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Doomsday report

What radical environmentalists always seem to miss about humanity

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Within 30 years, civilization will end. We’re in a race against time, with population growth outstripping our ability to feed ourselves: If present trends continue, expect at least 100 million people—per year—to starve to death within the next two decades. Within 15 years, the levels of nitrogen buildup in the atmosphere will filter out half the sunlight presently reaching Earth. Decaying organic pollutants will suck up the oxygen in America’s rivers, killing freshwater fish. As for air pollution, city dwellers had better stock up on gas masks, for millions can expect to die in smog disasters. If present trends continue, in the next quarter-century average temperatures will plunge to about twice what it takes to put us into an “ice age.”

If you’ve followed up to this point, you should have felt a healthy skepticism growing by the middle of the paragraph and credibility taking a nosedive by the end. All those predictions screamed from headlines in the early 1970s, while the authors of best-selling books like The Population Bomb and Famine 1975! were debating whether to cut the Third World off from dwindling food supplies or try to scrape by with compulsory birth control.

Of course, a funny thing happened on the way to extinction: It didn’t happen. Not that that matters to Paul Ehrlich, who first predicted a massive “die-off” in the late 1960s and is still ringing alarm bells—his predictions, he explains, were only off by a half-century or so but the basic problem remains. And even if the ice age has drifted to global warming and now hovers in the ambiguous territory of “climate change,” the climate is still changing and just about any gloomy prognostication plays along with the “If present trends continue” theme.

We’re seen either as mindless mouths to feed or ravagers of the Earth, with not much room for nuance in between.

Earth Day 2016 (April 22) will be especially significant for the fate of Earth: On that day the Paris Accord, adopted last December under the auspices of the UN, will be open for signing by representatives of 195 countries, including the United States. “In short,” reads the statement on, “[these nations] agreed to take measurable action, make binding commitments, and work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to collectively keep global temperature rise well below 2 [degrees] C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 [degrees] C.”

But is it too late? Doomsday predictions still seethe on environmental websites and university campuses—and in governing bodies. The general public doesn’t seem to worry about it much, but the general public is the main problem, right?

Two random headlines encountered on the internet last week: “12 Ways Humanity Could Destroy the Entire Solar System” and “Do Humans have a Moral Duty to Stop Procreating?” The former would seem to make the latter obvious, except that it’s sensationalist bunk. But even if we can’t destroy the solar system, we can still ravage the Earth—and besides, there are just too many of us. It’s a case “anti-natalists” such as David Benatar have been making for years, in books like Better Never to Have Been (2006). If any other species had wreaked such havoc throughout history, the argument goes, we would have recommended their extinction long ago.

Maybe, but it’s a meaningless point. The only species capable of mass havoc—and the condemnation thereof—is humanity. Humanity is also the species least understood by humans. We’re seen either as mindless mouths to feed or ravagers of the Earth, with not much room for nuance in between. Earth Day boosters strive for optimism (“Now is our moment!”), while “realists” preach doom and gloom. Both fail to take the measure of man, because that measure includes the image of God.

Destruction is our specialty, but so is creation. Problem-solving balances problem-creating. Saving the Earth is God’s business, but feeding its people is ours, and with necessity has come invention. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to seek it out is the glory of kings” (Proverbs 25:2). This Earth will eventually be destroyed, and humans may be the agents of destruction; but in the meantime we’re also agents of repair.


Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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