In case you missed it, April 22 was the 52nd edition of Earth Day. Earth Day, unlike most other public celebrations featuring good humor and good times, is dark and dire. The earth, and all who live on it, are heading for destruction unless something is done now!
According to the predictions made by many personalities on the occasion of the first day of the Earth (Lenin’s 100th birthday, by the way), we should all have died by now, either of starvation, lack of vital resources, or climate disasters stemming from (choose one) global warming or a new ice age. An internet search will reward you with many examples.
Why doomsday predictions remain very popular, even after centuries of experience, show just how wrong they still are. The old saw wants bad news to sell newspapers and bad news to sell books. A number of death row inmates over the past half century have made a lot of money selling books full of nonsense, so their motivation is easy to understand. I’m not saying these people may not be true believers, but making money or two with your true beliefs is still popular.
While dirty money isn’t a motivation, fame can work too. One of the most famous doomsday predictions in American history was October 22, 1844. At a time of sectarian birth in upstate New York, William Miller founded a group of Adventists whose followers quickly concluded that the world would end with the return of Christ on that date. . The followers quickly spread around the world, with many climbing Cobb’s Hill in New York City to await Advent, and when the sun rose as usual on October 23, there was, of course, a little of disappointment and downfall. But don’t worry – it would be a shame to give up on so much success, so the technique that predictors of a certain disaster has since followed is to change the date. Better yet, stop giving certain dates and make the End sometimes vague in the (not too distant) future.
One would think that giving dates would totally destroy the credibility of those who make such predictions, but it is not. If the specifics (the arctic ice will melt all by 2014) fails to deliver, simply state that the calculation was a little wrong, or that some other event taking place has upset the calculation, but don’t worry: this ice arctic will melt – it will just take a little longer.
If fame and fortune draw true believers to ruin, I wonder about the millions of people who must continue to consume bad luck in order to deliver fame and fortune. Why do people want disaster scenarios? Like the rest of the economic world, supply will dry up quickly if there is no demand. Many Christians devour books about the end of time. I must admit that I never understood why. I’m 78, so I know my end time is approaching. I don’t have to buy a book to convince myself, nor do I want to read in detail everything that could do to me.
Maybe it’s just entertainment. Horror movies (and End Time movies and disaster movies) are all a good box office. Maybe we just like to be scared once in a while to liven up an otherwise mundane life.
Religion certainly plays a role – end-time religions seem to be more emotionally enthusiastic than ordinary old Christian denominations. For those who have long given up on something like belief in God, environmentalism is a delicious substitute. There are saints and sinners, and you too can participate without having to show up for a weekly meeting, or be tempted to throw money on the collection plate. Recycling shows you believe.
The contrast between Millerites then and climatologists today is that Millerites were harmless. Their ascent did not bother anyone else. However, Church climate fanatics will insist that you and I unite.
Charles Milliken is Professor Emeritus after 22 years of teaching economics and related subjects at the University of Siena Heights. He can be reached at [email protected]