Thrawn Rickle 5

Earth Day 1990
© 1990 Williscroft

Earth Day 1990 has not happened as I write, but is history as you read.

My qualifications? During the last half of twenty-three years in government service I was attached to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). For two years I collected data in the arctic for the Outer Continental Shelf Environmental Assessment Program (OCSEAP), for a year I sailed the equatorial Pacific with the Deep Ocean Mining Environmental Study (DOMES), and for a year I served in Antarctica directing the Geophysical Monitoring for Climate Change (GMCC) program at the South Pole for the Environmental Research Laboratories. For several years I actively participated in and directed coastal polluted water studies for the National Ocean Service (NOS) as they relate to diving activities in these waters (I received my doctorate in this area).

Earth Day first happened twenty years ago. Everybody – scientists, politicians, economists, prophets – literally everybody has better hindsight than foresight. This makes it a bit unfair to single out predictions made so long ago. On the other hand, examining such predictions may help us evaluate similar predictions being made this Earth Day.

Twenty years ago, the well-known editor, Norman Cousins, stated flatly that “the human race is operating under the starkest of deadlines.” NBC’s Edwin Newman warned that by 1980 the great rivers of this nation “would have reached the boiling point.” Life predicted that city dwellers would need gas masks by 1980. So did Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson (who claims to be the originator of Earth Day). He also predicted that by 1995 “between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.” Then he went out on a limb, predicting that by 2000 the natural environment would be unable to support any life.

Other predictions: by 1974 – water rationing and a ban on flush toilets; by the mid-70s – a 500-percent increase in dysentery (with flush toilets banned!); by 1980 – world-wide food rationing.

Dr. Paul Erlich, who wrote the best-seller The Population Bomb, and founded the organization Zero Population Growth, deserves special mention. Along with his dire predictions, he supplied some interesting solutions. 

“The time of famines will be upon us full-scale in 1975,” he predicted to Johnny Carson. Smog masks, synthetic steaks, maximal regimentation and government control…his list of dire problems is nearly endless. He predicted a “tremendous impact” for Earth Day. It “is going to generate a lot of civil disobedience…people are just going to stop paying their bills.” He also foresaw a new national political party growing out of Zero Population Growth. (President Erlich?)

His solutions to these overwhelming problems are enlightening. He called for a Federal Department of Population and Environment, a head tax for families with children, lots of abortions, an end to “death-control” (meaning life extension medical research), compulsory birth regulation. “We might, for instance, institute a system whereby a temporary sterilant would be added to a staple food or to the water supply,” he proposed.

Sure it’s silly – all of it. Remember this in the aftermath of Earth Day 1990, and when you cast your ballot next election.

Submariner, diver, scientist, author & adventurer. 22 mos underwater, a yr in the equatorial Pacific, 3 yrs in the Arctic, and a yr at the South Pole. BS Marine Physics & Meteorology, PhD in Engineering. Authors non-fiction, Cold War thrillers, and hard science fiction. Lives in Centennial, CO.

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