This past week, 16-year-old Swedish climate activist and habitual truant Greta Thunberg invaded the United Nations with a message of international alarm: “Repent, you environmental sinners, or the wrath of Mother Earth will drown you in its coming apocalypse.”
Of course, that is not exactly what she said. What Ms. Thunberg actually predicted was, “Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people can live in luxury …” She accused the rich of stealing the future of her yet unborn children. She demanded climate justice by changing the world’s economic system “before it’s too late.”
In other words, “Efface your environmental excesses or face eternal damnation!”
I previously lived in Greta Thunberg’s reality. In 1966, author Harry Harrison published a book called “Make Room! Make Room!” It was a novel set in the dystopian future of an overpopulated world in 1999. Later, the novel became the film “Soylent Green,” the story of dying oceans and year-round humidity due to the “greenhouse effect,” the ideological precursor to global warming. This popular wisdom based on the day’s best science suggested that pollution, poverty and overpopulation would delete the Earth’s resources, resulting in cannibalism. It was a fantasy bolstered by what passed for research. But young people believed it and, like me, acted accordingly.
In 1970, a youthful Ira Einhorn, the “hippie” Greta Thunberg of his day, created the first Earth Day in 1970. I participated. My high school created a major presentation highlighting the environmental crisis.
“Civilization will end in 15 to 30 years (by 1985 or 2000),” we shouted. It was based on a prediction by Harvard biologist George Wald. The New York Times agreed. It warned that failure to stop pollution and conserve resources would result in “extinction.” We concluded that at least “100 million to 200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next 10 years (before 1980).” Further, due to atmospheric nitrogen, land would shortly become unusable. This information was postulated in 1970 by Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich and ecologist Kenneth Watt.
It was scientific “fact.”
So, phenomena like Greta Thunberg are nothing new. She is me in 1970, convinced that famine is near and that only radical social change will save the planet. She lives in a comic book where the planet is always in danger, and where only a superhero like herself can reverse the coming krypton bombardment.
To people like Greta Thunberg and all the young people she led in a “climate strike” last week, we must point out that life on our planet depends on cheap, abundant fossil-fueled energy. It is factory farms, not small organic family farms, that produce food affordably. Inexpensive energy cuts the cost of nourishment so that even the poorest on the planet can consume high-protein meats and healthy green vegetables. Worldwide shipment of farm products means that even a ragged coffee farmer in South America can sell his beans to coffee sippers in Los Angeles.
Do we really want to return to a world where a farmer prepares a field with a horse tied to one end of a plow, the farmer strapped to the other? Even if we perfect the fully electric car, should we have to travel from New York to California without the use of an airplane?
Shutting down 25 percent of the world economy by banning industries from cattle ranching to Fed Ex is no way to save a planet. But it is a sure formula for placing the planetary population into poverty.
If global warming does exist, we will adapt. But the question of global climate cannot be solved by a childish plan to destroy the world-wide industrial infrastructure that lifted so many people out of abject poverty and placed them into an age of cheap energy resulting in abundant food and affordable heating, air conditioning and refrigeration.
Just as the young people in 1970 turned away from Ira Einhorn (especially after his later conviction for murder), so will young people turn away from Greta Thunberg and return to their natural optimism. As she ages and experiences the gifts of inexpensive energy, perhaps Ms. Thunberg too will abandon the world of the Luddites and rejoin the machine age.
Fifty years from now, this week will be Greta Thunberg’s 1970s’ moment. I wish her well in her future retrospective.
Contact Robert M. Levy at Law52@Prodigy.net.