Ed Driscoll

Apocalypse Then

There’s a sucker punch at the end that Glenn Beck fans won’t enjoy, and it’s worth noting that however pessimistic Alvin Toffler was about the future at the start of the 1970s, he had made quite an about-face a decade later in the surprisingly hopeful sequel to Future Shock, The Third Wave. But otherwise, this is a fun video look from Matt Novak of the PaleoFuture blog at the doomsday Malthusians of the early seventies:

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Novak’s video echoes a point I made last March: today’s global warming fear mongering is tomorrow’s late-night camp TV:

A 1930s scare film such as Reefer Madness was seen as high camp by liberals by the time the 1970s rolled around, as were Jack Webb’s anti-communist efforts of the late 1950s. But seventies liberals, perhaps spurred on by the title of Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book Future Shock, if not the actual contents, had plenty of fears of their own, and wanted you to share the cold sweat of their own brand of paranoia.

Recall the horrific slate of politically-oriented science fiction films that Hollywood churned out in-between 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and 1977’s Star Wars. Films such as Soylent Green, Silent Running and ZPG were obsessed with the Malthusian nightmares of overpopulation and deforestation that dominated the overculture of the time. Rollerball depicted a world controlled by giant corporations, at precisely the same time that Steve and Woz were cobbling together the first Apples in their Bay Area garage. They were followed by Leonard Nimoy’s cheesy synthesizer-scored In Search Of TV series a few years later, which explored Global Cooling, Killer Bees, Deadly Ants, and other ’70s obsessions.

Today, these ’70s efforts are seen as equally campy as Refer Madness became three or four decades after its release. The eco-doomsday films of the naughts, such as The Day After Tomorrow, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, and Al Gore’s own An Inconvenient Truth are well on the way to becoming late night camp TV themselves, and at much faster rate as their equally schlocky predecessors.

Perhaps someone can recut Al’s film and dub it “Climate Madness.” Maybe hire William Shatner to cut an exaggerated Jack Webb-style parody opening.

Who knows: “Climate Madness” could eventually even have the same impact on its genre as his wife Tipper’s efforts to curb raunchy lyrics in pop music.

Perhaps that’s why, as Stacy McCain notes today, Malthusian predictions are increasingly of the “if we don’t act now, the world will come to an end in 200 years” variety, as opposed to the “if we don’t act now, the world will come to an end in 20 years” style that were a staple of the schlock documentaries that Novak pokes fun at in his video:

“Population Bomb” hoaxer Paul Ehrlich made a laughingstock of himself by predicting what he expected to happen in five, 10 or 15 years — and all his disaster scenarios proved false. As Reason magazine’s Ronald Bailey says, Ehrlich has never been right about anything.

Other doomsayers have learned the lesson of Ehrlich’s example. Nowadays, the purveyors of climate-change “consensus” talk about what will happen in 50, 100 or 200 years. The beauty of putting Doomsday in the fairly distant future is that your prediction cannot be falsified any time soon. By the time anyone can determine whether your forecasts were accurate, you’ll be mouldering in the grave.

And while I don’t watch Glenn Beck very often, it’s worth noting that his message is the exact opposite of Malthusianism, which seeks an ever-growing number of regulations to fight the imagined horror of the day. As a libertarian, his goal is to expand freedom, not strangle it. I suspect he wouldn’t complain much if we look back in 20 years and find his predictions about a future diminished by over-regulation and top-down government planning (QED) are wrong — it would indicate that his notion of renewing America was a success on some level.

Finally, speaking of bad doomsday documentaries, after 20 years of being trapped in a thousand cable TV shows telling us that global warming would lead to their demise, a hearty group of unpaid and exploited extras finally decided to strike back:

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(H/T: Virginia Postrel)