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The language of the extreme

By Don Aitkin - posted Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Every now and then you pick up someone saying something so extreme that you wonder what on earth got into them. Someone else has collected a bunch of them, which I repeat here without further comment (that comes at the end).

My three goals would be to reduce human population to about 100 million worldwide, destroy the industrial infrastructure and see wilderness, with its full complement of species, returning throughout the world.
David Foreman, co-founder of Earth First

A total population of 250-300 million people, a 95% decline from present levels, would be ideal. Ted Turner, Founder of CNN and major UN donor

The prospect of cheap fusion energy is the worst thing that could happen to the planet.
Jeremy Rifkin, Greenhouse Crisis Foundation

Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun. Paul Ehrlich, Professor of Population Studies author of Population Bomb, Ecoscience

The big threat to the planet is people: there are too many, doing too well economically and burning too much oil. Sir James Lovelock, BBC Interview

We need to get some broad based support, to capture the public's imagination… So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements and make little mention of any doubts… Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.
Stephen Schneider, Stanford Professor of Climatology, lead author of many IPCC reports

Unless we announce disasters no one will listen. Sir John Houghton, first chairman of the IPCC

It doesn't matter what is true, it only matters what people believe is true. Paul Watson, co-founder of Greenpeace

Childbearing should be a punishable crime against society, unless the parents hold a government license. All potential parents should be required to use contraceptive chemicals, the government issuing antidotes to citizens chosen for childbearing. David Brower, first Executive Director of the Sierra Club

We've got to ride this global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic and environmental policy.
Timothy Wirth, President of the UN Foundation

No matter if the science of global warming is all phony… climate change provides the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world. Christine Stewart, former Canadian Minister of the Environment

The only way to get our society to truly change is to frighten people with the possibility of a catastrophe. Emeritus Professor Daniel Botkin

Isn't the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn't it our responsibility to bring that about?
Maurice Strong, Founder of the UN Environmental Program

A massive campaign must be launched to de-develop the United States. De-development means bringing our economic system into line with the realities of ecology and the world resource situation.
Paul Ehrlich

If I were reincarnated I would wish to return to earth as a killer virus to lower human population levels. Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, Patron of the Patron of the World Wildlife Foundation

The only hope for the world is to make sure there is not another United States. We can't let other countries have the same number of cars, the amount of industrialization we have in the US. We have to stop these third world countries right where they are. Michael Oppenheimer, Environmental Defense Fund

Global Sustainability requires the deliberate quest of poverty, reduced resource consumption and set levels of mortality control. Professor Maurice King

Current lifestyles and consumption patterns of the affluent middle class – involving high meat intake, use of fossil fuels, appliances, air-conditioning, and suburban housing – are not sustainable. Maurice Strong, Rio Earth Summit

Complex technology of any sort is an assault on the human dignity. It would be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy, because of what we might do with it. Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute

I suspect that eradicating small pox was wrong. it played an important part in balancing ecosystems. John Davis, Editor of Earth First! Journal

My first comment is that none of these statements came with an immediately attributable source. I'm sure that the Stephen Schneider quote is right, because I can recall seeing it in its source. Prince Phillip's is well known, as are those of Paul Ehrlich. My second is that there is no context for nearly all of them. Again, Schneider's came in the context of a paper about choices, and he didn't say where he found the balance. Prince Phillip may have been cracking a joke, because he does like to.


But I thought I'd better try and track those quotes down. It's not at all easy. Take the Sir John Houghton one, which I've certainly seen before. According to the Wikipedia entry on him, the correct quote runs as follows: If we want a good environmental policy in the future we'll have to have a disaster. It's like safety on public transport. The only way humans will act is if there's been an accident. So the apparent quote is a paraphrase - punchier, certainly, but it's not what he actually said, and doesn't deserve the inverted commas.

Same with the Maurice King quote. I can't find that he actually said the words given, but he certainly said words like them, and he has certainly outraged people with his comments about the need for the one-child family. Another paraphrase.

I checked them all out. Of the twenty, only five are apparently accurate, true quotes. Another five are possibly accurate, but without access to a good library to check out the references to books (three of them to the one book, which is a bit of a worry), I can't be sure. The rest are confections, paraphrases from more than one source (as in the Christine Stewart example), or misquotations, as in the cases of Botkin and Strong, where the implication is that the ideas are those of the named person but were hypothetical or about third parties. I couldn't find any authentic source at all for the Foreman quote. When I see inverted commas I expect that the quoted words are honestly offered. Most of these failed that test.

On the other hand, after doing all this work, I would have to say that the general ideas set out in these excerpts are certainly 'consistent' with what these people have been saying elsewhere. And there are two implications, obvious to all, I would think.

First, there is very little about climate science, global warming or saving the environment. Climate change appears to be an instrument to other ends.

Second, there is a lot of hidden anger there about human beings, and again, not obviously because those expressing these notions are desperate to save other species.


It makes you think. Where did all this come from? But it makes me cross that some people think it's OK to invent quotes, even where the quote is 'consistent' with what the supposed speaker has said in the past. We don't need this kind of stuff.

As a postcript, I could find dozens more of these statements on the web - one site alone had 400. And there are useful debunking sites, too. Truly, the Internet is a wonderful resource. But you do need to check material out.

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About the Author

Don Aitkin has been an academic and vice-chancellor. His latest book, Hugh Flavus, Knight was published in 2020.

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