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Master Resource reposts Julian Simon's
wonderful and inspiring message of 1 May 1995. For good and bad, it
has aged not at all:
"EARTH DAY: SPIRITUALLY UPLIFTING, INTELLECTUALLY
- by Julian L. Simon
April 22  marks the 25th anniversary of Earth Day.
Now as then its message is spiritually uplifting. But all
reasonable persons who look at the statistical evidence now
available must agree that Earth Day's scientific premises are
During the first great Earth Week in 1970 there was panic.
The public's outlook for the planet was unrelievedly gloomy.
The doomsaying environmentalists-of whom the dominant figure was
Paul Ehrlich-raised the alarm: The oceans and the Great Lakes were
dying; impending great famines would be seen on television starting
in 1975; the death rate would quickly increase due to pollution;
and rising prices of increasingly-scarce raw materials would lead
to a reversal in the past centuries' progress in the standard of
The media trumpeted the bad news in headlines and front-page
stories. Professor Ehrlich was on the Johnny Carson show for
an unprecedented full hour-twice. Classes were given by
television to tens of thousands of university students.
It is hard for those who did not experience it to imagine the
national excitement then. Even those who never read a
newspaper joined in efforts to clean up streams, and the most
unrepentant slobs refrained from littering for a few weeks.
Population growth was the great bugaboo.
Every ill was the result of too many people in the U. S. and
abroad. The remedy doomsayers urged was government-coerced
birth control, abroad and even at home.
On the evening before Earth Day I spoke on a panel at the
jam-packed auditorium at the University of Illinois. The
organizers had invited me for "balance," to show that all points of
view would be heard. I spoke then exactly the same ideas that I
write today; some of the very words are the same.
Of the 2,000 persons in attendance, probably fewer than a dozen
concluded that anything I said made sense. A panelist
denounced me as a religious nut, attributing to me weird beliefs
such as that murder was the equivalent of celibacy. My
ten-minute talk so enraged people that it led to a physical brawl
with another professor.
Every statement I made in 1970 about the trends in resource
scarcity and environmental cleanliness turned out to be correct.
Every prediction has been validated by events. Yet the
environmental organizations and the Clinton
administration-especially Vice President Al Gore, the State
Department, and the CIA -still take as doctrine exactly the same
ideas expressed by the doomsayers in 1970, despite their being
discredited by recent history. And the press overwhelmingly
endorses that viewpoint.
Here are the facts: On average, people throughout the world have
been living longer and eating better than ever before. Fewer
people die of famine nowadays than in earlier centuries. The
real prices of food and of every other raw material are lower now
than in earlier decades and centuries, indicating a trend of
increased natural-resource availability rather than increased
scarcity. The major air and water pollutions in the advanced
countries have been lessening rather than worsening.
In short, every single measure of material and environmental
welfare in the United States has improved rather than deteriorated.
This is also true of the world taken as a whole. All the
long-run trends point in exactly the opposite direction from the
projections of the doomsayers. There have been, and always
will be, temporary and local exceptions to these broad
trends. But astonishing as it may seem, there are no data
showing that conditions are deteriorating.
Rather, all indicators show that the quality of human life has
been getting better. As a result of this evidence of
improvement rather than degradation, in the past few years there
has been a major shift in scientific opinion away from the views
the doomsayers espouse. There now are dozens of books in print and
hundreds of articles in the technical and popular literature
reporting these facts.
Responding to the accumulating literature that shows no negative
correlation between population growth and economic development, in
1986 the National Academy of Sciences published a report on
population growth and economic development prepared by a
prestigious scholarly group. It reversed almost completely the
frightening conclusions of the previous 1971 NAS report. The group
found no quantitative statistical evidence of population growth
hindering economic progress, though they hedged their qualitative
judgment a bit. The report found benefits of additional people as
well as costs. Even the World Bank, the greatest institutional
worrier about population growth, reported in 1984 that the world's
natural resource situation provides no reason to limit population
A bet between Paul Ehrlich and me epitomizes the matter.
In 1980, the year after the tenth Earth Day, Ehrlich and two
associates wagered with me about future prices of raw
materials. We would assess the trend in $1000 worth of
copper, chrome, nickel, tin, and tungsten for ten years. I
would win if resources grew more abundant, and they would win if
resources became scarcer. At settling time in 1990, the year
after the twentieth Earth Week, they sent me a check for
A single bet proves little, of course. Hence I have offered to
repeat the wager, and I have broadened it as follows: I'll bet a
week's or a month's pay that just about any trend pertaining to
material human welfare will improve rather than get worse.
You pick the trend-perhaps life expectancy, a price of a natural
resource, some measure of air or water pollution, or the number of
telephones per person- and you choose the area of the world and the
future year the comparison is to be made. If I win, my
winnings go to non-profit research.
I have not been able to close another deal with a prominent
academic doomsayer. They all continue to warn of impending
deterioration, but they refuse to follow Professor Ehrlich in
putting their money where their mouths are. Therefore, let's
try the chief "official" doomsayer, Vice President Al Gore.
He wrote a best-selling book, Earth in the
Balance, that warns about the supposed environmental and
resource "crisis." In my judgment, the book is as ignorant
and wrongheaded a collection of cliches as anything ever published
on the subject.
So how about it, Al? Will you accept the offer? And
how about your boss Bill Clinton, who supports your environmental
initiatives? Can you bring him in for a piece of the
It is not pleasant to talk rudely like this. But a
challenge wager is the last refuge of the frustrated. And it
is very frustrating that after 25 years of the anti-pessimists
being proven entirely right, and the doomsayers being proven
entirely wrong, their credibility and influence waxes ever
That's the bad news. The good news is that there is every
scientific reason to be joyful about the trends in the condition of
the Earth, and hopeful for humanity's future, even if we are
falsely told the outlook is grim.
So Happy Earth Day!