Monday, July 10, 2000


Most folks have now forgotten the great Global Cooling Scare of the 1970’s. To the extent it is remembered at all, it is dismissed as a mere historical blip involving a few crackpots.

But that’s not what it was. It was a big deal at the time, and I didn’t imagine the books that were published, and the Time Magazine covers and the newspaper articles. And though the entire episode has now been discreetly hushed up, I remember musing upon it during that stretch of youthful innocence when I tended to believe things I read in the newspaper, and thinking: “This sucks. We’re all gonna die!”

But what does it mean today? What conclusions are we to draw from the experience? What should we think when Chicken Little says the sky is falling and then somehow, it doesn’t? Here’s what I conclude:

Chicken Little Himself

Once Chicken Little tells us the sky is falling, and it isn’t, his future claims that the sky is falling should be completely ignored. He has used up his lifetime quota of credibility.

But guess what? This doesn’t happen. The people who now tell us we are doomed for whatever reason are, in many cases, the exact same people who told us we were doomed ten and twenty and thirty years ago because the oceans would die or we would run out of minerals or billions would starve. Nobody ever gets called on these predictions, or run out of town. Paul Ehrlich, at age 112 or whatever, is revered as a seer. Al Gore is running for president, and may even get elected.

The Cult of Chicken Little

As others appear to echo to cries of doom, based upon the same flimsy or absent evidence, you begin to realize there is a mania afoot, rooted in a psychology or a politics I don’t fully understand, that is characterized by an irrational belief doom is imminent and that the rest of us rational folks must all be persuaded of it and do some horrible self-destructive thing to prevent it. In the face of this doom-mania, which has been with us since the beginning of time, even as man has progressed from caves to huts to beach condos, I think it is reasonable to reject ALL the doom-sayers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m perfectly willing to examine the evidence of a glitch here and there, a tear in the fabric of human progress. Sometimes, after three steps forward, we take one step back. But when Edward Yardeni and his minions tell me the Y2K bug will kill millions in a worldwide recession with food riots, I don’t feel I need to listen to another word these folks have to say. They’ve joined the club, the one with Al Gore and Paul Ehrlich and Jim Jones and every two-bit fundamentalist who ever thought the world was going to end on Tuesday.

It’s not difficult to spot these people, because the bad news itself is only a prelude. There’s always a solution, and it’s always a painful one. Shut down your factories. Give me all your possessions and drink this kool-aid. Give me $100 billion and submit to my regimen of rules and regulations.

The first time one of these jokers is right, I’ll start paying attention. I don’t think there’s much danger of that happening.

So much for Chicken Little.

None of this has much to do, by the way, with the practice of science. Scientists are not trying to defraud the public, and I applaud those who study the atmosphere, or search for unintended consequences of genetically-modified organisms. God bless ‘em, I say! Kudos! No problem here with scientists who actually study things and report their caveat-filled, tentative conclusions in peer-reviewed journals and at conferences, and urge others to continue their research.

But here’s what happens:

a) A couple of real scientists write a letter to a scientific magazine about a possible effect of BT-corn on monarch butterflies, stressing the preliminary and theoretical nature of their research and pointing out that the effect had not been observed in nature. Though subsequent research fails to substantiate their fears, demonstrators in Seattle dressed as monarch butterflies cause millions of dollars in damage, and GMO research projects around the world are trashed by vandals.

b) Medical researchers fashion studies to determine the effect of second-hand tobacco smoke. While some initial studies are suggestive of a link between second-hand smoke and disease, it later becomes apparent that statistically, the correlation, if it exists at all, is insignificant. Nevertheless, the danger of second-hand smoke becomes a rallying cry for city, state and federal policy across the nation.

c) The Chernobyl meltdown has devastating effects on the surrounding population. And a new menace is born---“cancer clusters.” Though the existence of such a thing has never (to my knowledge) been found in the U.S., the populace is persuaded they are everywhere, and the EPA spends tens of millions of dollars hunting for them.

d) Medical researchers discover that sodium exacerbates hypertension, so a worldwide longitudinal study is launched on the effects of various levels of dietary salt intake. The result: the consumption of salt is unrelated to heart or circulatory (or any other) disease, though certain conditions, once contracted, can be partially controlled by reducing salt in the diet. Nevertheless, an entire non-sodium seasoning industry is born to cater to those who deny themselves the pleasure of salt in their food because they have been convinced it will kill them.

You can’t blame scientists for any of this. I blame the doomsday industry, and the forces of no-nothingness that have always been with us. At every stage in human history when mankind is on the verge of a great leap into the future these bastards are there, scratching their balls and silencing Copernicus. When Christianity emerged out of barbarian Europe, and scholarship became possible---whoops, can’t have that---let’s have the Dark Age instead. When the Industrial Revolution began, and the common man could begin to hope for some alternative to his life of tedious and back-breaking labor---well, there’s the stinking Luddites, throwing spanners in the works. When modern democracy and the notion of inalienable human rights arose in France and the U.S., and began to spread around the world, who shows up but Karl Marx to lead us into 100 years of misery with 100 million killed, tortured and discarded.

There is a tendency to dismiss the modern no-nothings as popinjays, silly folk at whom we laugh lightly, and then ignore. “Junk science,” it’s called, or “junk politics.” They mean right. They just want to protect us, you see, and preserve the environment. And sometimes they go a little overboard. Well, I reject that view.

These people are dangerous. And the human cost of their feel-good philosophy is steep. They kill people, a lot of people, with no particular justification and no remorse. In fact, the cost of their visions is something it’s impolite to examine. “It’s for the good green earth,” they tell us. “No price is too high.”

Heard of Kyoto? The world-wide conference of governments that decided, based on something-or-other involving global warming, to reduce the human industrial presence on Earth by 10%. Do you ever wonder how the Kyoto treaty will sit with the billion or so people on the planet who aren’t entirely certain where their next meal is coming from? Do you think Al Gore or Paul Ehrlich or Jose Bove care about these folks? I don’t see any evidence of it. Does there exist anything close to the sort of evidence re global warming that would justify condemning tens or hundreds of millions of our fellow humans to starvation and misery? This, apparently, is a question we are not allowed to ask.

And what of DDT? In the early 70’s, malaria was on the way to extinction around the world thanks to the discovery of DDT, the safest and most-effective mosquito-killer ever found. Then, in 1972, following months of hearings that proved Rachel Carson’s warnings were not borne out by hard scientific research, William Ruckleshaus of the EPA overturned his administrative law judge’s findings and banned DDT, effectively ending its use around the world. Currently, 2.7 million die of malaria each year; children under five years of age are the largest group of victims.

Yes, these folks are dangerous. They may think they’re being nice, but I don’t care how nice they think they are. When you ban DDT, you condemn millions to horrible deaths. When you implement Kyoto, you kill people. Now if, after a reasoned analysis of the situation, you decide DDT is too dangerous or global warming too imminent, you have to do those things despite the pain. But the people who bring forth these plans won’t even consider the pain. They don’t care, they don’t know, and they don’t care that they don’t know.

Copyright 2000 Michael Kubacki