Earth Day: The Remix
September 14, 2006 A leading U.S. climate researcher says the world has a 10-year window of opportunity to take decisive action on global warming and avert catastrophe.

NASA scientist James Hansen, widely considered the doyen of American climate researchers, said governments must adopt an alternative scenario to keep carbon dioxide emission growth in check...

"I think we have a very brief window of opportunity to deal with climate change ... no longer than a decade, at the most..."

I'm rather pressed for time these days, so I can't blog as much as I would like to.
Still, it is Earth Day, so I thought some gentle reminders are in order, time or no time. Thus, the remix.

Most of the following material has appeared on this blog before, but newer readers may have missed it, buried in the archives as it is. Look for "Ehrlich", "Rifkin", "Kunstler", or "Peak Oil", and it's all in there.

But honestly, who among them has the time? May they derive much enjoyment from these convenient re-runs.

This first one however, is entirely new to these pages. In 1970, Edwin Newman had this to say...

"By the end of the decade our rivers may have reached the boiling point. Three decades more, and they may evaporate. One of the causes of this thermal pollution is the spread of nuclear power across the land."

And he said it on national television! Thanks Ed. This one's a keeper!

Next up, a new scrap of Ehrlich, circa 1970...

"In ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish."

More vintage Ehrlich follows...

If you want to know the truth, I'd say that the biggest mistake mankind ever made was the agricultural revolution. We were a great hunting and gathering animal. If you look-and I have, I've lived with Eskimos and seen bushmen and aborigines and so on-you may be struck, as I have, by the fact that each individual in that kind of society was-at least before they had contact with us-almost a carrier of a full culture. Every individual knew exactly where he or she fit into the picture, had more personal worth and was less alienated than any member of our modern civilization.

And this beauty hails from 1974...

I'm scared. I have a 14 year old daughter whom I love very much. I know a lot of young people, and their world is being destroyed. My world is being destroyed. I'm 37 and I'd kind of like to live to be 67 in a reasonably pleasant world, and not die in some kind of holocaust in the next decade.

The end never came, but the arrogant jackass is still braying.

Here's a grab bag of this and that which I've used in a couple of different posts...

"We have about five more years at the outside to do something," ecologist Kenneth Watt declared to a Swarthmore College audience on April 19, 1970.

Dubbed "ecology's angry lobbyist" by Life magazine, the gloomy Ehrlich was quoted everywhere. "Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make," he confidently declared in an interview with then-radical journalist Peter Collier in the April 1970 Mademoiselle. "The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years."

"By...[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s."

Ehrlich sketched out his most alarmist scenario for the Earth Day issue of The Progressive, assuring readers that between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the "Great Die-Off."

Peter Gunter, a professor at North Texas State University, wrote, "Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions....By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine".

In January 1970, Life reported, "Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support...the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half...."

Ecologist Kenneth Watt told Time that, "At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it's only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable."

Barry Commoner cited a National Research Council report that had estimated "that by 1980 the oxygen demand due to municipal wastes will equal the oxygen content of the total flow of all the U.S. river systems in the summer months." Translation: Decaying organic pollutants would use up all of the oxygen in America's rivers, causing freshwater fish to suffocate.

In his "Eco-Catastrophe!" scenario, Ehrlich put a finer point on these fears by envisioning a 1973 Department of Health, Education, and Welfare study which would find "that Americans born since had a life expectancy of only 49 years, and predicted that if current patterns continued this expectancy would reach 42 years by 1980, when it might level out."

Keying off of Rachel Carson's claims about the dangers of synthetic chemicals in Silent Spring (1962), Look claimed that many scientists believed that residual DDT would lead to an increase in liver and other cancers.

"We are prospecting for the very last of our resources and using up the nonrenewable things many times faster than we are finding new ones," warned Sierra Club director Martin Litton in Time's February 2, 1970, special "environmental report."

Harrison Brown, a scientist at the National Academy of Sciences, published a chart in Scientific American that looked at metal reserves and estimated the humanity would totally run out of copper shortly after 2000. Lead, zinc, tin, gold, and silver would be gone before 1990.

Kenneth Watt was less equivocal in his Swarthmore speech about Earth's temperature. "The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years," he declared. "If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age."

Harvard biologist George Wald estimated that "civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind."

"We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation," wrote Washington University biologist Barry Commoner in the Earth Day issue of the scholarly journal Environment.

Wheee! Gets the blood moving, doesn't it? But you ain't seen nothing yet.

For enviro-scolds, it's always a good day to raise the stakes.

Because why? Because we were starting not to listen to them.

Here's a notion you'll be hearing more of. Forget about rising seas, plagues, famines and hurricanes. They are meager and paltry things, the antipasti served before a savory main course.

We're talking about the end of the world, baby!

Permian Greenhouse Extinction Is Risen...

More than 200 million years ago, a cataclysmic event known as the Permian extinction destroyed more than 90 percent of all species and nearly 97 percent of all living things. Its origins have long been a puzzle for paleontologists. During the 1990s and the early part of this century, a great battle was fought between those who thought that death had come from above and those who thought something more complicated was at work.

Paleontologist Peter. D. Ward, fresh from helping prove that an asteroid had killed the dinosaurs, turned to the Permian problem, and he has come to a stunning conclusion. In his investigations of the fates of several groups of mollusks during that extinction and others, he discovered that the near-total devastation at the end of the Permian period was caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide leading to climate change. But it's not the heat (nor the humidity) that's directly responsible for the extinctions, and the story of the discovery of what is responsible makes for a fascinating, globe-spanning adventure.

In Under a Green Sky, Ward explains how the Permian extinction as well as four others happened, and describes the freakish oceans--belching poisonous gas--and sky--slightly green and always hazy--that would have attended them. Those ancient upheavals demonstrate that the threat of climate change cannot be ignored, lest the world's life today--ourselves included--face the same dire fate that has overwhelmed our planet several times before.

Gotta love that "something more complicated", eh?

As though a simple cometary impact theory is for simple linear thinkers.

Yes, indeed. Our future, unless of course we heed our scientifically trained betters, may well hold warm carbonated oceans, oceans fouled with runaway anaerobic bacterial growth, oceans that belch poisonous gases into a still and windless oven-hot hellworld where our kind of life will inevitably die in gasping agony.

So if you love this planet you should buy compact fluorescent lamps and start biking to work. Also, give up meat, now. And buy American, damn it!

Me, I'm off for a Sunday drive and a 1200 mile lunch. Happy Earth Day.

posted by Justin on 04.22.07 at 12:15 PM


I'm not quite sure what Mr. Newman's ancient comments about nuclear power and thermal pollution mean, since you produce roughly the same amount of that from fossil fuels, which are the only other bulk provider of electricity on the planet (except for some big dams here and there). I've seen nuclear blamed for many things, but I think thermal is well down on the list.

If you'd care to work a combination of entertainment and education into your busy schedule, try my insider's novel of nuclear power, Rad Decision. It is set up in serial form at the website (with no cost or registration), and is also in paperback at online retailers. See the homepage for reader reviews.

James Aach   ·  April 22, 2007 3:13 PM

As long as I'm on a Jefferson Airplane kick how about this song with a reference to Green Sky.

M. Simon   ·  April 22, 2007 5:22 PM

The Permo-Triassic is the 'big one' for extinctions... took 95% of all species off the board, up and down the line, and caused massive ecosystem turnover. Brachiopods had ruled the day in shallow water and bivalves, like modern clams, were the bit players... both have the exact same niche in the ecosystem, but first-come, first-diversify and brachiopods won the race. Right up to the P-T, then suddenly bivalves were speciating like mad, and brachiopods got to sit on the sidelines. Functionally, there is no difference between them, but one we find tasty and the other not.... lucky for us those good for eating got to be everywhere!

There was just so much going on during the P-T, like the coming together of continents to form a Pangaea, that no one can pin it on any one thing... sudden global shifts in weather patterns, loss of the convergant seas as one massive sea formed, drylands forming in the new continental interior, plus all the lovely bits of standard volcanic activity and such. Sweet old mother Earth went on a killing spree... she does that every so often, when outsiders don't lend a hand, that is. There are more theories about the P-T than you can shake a stick at, and each of them has problems. I expect the latest to get knocked down with the rest as there is still *not enough data* to make a determination.

More field researchers, please!

ajacksonian   ·  April 23, 2007 9:53 AM

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