One Man's Ultimate Contribution
The conservative movement lost a crucial voice last week. He wasn't famous. He didn't have a TV show. He spent most of his time being studiously ignored by the media. But armed with hard scientific evidence, Julian Simon brought an important vision of hope for the planet in the midst of a "idealistic" environmental movement suspicious of liberty, prosperity, dynamism, and the propagation of human life itself.
In his books full of charts and tables, most notably "The Ultimate Resource," Dr. Simon's optimism - that the ultimate resource is not found in the earth, but in the creative potential of the human mind - dovetailed beautifully with the conservative idealism of Ronald Reagan. To persuade the public, he presented pounds of evidence, often, to the dismay of liberals, from government agencies themselves, like the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.
Luckily, Dr. Simon lived to see his views, once dismissed as crackpotty right-wing ravings, accepted by the scientific community. "My research is the mainstream now," he told us recently. "In 1986, the National Academy of Sciences came out with a report nearly reversing its earlier and more alarmist conclusions. It said 'The concern about the impact of rapid population growth on resource exhaustion has often been exaggerated.' It found positive and negative consequences. The scientific community has made a dramatic U-turn. But my views are not shared by the press and the community of academics who are not specialists on population economics - biologists, sociologists, physicians."
Even as Simon's arguments gained steam, discredited radical "experts" like Paul Ehrlich continued to shine as stars of gloomy television news reports. Simon's greatest frustration came from the media's promotion of experts like Ehrlich, who wildly and inaccurately predicted in the 1960s that one-fifth of the human species would die off by 1985. Ehrlich provided the kind of alarmist bunk promoted as real science that would land him guest spots on Johnny Carson's "Tonight" show. Even in 1990, Ehrlich was given half-hours of free air time to sell his noxious gospel of doom unopposed on NBC's "Today" show.
After an NBC series in which Ehrlich declared "our dependence on the cow is destroying the world environment" and signing off one report from "Washington D.C., the future shoreline of Chesapeake Bay," Simon complained: "On just about every point where his statements can be tested against evidence, Ehrlich is wrong. Indeed, he has been wrong across the board since the 1960s. Every one of his predictions has been falsified. How many times does a 'prophet' have to be wrong before he stops being a prophet?"
Year after year, conservatives have challenged the liberal media to present an honest scientific debate, to prove that accuracy or objectivity, and not cheap sensationalism, are their driving impulses. Still the "mainstream" press rejected any suggestion to provide Simon with a few seconds of rebuttal time to the likes of Ehrlich.
In 1992, CNN aired a series of frantic reports with the man-hating title "The People Bomb." Producer Stacy Jolna personified the media's disdain for men like Simon: "The vast, overwhelming majority of voices in the field of population pretty much speak to the problems, and there are very, very faint voices that think we ain't got a problem. We clearly have a problem...That all of this will fix itself at some point in the future is a silly way to operate." In 1994, NBC producer Tom Dawson claimed "His views are not shared by very many, if any, serious academics."
Even today, the Boys Who Cry Wolf, led by Vice President Gore, marched to the Kyoto conference declaring there was no scientific debate - the planet is going to hell - and that drastic government intervention is the only remedy. When will the media allow an opposing viewpoint to break through this baseless propaganda?
Simon summed up his frustration in a 1990 article in The Public Interest, where despite his optimism, he said he was "extremely pessimistic about the short-run likelihood that people in the West will get the chance accurately to assess the issues discussed here, and hence avoid the great losses of life and wealth that faulty assessments of the impact of population growth will ensure... there will be innumerable avoidable tragedies because the good news goes unreported. How sad that is."
In 1980, Simon tried to expose the unscientific nonsense coming from the doom-and-gloomers. He allowed Ehrlich to name any five natural resources that would grow scarcer (more expensive) by 1990. Simon bet that all five would become more plentiful (cheaper) by the end of the decade. Simon won - on all five counts. Simon's many converts owe it to him to ensure that his optimism prevails on the very biased public-relations front as well as it has in meeting the objective demands of science.