Everybody Loves a Good Apocalyptic Tale

Here’s a surefire way to sell books — predict the coming end of the world. For whatever reason, the idea of the end of the world is one that has fascinated human beings since at least recorded history. The best version of all, in my opinion was the Mayans building in an expiration date in their calendar.

Lately, all of the best apocalyptic stories have come from the environmental movement. If global warming isn’t going to result in the end of life as we know it, then resource depletion, overpopulation, ozone depletion or any of a plethora of other environmental ills will. So, it is not surprising that a World Wildlife prediction that the world will come to an end by 2050 is getting people’s attention.

There are so many things wrong with the WWF’s claims that aside from pointing out that resources are not exploited, but rather they are created by human beings, I won’t get it into that there. But I do want to remind would-be apocalyptics of a wonderful book published in the late 1960s that predicted global destruction on a mindboggling scale.

This disaster would kill as much as a quarter of the world’s population and leave devestation and poverty as the inheritance of its survivors. This book was taken very seriously by environmentalists, getting big play from Paul Ehrlich and others who were convinced (and still are) that the world was overpopulated and on the edge of disaster. But it was the title of the book that really says it all:

Famine: 1975!

The authors of that book, William and Paul Paddock, apparently dropped off the face of the earth after 1975 came and went without the massive worldwide famine they predicted, and Ehrlich stopped mentioning them where previously he had told his readers that Famine: 1975! was the real deal.

Now, if apocalyptics were just writing silly books that would be one thing, but the Paddock’s followers wanted the United States to change its policies in ways that would have resulted in the deaths of millions of people.

The main thing they wanted — and which Ehrlich explicitly endorsed — was a policy of international triage. Since this massive famine in 1975 would consume all of the world’s food, the United States could not afford to help out people starving in the developing world (in fact, they argued that such aid, whether private or public, was just accelerating the inevitable famine).

The Paddocks advocated giving developing nations an ultimatum — either adopt strict birth control regimens and birth quotas or starve. For countries that were of strategic importance, the option would be adopt strict birth control schemes and birth quotas or face military occupation by the United States.

Ehrlich, for example, argued that the U.S. should coerce Indian into involuntarily sterilizing Indian men who already had three or more children.

In his book, The Population Bomb, Ehrlich contrasted this kick ass and take names policy favorably with “the assorted do-gooders who are deeply involved in the apparatus of international food charity.” To people like Ehrlich and the Paddocks, the best thing a hungry child in India could do was to die, and the sooner the better.

And all as a sacrifice to their collective ignorance. Both the Paddocks and Ehrlich argued this sort of inhumane policy was needed because countries such as India would never become food self-sufficient. The reality, of course, was that India went onto become a net food exporter thanks in large measure to the Green Revolution (which the Paddocks and Ehrlich also said would never work).

So you’ll have to excuse my yawning at the latest environmentalist claim that the end of the world is nigh.

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