The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Environmentalist Left Has to Grapple with Its Failed, Alarmist Predictions

I’m pasting below one of my favorite videos, from a Good Morning America report in 2008. Watch it all. Please.

Truly, it’s a stunning piece of work, depicting the deadly dystopia that awaited Americans in . . . 2015. Manhattan is disappearing under rising seas, milk is almost $13 per “carton,” and gas prices skyrocketed to more than $9 per gallon. But if you’re familiar at all with environmentalist predictions, there’s nothing all that unusual about the GMA’s report (except for its vivid visuals). As I wrote in early 2016 — after the world allegedly passed Al Gore’s “point of no return” — environmentalist predictions are a target-rich environment:

There’s a veritable online cottage industry cataloguing hysterical, failed predictions of environmentalist catastrophe. Over at the American Enterprise Institute, Mark Perry keeps his list of “18 spectacularly wrong apocalyptic predictions” made around the original Earth Day in 1970. Robert Tracinski at The Federalist has a nice list of “Seven big failed environmentalist predictions.” The Daily Caller’s “25 years of predicting the global warming ‘tipping point’” makes for amusing reading, including one declaration that we had mere “hours to act” to “avert a slow-motion tsunami.”

None of this should imply that climate science isn’t a serious profession chock-full of people doing serious work, but it’s a simple reality that activists are often way, way ahead of the science. They’ll take carefully-drafted, nuanced and caveated scientific reports and then project worst-case estimates as inevitabilities. Sometimes they’ll move beyond even the most pessimistic of rigorous studies and present junk science as established fact. 

The result is that people who drape themselves in the mantle of science and mock even the slightest expressions of skepticism are often wildly, inexcusably, and repeatedly wrong. But since they’re wrong in the service of a good cause, the media is notoriously reluctant to hold them to account. So the old wrong predictions disappear down the memory hole, new wrong predictions dominate the headlines, and cautious members of the public wonder what they’re supposed to believe. 

That’s not to say that all predictions are off-base. Some have been right, but they’ve been mainly predictions of relatively modest, gradual change. The parade of horribles? That’s waiting for us. Sometime. No, really. It’s just around the corner.

Is the environmental movement interested in explaining rather than hectoring? Then explain why you’ve been wrong before. Own your mistakes. No reasonable person wants an environmental catastrophe, and recent American history shows that Americans will unite when the need is clear. The Clean Air Act passed in 1970 without a single no vote in the Senate and only one in the House, and 1970 was hardly a year of national unity and consensus. In 1988, the Senate passed amendments to the Act by a vote of 89-11. 

Have the American people changed that much? I’d say that the environmental activists have been wrong too often to effectively make their case. 

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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