grocery bags. Give me back my paper ones, if changing to plastic was so bad.

        • foxyladi14 says:

          I remember that bought lots of sweaters. 😆

        • r u reddy says:

          Here is an interview with one of the people in the 70s who were predicting an ice age (probably a “mini” ice age.) I read the interview close to 30 years ago but here it is on the web of today.

          I also remember reading in a small publication called HortIdeas an article about analyses of pollen layers from longstanding bogs and studying the species cycles of the plants in the area based on the pollentypes in the bog, and figuring out what the climate cycles had been. They then said: supposing the cycles stay the same into the future . . . we are due for a major cooldown like past cooldowns. It seemed fairly convincing at the time.
          So . . were the Ice Agists wrong? Or were they overtaken by events? i suspect that the last few decades of atmospheric loading with CO2, Nitrogen Oxides, etc. has retained enough heat so as to cancel out the predicted mini-IceAge. That’s just my feeling, of course.

      • HELENK says:

        my daughter says that being a weatherman is the only job where you can be wrong 365 days a year and still have a job

  8. myiq2xu says:

    Her lips are moving!:

    • leslie says:

      She doesn’t listen after she asks the question because she thinks she already knows what the answer is going to be. I’ve met plenty of people like that. They hear whatever it is that fits their narrative and nothing else.
      Or else she is a liar.

  9. DeniseVB says:

    As a child, there were no environmentalists, only conservationists. That’s what I wanted to be when I grew up … a Park Ranger. How cool would that have been to get paid for working in a park all day? 😀

    • myiq2xu says:

      They used to talk about wise use and not wasting resources we might need in the future.

      It is a good idea to keep some areas undeveloped – but not because there is something holy about “pristine wilderness.”

  10. myiq2xu says:

  11. threewickets says:

    Sorry if this is a repeat. This was also big last week from AP on climate.

    PITTSBURGH (AP) — In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.

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