The Persistent Appeal of the 'Climate Apocalypse'

Steven F. Hayward06 Jun, 2023 5 Min Read
Reject the evil of "climate change" and celebrate the joy of life on earth.

The fundamental appeal of environmentalism, and especially the "climate change" cult, is related directly to its central defect: the Malthusian view that humans are a pestilence on the planet, doomed to self-extinction—if, that is, we don’t turn over our lives wholly to a politically powerful (meaning tyrannical) elite. It is a perverse paradox that if you demonstrate to an environmentalist that the environmental apocalypse is not coming, it makes them very sad and angry. What explains this demented state of mind?

The neo-Malthusianism of modern environmentalism was riding high in the 1970s when an artificial, government-caused “energy crisis” combined with government-caused inflation to lend verisimilitude to the media-driven narrative that we were running out of everything and were hard up against the “limits to growth,” as one famous study of the era proclaimed on the basis of a garbage-in/garbage-out computer model. And who can forget the Carter Administration’s Global 2000 report released in 1980, which predicted, among other resource disasters, an acute global scarcity of oil by the year 2000 that would drive its price up to $200 a barrel.

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Malthus’s thesis that human population growth would outstrip available food and resources leading to catastrophic collapse has been repeatedly refuted. Virtually every environmentalist prediction of imminent doom over the last 50 years has been proven wrong, often by an order of magnitude, such that even environmentalists are occasionally embarrassed and promise to swear off the dismal Malthusian malt. But the environmentalist embarrassment never lasts long. They are like Alcoholics Anonymous drop-outs, who ditch their 12-step program and go on a bender at the next well-lit Malthusian tavern they wander by.

Rather than change their mind, environmentalists change the subject, invent new terms for their old-time religion, and grab at any issue that comes to mind to keep their apocalyptic narrative going. With the “limits to growth” thesis thoroughly debunked by the 1990s, environmentalists pivoted to a new model, ostensibly compatible with economic growth: “sustainable development.” The problem with “sustainable development” is that despite extensive intellectual effort (and even a presidential commission during the Clinton Administration), the idea ironically proved too flabby to sustain itself, never mind its openly anti-growth policy. Environmental scientist Timothy O’Riordan warned early on:

It may only be a matter of time before the metaphor of sustainability becomes so confused as to be meaningless, certainly as a device to straddle the ideological conflicts that pervade contemporary environmentalism.

But climate change became the ideal solution for the defects of their previous anti-growthism and dismal record at predicting a near-term apocalypse. First, "climate change" has a long timeline, and a distant apocalypse relives environmentalism of the failure of their imminent predictions, like Paul Ehrlich’s absurd pronouncement in 1968 that by the mid-1970s hundreds of millions would die from famine.

Second, it solved the stumbling block of resource abundance. In the 1970s, we were told that we had to embrace conservation and “renewable” energy like wind and solar power because we were rapidly running out of fossil fuels, arable farmland, and other resources. Today we are told that we have to embrace conservation and renewable energy because we aren’t running out of fossil fuels, farmland, and other resources fast enough! And the population bomb has fizzled out, too. It turned out to be a wet firecracker at worst.

Environmentalists thought climate change would be their ticket to ultimate power for the simple reason that energy is the master resource, and thus getting control of the planet’s energy systems would enable control of everything. While 30-plus years of climate policy has wreaked economic havoc (with worse to come), it has actually not made a dent in the ultimate goal of eliminating fossil fuels for the simple reason that fossil fuels are the only energy sources that work right now on a sufficient scale and reasonable cost—full stop.

Despite nearly 50 years of promoting “renewable” or “alternative” energy, the proportion of the world’s total energy needs supplied by fossil fuels is still around 80 percent—a figure that has hardly budged since 1980. This is infuriating to the climate cultists; hence the temper tantrums of True Believers who are acting out by defacing artwork and blocking traffic around the world.

The failure of “sustainable development” also has led environmentalists recently to embrace the old-time Malthusian religion under the candid banner of “DeGrowth.” Some environmentalists are back to arguing openly that we need to become poorer and lead less comfortable lives—if the species deserves to live on at all.

Wealthy economies should abandon growth of gross domestic product (GDP) as a goal, scale down destructive and unnecessary forms of production to reduce energy and material use, and focus economic activity around securing human needs and well-being. This approach, which has gained traction in recent years, can enable rapid decarbonization and stop ecological breakdown while improving social outcomes2. It frees up energy and materials for low- and middle-income countries in which growth might still be needed for development. Degrowth is a purposeful strategy to stabilize economies and achieve social and ecological goals, unlike recession, which is chaotic and socially destabilizing and occurs when growth-dependent economies fail to grow.

Be like Lucretia and kill yourself.

That’s right: climate change fanaticism is flirting with becoming the next Heaven’s Gate suicide cult. There are a spate of new books, taken seriously in the premier literary pages of the New York Review of Books and elsewhere, that call for “the death of the human species [as] the most life-affirming event that could liberate the natural world from oppression.” Another recent book, The Ahuman Manifesto: Activism for the End of the Anthropocene by Australian philosopher Patricia MacCormack, embraces cannibalism and necrophilia: “Our world is groaning under the weight of the parasitic pestilence of human life and yet our excessive resource is the human dead.”

This is not too far from John Kerry's arguing recently that we need to abandon large-scale agriculture, ignorant of the fact that advanced farming technology saves more land for conservation purposes. If you dig deep into radical "climate change" literature, you discover that settled agricultural production, the first step up from hunter-gathering tribes to civilization, is the original sin for their crackpot theology.

And therein lies the crux of the whole matter. The "climate change" argument isn’t actually rooted in science at all, but in eschatology. Human beings may be hard-wired for belief in some form of the apocalypse, and as such "climate change"  (and environmentalism generally) is a secular substitute for the End Times. This may not appeal to the masses at large, but it holds deep appeal to our nihilist chattering classes and power-hungry elites.

The green clerisy sees "climate change" not as a technical problem to be solved with innovation or traditional economic measures, but as a rift in the human soul requiring “radical transformation” of human civilization (Al Gore’s words) to solve. It is no exaggeration to refer to the "climate change" activists as a cult—Thermageddonites or Thunbergians perhaps?—as they display religious fanaticism centered on an old-time version of sin but without the promise of redemption, even after repentance and atonement.

Fortunately, like most extreme cults its appeal is limited, as most people are not obsessed with the apocalypse. Despite billions of dollars to promote climate porn and the capture of energy agenda-setting in most advanced nations, public opinion surveys repeatedly find a majority of the public rates "climate change" very low on their list of priorities; they can smell the hoax. But like other fanatical cults throughout history, it will do great damage before it expires, at which point the impulse toward radical eschatology will need to find another object for its predations. God help us.

Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, and lecturer at Berkeley Law. His most recent book is "M. Stanton Evans: Conservative Wit, Apostle of Freedom." He writes daily at


See All

12 comments on “The Persistent Appeal of the 'Climate Apocalypse'”

  1. The Gas Stove Ban is just Big Brother in the Kitchen regulating how you live and using Lies and Junk Science as well as Politics to run our lives

  2. I think the obsession with climate-catastrophie belies a more psychological neurosis: the need to always clamor for something. I'm old enought to recall how the 'population explosion' was
    all we heard about in grade school in the 1960s. Then of course it was global cooling, then it was the ozone hole, then it was nuclear winter, then it was acid rain, then it was global warming, then it was climate change, now it's back to global cooling. Weird. Just a bandwagon to climb aboard, just a reason to march, and shout and protest. Weird.

  3. Being a former engineer for a large power company and having earned a Master of Science in Energy and the Environment, I had PV panels installed seven years ago, with my estimated payback of 15 years, . . the right thing for an eco-freak to do. Before they could be installed, we acquired a VW e-Golf electric car. The savings in gasoline alone took the solar system payback down to 3 1/2 years. So, we added a used Tesla Model S, P85, and that took the payback down to less than three years, which means we now get free power for household and transportation.
    But that is not all: We do not need to go to gas stations, we fuel up at home at night with cheap baseload power. During the daytime, the PV system turns our meter backwards powering the neighborhood with clean local power, which we trade for the stuff to be used that night. If we paid for transportation fuel, the VW would cost us 4 cents/mile to drive, and the Tesla would cost 5 cents/mile at California off-peak power prices.
    No oil changes are a real treat along with no leaks. And since it has an electric motor, it needs NO ENGINE MAINTENANCE at all. We do not go "gas up", or get tune-ups or emissions checks, have no transmission about which to worry, no complicated machined parts needing care.
    Do you still pay for electricity and gasoline?

    1. And how far are you allowed to go in your virtue-signaling-mobile? You are perfectly positioned for the "15-minute city" of the future where even if they let you out of your zone, you wouldn't be able to recharge your virtue-signaling-mobile on the outside.

  4. The Biblical narrative - that humans are the capstone of creation - is more scientifically sound than the "humans are the planetary cancer" narrative. Since the Cretaceous Period, the natural ecosystem has NOT been in a balance to sustain life, it has run a consistent carbon dioxide deficit (because sea creatures are permanently sequestering carbon dioxide in their calcium carbonate shells which are buried in sediment).
    Atmospheric carbon dioxide has been consistently declining since then, falling to around 200 ppm during the last ice age. Biologists say plants start struggle when CO2 falls below 500 ppm, and to die when CO2 falls below 150 ppm. At that rate, planet Earth was perhaps a mere million years away from mass extinctions from plant death (i.e. if plants die, animals die).
    The salvation of the planet was that a species was created - human beings - who were able to release carbon dioxide sequestered in fossil fuels and begin to restore the atmospheric CO2 balance to its average historic level (even now it is still very low by Earth history standards ~500 ppm). They are the only creature able to accomplish this feat. There is no other plant, animal, or fungus capable of releasing carbon dioxide sequestered in shell sediment or petroleum.
    The notion that Earth's ecosystem is in balance to sustain life forever without humans is a MYTH, and not supported by the science.

  5. We can save the earth,and money, too. Renewables are not just cleaner than thermal plants, they are cheaper too. My household and electric cars are primarily powered by the PV system on our roof. We do not have to buy gasoline or electricity, and the system paid back in three years in gasoline savings alone.

    1. For which you can thank all the Federal and state incentives that the rest of us are paying for. Even then, I suspect you don't have the numbers correct.

    2. The earth doesn't need "saving", it is doing just fine.
      The climate ALWAYS changes. Ebb and flow. Day and night. High and low tide. Lunar phases. 4 seasons. EVERYTHING on the planet is CYCLICAL. "Climate change" is simply seasonal change on a longer timeline.
      The earth is COOLER now, than it was in the Roman age. Or, in the age of the dinosaurs. I guess those chariots had some nasty tailpipe emissions! WE, are not "causing" anything to change (or not change) - to think such, is simple arrogance.
      Good on you for your renewables - what do you plan to do when the battery in your EV goes bad? How will you dispose of the strip-mined lithium in the batteries? Create your own toxic waste dump, or use a municipal one? Will you replace it with MORE strip-mined lithium (generally produced with child labor)? You'd do less harm to the environment you proclaim to love so much, by simply using an internal-combustion vehicle. Same with the panels on your roof - what's their ROI considering their life expectancy? How will you dispose of THEM, just add more to the piles that are known as "landfills"? 99% of this stuff isn't recyclable; it just sits on trash heaps. But, "environment", right?
      Oh, and here's a news flash - the earth is STILL MAKING OIL. It isn't a "fossil" fuel, it's a MINERAL, and there was no "end date" for oil creation; it didn't stop when the planet "ran out of dinosaur bodies" or anything like that. That's why nobody is "running out", and why new drilling leases are still popular (and profitable) - the earth is still making the stuff! (FOR US, one could argue...)
      The climate-con has a 0-for-60 record or some such. NOTHING they have "predicted" has come to fruition; NONE of the "science" they base their "predictions" upon has proven to be valid. You'll forgive me if I place ZERO stock in anything those folks say.
      Oh, and to the current (infinitesimal) temperature increases on earth? Guess what - MARS' temperature is ALSO going up right now. Most likely, all these temperature increases are due to the one, big, orange heat source in the solar system.

      The SUN.

      Personally, I love summer and WILL enjoy the warm weather. Just like I love winter, and snow - that strangely non-extinct, still-happens-every-year, snow.

      Because, CYCLICAL.

    3. In other words, you are using the fossil-fuel-powered grid - which we all pay for - as your backup for cloudy days. And therein lies the fallacy that renewables are cheaper. They are only cheaper if you ignore the cost of the backup generator. But we can't; hospitals, schools, and factories need electricity even on cloudy windless days.
      The gigantic mining, refining, and manufacturing processes that would be required to replace the current grid with renewables would ruin the Earth's environment, as well as creating huge human and labor rights problems (e.g. the child labor in Africa that mined the minerals for your renewable household), as well as bankrupting our economies.
      All to shave a fraction of a degree off temperatures predicted by unscientific models that have been proven wrong (i.e. their temperature predictions fail to match historical data).

  6. A fanatical, anti-human cult indeed. There are many reasons for the recent very slight warming on Earth, not the least of which is the variable radiation output of the Sun, whose cycles take decades of slightly warmer, slightly colder phases. The tiny variations in the orbit of the Earth around the Sun and the tiny variations of the Earth rotating on its axis - all factors that affect climate/weather. "Climate Change" is a political movement.

  7. It could be something else - like a fear of repeating ancient history. The most plausible origin of the UFOs and their non-human pilots is they are a remnant of a non-human civilization that preceded our species, millions of years ago, and are currently living in bases dug into the moon and under the ocean. If so, something must have forced them to leave the Earth's surface. I'm not saying it was "global warming", as it could have been a war leading to the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs, or some other catastrophe. But whatever it is, somebody knows a lot more than the government is willing to admit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *