Sunday was Earth Day, the annual jamboree of the green movement held worldwide since 1970. Unfortunately, a review of the accomplishments of the advocates of environmentalism and population control since that spectacular debut shows very little reason to celebrate.
The seminal scriptures of modern-day environmentalism were Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” Paul R. Ehrlich’s “Population Bomb” and the publications of the Club of Rome. While stylistically quite different, these books all served to rally the public around a core anti-human philosophy. As the Club of Rome put it, “The Earth has cancer, and the cancer is man.” Such misanthropic views could only have the most horrific consequences.
Some of the worst atrocities can be laid at the feet of Mr. Ehrlich and his co-thinkers who argued - in direct contradiction to historical fact - that human well-being is inversely proportional to human numbers. As a result of their agitation, U.S. foreign aid and World Bank loans to Third World countries were made contingent upon those nations implementing population-control programs. In consequence, over the past four decades, in scores of countries spanning the globe from India to Peru, tens of millions of women have been rounded up and subjected to involuntary sterilizations or abortions, often under very unsafe conditions, with innumerable victims suffering severe health effects or dying afterward.
Mr. Ehrlich also called for the United States to create a Bureau of Population and Environment, which would have the power to issue or deny permits to Americans to have children. While rejected here, this idea was adopted in China. Thus was born China’s infamous “one-child policy,” which has involved not only hundreds of millions of involuntary abortions and forced sterilizations, but infanticide and the killing of “illegal children” on a mass scale.
The pesticide DDT was first employed by Allied forces to save millions of typhus-ravaged victims of Axis tyranny, and after World War II, it was employed to wipe out malaria in the American South, Southern Europe and much of South Asia and Latin America. According to the National Academy of Sciences, by 1970, those campaigns had saved more than 500 million lives.
No matter. Using Carson’s “Silent Spring,” which falsely argued that DDT was endangering bird populations (in fact, it was protecting them from insect-born diseases) a massive propaganda campaign was launched to ban DDT. As a result, the newly created Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did so in 1971. Subsequently, the U.S. Agency for International Development adopted regulations preventing it from funding international projects that used the vital pesticide. Together with similar enactments in Europe, this effectively banned the use of DDT in many Third World countries. By some estimates, the malaria death toll in Africa alone resulting from those restrictions has exceeded 100 million people.
The harm done by the EPA has not been limited to stopping DDT. It is no coincidence that U.S. oil production, which had been growing at a rate of 3 percent per year through the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, peaked at 9.6 million barrels per day in 1971, immediately after the EPA’s creation, and has been declining ever since. Today we are down to 5.6 million barrels per day. Had we continued without environmentalist interference with our previous 3 percent per year growth in the period since - as the rest of the non-OPEC world actually did - we would today be producing 35 million barrels per day, and the world economy would not be groaning under the extremely regressive tax represented by $100-per-barrel oil prices. The environmentalist campaign against nuclear power has made its promise for plentiful, cheap electricity impossible as well.
European “greens” also have much horror to account for, notably through their campaign against genetically modified crops. Hundreds of millions of people in the Third World suffer from nutritional deficiencies resulting from their cereal-dominated diets. This can be rectified readily by employing genetically enhanced plants, such as golden rice, which is rich in vitamin A. But as a result of political pressure from green parties, the European Union has banned the import of crops from countries that employ such strains, thereby blackmailing many governments into forbidding their use. In consequence, millions of children are being unnecessarily blinded, crippled or killed every year.
The Earth is not endangered by humanity. But humanity is being seriously harmed by those who portray us as a threat and seek to constrain humanity’s numbers, activities, creativity and liberty.
Instead of Earth Day, we should be celebrating Civilization Day.
Robert Zubrin is a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy and author of Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudoscientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanis.