Must read: Matt Ridley – "Down with Doom"

Matt Ridley (from

Matt Ridley exposes the culture of doom that pervades our existence, of which global warming is but the latest in a very, very long line. It certainly won’t be the last, for as we know, the UN is now focussing on biodiversity as the planet’s next crisis. Personally, I recall, as a small boy growing up in suburban south-west London, the Ice Age scare of the mid-1970s, which terrified the pants off me. I had nightmares about it, thanks to over-zealous environmentalists who extrapolated the small, natural cooling to something catastrophic. Sound familiar?

When I was a student, in the 1970s, the world was coming to an end. The adults told me so. They said the population explosion was unstoppable, mass famine was imminent, a cancer epidemic caused by chemicals in the environment was beginning, the Sahara desert was advancing by a mile a year, the ice age was returning, oil was running out, air pollution was choking us and nuclear winter would finish us off. There did not seem to be much point in planning for the future. I remember a fantasy I had – that I would make my way to the Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, and live off the land so I could survive these holocausts at least till the cancer got me.

I am not making this up. By the time I was 21 years old I realized that nobody had ever said anything optimistic to me – in a lecture, a television program or even a conversation in a bar – about the future of the planet and its people, at least not that I could recall. Doom was certain.

The next two decades were just as bad: acid rain was going to devastate forests, the loss of the ozone layer was going to fry us, gender-bending chemicals were going to decimate sperm counts, swine flu, bird flu and Ebola virus were going to wipe us all out. In 1992, the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro opened its agenda for the twenty-first century with the words `Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being.’

By then I had begun to notice that this terrible future was not all that bad. In fact every single one of the dooms I had been threatened with had proved either false or exaggerated. The population explosion was slowing down, famine had largely been conquered (except in war-torn tyrannies), India was exporting food, cancer rates were falling not rising (adjusted for age), the Sahel was greening, the climate was warming, oil was abundant, air pollution was falling fast, nuclear disarmament was proceeding apace, forests were thriving, sperm counts had not fallen. And above all, prosperity and freedom were advancing at the expense of poverty and tyranny.

Where are the pressure groups that have an interest in telling the good news? They do not exist. By contrast, the behemoths of bad news, such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF, spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year and doom is their best fund-raiser. Where is the news media’s interest in checking out how pessimists’ predictions panned out before? There is none.

Read it all!


  1. BK Barth says:

    Boy can I relate to this! I remember being told that fossil fuels would be gone within 30 years – that was more than 40 years ago, that a new ice age was coming, and that we would all be starving to death by now, or wiped out by nuclear war. It is time for a return to reason and common sense!

  2. Throughout human history – and in all races, cultures, and religions – some kind of “millenialism” or “end times” scariness has existed. It seems to be a part of the human cultural psyche.

    And alongside those “true believers” who half-innocently promote the apocalypse du jour (today we have CAGW, catastrophic ocean acidification, and now catastrophic species depletion), there are those who attempt to profit from it immensely (e.g., Al Gore, George Soros).

    Like the Mayan sacrificial scenes in Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, most of the people stand back in fear and dread at the dire pronouncements of the false leaders and their flagrant and cynical manipulations.

    Which is not to say that all environmental problems are faked. Some are and and should be (and have been) fixed. For example I personally recall that as a kid in the late 1960’s, the smog in Los Angeles actually did make my eyes sting and water. Last time there 2 years ago the smog was completely gone, as it has been gone for decades now. More recently, in some parts of America (e.g., the American Southwest) the trash and depredations from illegal alien traffic have really blighted the landscape. But like LA smog, this is an ecological problem that can easily be fixed if the political will is there.

    There is a point – and CAGW has most certainly reached it – where honest, pragmatic, and even aesthetic concerns about our wider world and environment intersect with a seemingly genetic cultural tendency to fall for the apocalyptic vision of the world. It’s really very interesting from a cultural point of view, although tragic as a form of public politics and policy.

  3. OzJuggler says:

    How’s that for a laundry list:
    > population explosion,
    > mass famine,
    > a cancer epidemic caused by chemicals in the environment,
    > the Sahara desert was advancing by a mile a year,
    > the ice age was returning,
    > oil was running out,
    > air pollution was choking us,
    > and nuclear winter would finish us off.

    These were all things that could have occurred if trends continued or if nothing was done to avert them. Six out of these eight fears have indeed occurred and are ongoing. Are we supposed to emphasise the alarmist’s fictional ice age and the three lucky historic near-misses the world had with nuclear Armageddon as proof that everything will be okay regardless of what we do?

    * Population growth rate is still above zero, so there is still an exponential population growth on a finite sized planet which should spell trouble to anyone with a high-school level of math. Again, it’s what *will probably* happen if we don’t change behaviour, and any future remedial change cannot be retroactively used to claim there was never a problem or that fears were unfounded. The fears are well-founded until the change occurs.

    * He can’t discount famines that occur under tyrannies as though the tyrannies caused them or that his confidence in explaining what caused them somehow means the famines didn’t occur.

    * I don’t believe industrial chemicals are the only things causing cancer but since there are so many types of diseases under the umbrella of “cancer” one can hardly say that this fear was disproven. There is no law requiring full material lifecycle management on products so we are left rolling the dice every day.

    * Sahara still growing like it has for thousands of years, nothing new there, but nothing to be optimistic about.

    * Oil is still running out, both materially and in affordability. There is no mechanism to change that trend.

    * Air pollution was tackled in many countries by technical countermeasures and laws, which proves that the pollution had been allowed to occur in the first place without anyone foreseeing or caring about the choking, and pollution still occurs to a lesser degree wherever no-one is looking (eg mining), and is slowly exacerbated by the rising population of polluters.

    At the risk being cliché, I have to ask what planet this guy *wants* to live on. A planet rife with wilfully ignored consequences, I suspect.

  4. Oz Juggler. You are missing the point. “Carbon” taxing people into poverty ($ 100, 200, 500 …. Billion??) using alarmism as the mechanism to enrich governments and greedy “green” business is unacceptable and will not have any impact on earth’s natural climate cycles.

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