Nothing Has Changed: 49 Years Ago, CBS Pushed Message to 'Act or Die' on Earth Day


Earth Day was on Monday, which was good because there’s no day of the week that quite suits Earth Day like a Monday. It’s like all of the existential dread you feel getting out of bed at 6 a.m. in the morning, except people keep on talking to you about the dread and it isn’t just existential, it’s happening to the planet, and if we don’t do something now — as in right this very minute why are you wasting time you climate denier? — we’re all going to kick it.

To properly grok the general atmosphere of your average Earth Day, take this dire quote from 15-year-old Saheedah Majolagbe, which was retweeted by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to mark the occasion: “Every day we don’t take action is a day stolen from us.”

“We can’t let her generation down,” de Blasio warned.

Well, the good news is, yeah — we probably can.

Monday was the 49th Earth Day, which means just one more year before our world’s most apocalyptic holiday turns a half-century old. The funny thing is that we’re being given the same ominous warnings environmentalists and the media were doling out to us back in 1970.

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If you don’t believe me, the Media Research Center brought us a little bit of coverage from CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite some 49 years ago:

“The gravity of the message of Earth Day still came through: Act or die,” Cronkite told viewers, calling it “a day set aside for a nationwide outpouring of mankind seeking its own survival.” Do try not to laugh.

It’s kind of hard to hear the same authoritative voice that announced to the world that President John F. Kennedy had died some 38 minutes ago lend his gravitas to a silly statement about how we all needed to “act or die” back in 1970. We didn’t really act the way these environmental activists wanted, and, well, we haven’t really died.

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But then, he was hardly alone in making such statements in 1970.

As a sort of counter-celebration for the 49th Earth Day, the folks at the American Enterprise Institute rounded up a list of some of the apocalyptic things people were saying then that — quelle surprise — didn’t come to pass.

“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” Paul Ehrlich, the apostle of overpopulation scaremongering, wrote in April 1970. “The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”

In fact, exponentially fewer people die in famines today than did when Ehrlich wrote that, from over 16 million in the 1960s to just 255,000 between 2010 and 2016.

But Denis Hayes, chief organizer for Earth Day, didn’t see that coming. “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” he said.

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And then there was the fact that they were worried about climate change of a different sort back then.

“The world has been chilling sharply for about 20 years,” ecologist Kenneth Watt said. “If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but 11 degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”

Meanwhile, Harvard biologist George Wald told the world that “civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”

Sadly, it’s been 49 years and we still haven’t put that fiction to rest.

Remember, as Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said, we’ve only got 12 years left. She sounds a bit like Walter Cronkite did.

Hope you had a good Earth Day, everyone. Rest assured, you’ll have many happy returns.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture