As Big a Grain as You Can

Last week, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (otherwise known by their old initials: WWF) released a report which states that our planet is going to run out of natural resources within 150 years, and that by the year 2050, all of the world’s population will face severe restrictions on their lifestyle, just because resources will start disappearing.

Pardon me while I grab this salt lick.

Over the years, environmental extremists have issued dire warning after dire warning. We were supposed to run out of fossil fuels well before the end of the last century, according to some early predictions. Clean water, by some other accounts, was supposed to have vanished by 1995. Worldwide famine was supposed to have hit in the 1980’s, as well as many incurable and highly infectious diseases. The Brazilian rainforests were supposed to be completely gone by 2001. And, of course, something like 75% of the world’s species were supposed to have vanished by now.

None of these things have happened. And, honestly, some of these warnings are getting tiresome.

Oh, there have been ecological disasters in the past, of course. Scotland, known now for its broad grassy meadows and highlands, was once almost entirely covered by forests ("the deforestation of Caledonia," one tourguide told me while I was over there, "is probably the worst ecological disaster ever, and it happened well before mankind developed the technology to destroy the planet completely"). Then, of course, there was the move by Iraqi forces to set fire to petroleum refineries at the end of the Gulf War, poisoning the oceans in that area. The Exxon Valdez incident is still fresh in the minds of many people. And, of course, the vulture population in India and Pakistan is taking a frightening nosedive.

And things are not completely rosy now, either. Climate change is widely acknowledged in the scientific community (the debate centers on what the nature of the change is, and what — and who — is mostly responsible for it). There are indications that global warming is damaging the ecosystem and economy of some places in Antarctica. And so on.

But is the earth really going to expire by the year 2050? That sounds pretty extreme, even by the standards of environmental extremism.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I want there to be a planet around when our children grow up. I believe that Conservation is A Good Thing, and I have religious convictions which support that belief. And if I could figure out how to pull it off, I would ultimately like to build a career that focuses on integrating civilization with the natural world.

But the WWF and other environmental extremist groups are doing for the environmental movement the same favor that the religious right has done for the Republican party. Whatever credibility is there is being eroded away by fear-mongers and doomsayers; and there are times when I’ve felt that some of them are much more interested in promoting an agenda of eliminating modern technology all together rather than finding actual solutions to many of the problems we face. I have actually encountered environmentalists who argue that scare tactics are what people listen to, so the scare tactics are what the movement should stick with. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really work in the long run. When Doomsday passes several times without incident, people stop believing the Doomsday stories, and eventually simply start laughing at them. You lose credibility.

I get frustrated with this sort of thing. I like the Earth; I want it to stick around for awhile, and I want future generations to get to enjoy it as well. I get frustrated at "Spare the Air Days" in my own area, where the air quality gets so bad due to pollution that "sensitive groups" of people — such as people with respiratory diseases like asthma — are advised to stay indoors. And I get overwhelmingly frustrated at people who deny that there are any problems at all with the environment.

All the same, though, there are just some times when the most appropriate thing to do is to take what you hear with as big a grain of salt as you can, even if you sympathize with the group putting out the information.