NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Predictions of Famine Wrong Again

December 20, 1997

Many of today's environmental activists can trace their tradition to the late 18th-century's Thomas Robert Malthus. His predictions that population would outstrip food supply and lead to starvation have long since been discredited by actual events.

Predictors of ecological doom over the centuries have a terrible track record. For example:

  • Despite continuing warnings of impending worldwide famine, since 1961 the population of the world has almost doubled, while food production has more than doubled -- resulting in food production rising by 20 percent per capita since then.
  • During the 20th century, federal government agencies have issued numerous grim warnings that U.S. oil reserves would last only another decade or a few years more -- predictions nowhere near the mark.
  • In 1972, the Club of Rome predicted complete depletion of global oil reserves, leading President Jimmy Carter to proclaim shortly afterwards that: "We could use up all the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade;" but by 1990, unexploited reserves amounted to 900 billion barrels, not including hundreds of billions of barrels of tar shales.
  • An influential report submitted to the president of the United States in 1980, entitled "Global 2000," predicted that food prices would rise between 35 percent and 115 percent by 2000, but since then the world food commodity index has fallen by 50 percent.

Experts note that environmental activists -- faced with such a dismal record of resource prediction -- have abandoned that line for pollution scares.

Hence the present concentration on global warming. That theory is no more viable than previous "sky-is-falling" predictions concerning resources, critics say.

Source: "Environmental Scares: Plenty of Gloom,"Economist, December 20, 1997.


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