End-of-the-world alarmism has been a perpetual feature of human existence for as long as we have recorded history.
Generally, it occurs within a religious framework: Whether it is Apocalypse mania, or a fear that any moment now Ragnarök is going to erupt in earnest, lavish claims of total world destruction have always furnished the necessary motivation for extremist agendas.
The new craze about global warming ought not to surprise us. Christ warned us, in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, that we would hear rumors of war, that there will be famines and earthquakes, that false prophets would arise and lead people astray, and so forth. And what does he say that we are to do?
First, “see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet.” Scripture’s repeated admonition to “be not afraid” — the very admonition with which Pope John Paul II ushered in his papacy — is reiterated.
Christ belabors this point several times over the course of the Gospels, encouraging us not to worry, reminding us that there are innumerable things in heaven and earth that we do not have it in our power to affect, and reassuring us that God has it all in hand.
This does not mean that we should never take action to prevent evil, or should sit back and wait for God to do something. It does mean that we should not panic, or become needlessly anxious, or jump to rash conclusions, which may cause more harm than good.
At the moment, scientific consensus suggests that the climate of the world is changing, and that human activities are having an impact on the amount and kind of change that we are seeing. This means that, as Benedict XVI said in a letter to the patriarch of Constantinople, “Preservation of the environment, promotion of sustainable development and particular attention to climate change are matters of grave concern for the entire human family.”
It is immoral to overlook these issues because they happen to be inconvenient.
On the other hand, it is foolish and imprudent to dedicate ourselves to quixotic schemes that do more to salve our consciences than to change the impact of our lifestyle on the world, and it is gravely immoral to overlook the needs and rights of human beings in favor of “saving the planet.”
Consider, for example, the environmental alarmism in the 1960s that said that DDT was poisoning bird populations — a supposition about which the scientific community had yet to come to a genuine consensus. Exaggerated propaganda about a “Silent Spring” devoid of birds led to an ill-considered ban on DDT as a means of controlling malarial mosquito populations in tropical countries.
Over the ensuing years, cases of malaria in Africa and the Indian subcontinent rose substantially, causing millions of preventable deaths before finally, almost 40 years later, the scientific community decided that DDT wasn’t as pernicious as originally feared.
Fear and uncertainty are a recipe for bad decisions. Good solutions require accurate, relatively complete data, and they require thoughtful, long-term, holistic planning. Alarmists claim that we don’t have time — that we have to do something drastic, and we have to do it now or the planet is going to die. The result is that both time and money get wasted on projects that have little impact or even that have a negative impact overall.
The practice of pushing ethanol-based fuels is a good example: These fuels must be moved by trucks because they corrode pipelines. The cars that burn the fuel may have a moderately reduced “carbon footprint,” but the cost, in carbon dioxide exhaled by transport trucks, more than offsets the gain.
Problems like this are foolish, but they are not cause for moral concern. If ill-conceived environmentalism was the only risk, we could let the alarmists go on tilting at windmills and wait for the responsible scientists and statesmen to come up with better solutions. After all, ad hoc environmentalism is unlikely to do any serious damage to the planet or to society.
Unfortunately, the climate change alarmists are, predictably, allied with the population control advocates.
The sloppy thinking on this matter is absolutely typical: If human beings are radically increasing their carbon emissions with every passing year, and the human population is growing to levels never before seen in history, then the easiest way to reduce carbon output is to eliminate large numbers of human beings.
“Population limitation should,” according to the British-based Optimum Population Trust, “be seen as the most cost-effective carbon offsetting strategy available to individuals and nations.”
In other words, once we have realized that a human being is not an exciting new creation, a person who will share in the trials and joys of earthly life, and enjoy the chance to join the heavenly hosts in the life of the world to come; that, on the contrary, a human being is nothing more than a pesky producer of unwanted carbon dioxide, we can get down to the real business of cleaning up this planet.
Most environmentalists (though, distressingly, not all) don’t think that this should actually lead to the direct extermination of human populations, but they do think that it should lead to an increase in pressures on Third World governments to impose contraception, sterilization and abortion on their citizens.
A familiar story. In many ways, it is the story of the 20th century. The excuses have varied: neo-Malthusian prophecies of massive global food shortages, claims that population growth is bad for developing economies, predictions of rampant disease spread in concentrated populations, or even utter absurdities like “population growth leads to the spread of communism” or “Muslim terrorism is caused by overpopulation.”
Serious global and local problems have been consistently met with the asinine reasoning that since people cause problems, more people will cause more problems, and the best broad-band solution to the ills of humanity is to stop having humans.
One hardly needs to belabor the consequences. Population controllers have arranged forced sterilizations in Third World countries, the strings tied to U.N. aid packages often have IUDs at the other end, influential population control advocates have been consistent in their support for China’s one-child policy, and in the first world, children are routinely taught that it is morally responsible to kill their unborn children in order to avoid burdening an “already overburdened” planet.
The result is not responsible environmentalism, nor is it the salvation of earth’s ecology. Rather, the modern population control alarmists, like the prophets of Moloch or the Aztec priests of Tlaloc, demand that human children be sacrificed in order to prevent storms, floods and disease.
In this series, we’ll take a closer look at the facts, and attempt the difficult process of trying to unravel truth from propaganda, and science from speculation.
Melinda Selmys is a staff writer