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A new report by the World Wildlife Fund says if current trends continue, the Earth will be too small to sustain humanity. "Pressures on the Earth's natural systems are both predictable and dire," says the Living Planet Report 2006. But if current trends continue, such environmentalist predictions will continue to be wrong—and dangerous.
Environmentalists have been making such wrongheaded—anti-growth, anti-technology—predictions since Rachel Carson launched the movement with her 1962 book "Silent Spring." She warned of an impending cancer epidemic unless we stopped using many manmade chemicals— particularly the pesticide DDT. It didn't happen.
Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich warned in 1969 that American life expectancy could be reduced to only 42 years by the 1980s because of an epidemic of cancer caused by modern chemicals and pesticides. It didn't happen.
In the 1970s, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors published the book "Limits to Growth" warning that if policymakers didn't limit growth, the world would run out of resources and suffer economic collapse. They even developed an elaborate computer model to prove their point. But it didn't happen.
In the real world, resources increased and economies expanded, particularly in places that allowed the most economic freedom. There, human ingenuity produced wealth, discovered new resources and developed technologies that improved human well-being.
Unfortunately, growth has not been as great as possible because it is limited by at least one thing—foolish anti-growth policies advocated by environmentalists. We could see greater growth if commerce was not limited by government impediments to free trade, bans on vital chemicals and other technologies, regulation on energy sources and campaigns against agricultural biotechnology.
Consider a few examples, starting with the most obvious. Beginning in the 1970s, regulators around the world followed Rachel Carson's suggestion that lawmakers ban the pesticide DDT, once used to control malaria, because they figured bed nets and other measures were enough. After millions of deaths and hundreds of millions of people falling sick every year for a couple decades, World Health Organization regulators and officials finally decided DDT should be used to curb the death toll. Tragically, millions had to die before officials realized the Greens were wrong.
In his book, "The Green Wave," environmental policy expert Bonner Cohen highlights yet another tragedy produced by policymakers following the Greens' advice. This time, they heeded the activists' fearmongering related to genetically modified food rather than listen to scientific experts around the world that have deemed such food safe. In 2002, Zambia and Zimbabwe's governments locked up warehouses full of U.S. genetically modified corn donated by the U.S. government to help feed people during a famine in these two nations. The reason? "We would rather starve than get something toxic," exclaimed Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa at the World Summit on Sustainable Development that same year.
But the starving citizens at home didn't agree; they eventually broke into the warehouses and seized the corn. Unfortunately, fear generated about the safety of biotech food promises to hinder its development and undermine efforts to increase food production in nations where many people starve.
Other examples hit closer to home. New York Times science writer Gina Kolata detailed another case in which lawmakers followed dangerous environmentalist advice. U.S. officials banned use of mercury in blood pressure equipment because environmentalists claimed the mercury was dangerous to public health. Activists and regulators assumed substitute technology would work just as well. Yet, it doesn't. There are cases in which faulty equipment led to faulty readings and improper administration of medication. People have needlessly suffered strokes as a result. Yet regulators have not backed away from those policies.
The WWF says the American way of life is unsustainable. In reality, it's the WWF advice and that of many other anti-growth, anti-technology groups that should be considered unsustainable. After all, if any of the WWF dire predictions come true, it's likely to be a result of their foolish anti-growth policies.