Happy 40th Anniversary, Earth Day

Happy 40th Earth Day Everyone!

As I’ve written before, on April 22, 1970, I attended one of the first Earth Day celebrations (as did 20 million others that day). The one I went to was held at Santa Monica City College.

In those days, most of us in the environmental movement worried about the population bomb exhausting our resources and causing global famine; and we feared air pollution causing another ice age through global cooling. Obviously, we hadn’t considered the population bomb causing global warming through our exhalations and farts. Little did we know.

I had a copy of The Population Bomb by Paul R. Ehrlich in my back pocket back then, before the world wide web and cell phones. Many doomsayers proclaimed Malthus—an eighteenth century economist who argued that human population growing exponentially would quickly outstrip crop yields which grew arithmetically—was a Pollyanna. Like Malthus, Ehrlich was convinced that the world’s exponential population growth would outstrip the earth’s ability to cope and we’d devour everything on earth like locusts. We needed to curb out population NOW or humankind would implode like the locust. We’d be standing on banana peels over our graves if there were any bananas to be found, the skyrocketing population had already eaten them.

Indeed the world’s population has almost doubled, yet instead of cleaning off every whit of resource and the world being poorer, sicker, and hungrier, we find that since 1970: we are three times richer (in real terms), the percentage of people in abject poverty has dropped by over two-thirds, a greater percentage of people are better fed, the average person in a developing country eats more, the world’s forests cover 99 98% of what they did in 1970, and the known oil reserves have nearly doubled.

Here’s a comparison of where we were in 1970 and where we are today:


Comparison of earth in 1970 with earth 2010

1970 2010 % Change
World population 3,692,492,000 6,816,100,000 84.6%
The percentage of the world population living on less than $1 a day (in PPP-adjusted 2000 dollars) 26.80% 5.40%
Forest on the earth (in billion hectares) 4.03 3.94 -2.2%
Avg Daily Kilo-Calories per person in a developing country 2135 2674 25.2%
Known oil reserves (in billion barrel) 650 1200

The world did not change the way Ehrlich, Malthus, and others thought it would. So the environmental raison d’être has changed. Population still gets flung about but now it’s global warming that’s being shouted by knowledgeable experts. We need to curb our pollution population greenhouse gases NOW or humankind will freeze to death starve to death, well I’m not sure but trust me, the Malthusian prophets of doom will continue to bang their pots and rend their clothing. Things may yet grow worse, as Bullwinkle J. Moose used to say, “This time for sure.”

The world will change over the next 40 years, tell me are you more optimistic or pessimistic about the state of the world’s environment for those years?

For more on Earth Day, I recommend an article in the New York Times by John Tierney,  For Earth Day, 7 New Rules to Live By and  “Earth Day Turns 40″ on Reason.com by Ronald Bailey

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