Eco-Rapture and the Cult of Malthus & Gaia

by | May 22, 2011

There’s been a lot of talk this week — and probably a lot of disappointment — about the end of the world. Said the Observer today…

To the shock and distress of a handful of ultra-devout Christian believers, the sun went down yesterday on an America and a world that had signally failed to end.

Tee-hee. Silly Americans. Silly Christians. Etc.

What made the claim remarkable, however, was not merely that it predicted the end of the world and got it wrong. There have been so many prophecies of that kind. The interesting thing about it was the cash behind it that brought it so much attention.

Camping and his followers spent more than $100m worldwide on billboards and posters, financed by the sale and swap of radio stations. Advertising popped up across America and the globe from Iraq to Lebanon to Israel to Jordan, the Philippines to Vietnam, where thousands of the Hmong ethnic hill tribe gathered together on the Thai border in anticipation of the event. The campaign was backed up by Camping’s radio show, which can be heard worldwide, and a website that featured, naturally, a countdown clock. Yesterday that clock was at zero underneath the banner headline: “Judgment Day: the Bible guarantees it.”

After some giggling at them, the Observer expresses its concern for the followers…

Camping seemed entirely genuine in his beliefs, enough to spend a small fortune promoting them. While others may be making money out of believing in Doomsday, Camping is not one of them. Many experts have worried about the psychological impact on his followers who are suddenly confronted with the collapse of their belief system. Some Christian pastors planned to gather outside Family Radio to counsel any distraught members who showed up wondering why they – and the world – were still there.


Camping himself admitted he had pretty much staked everything on his fervently held belief. “There is no plan B,” he told Reuters late last week. Which is a shame. As the day progressed in California last night with no global mega-quake in sight, he and his followers needed one.

Well, ‘experts’ need worry no more, for there is a wealth of evidence that the failure of doomsday to materialise has no psychological effect on doomsday-cults members…

High Priest of the Cult of Malthus, Paul R. Ehrlich famously predicted the end of the world…

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.

… but got it wrong. However, the date has only proved to be a trivial detail to the believers — their faith has not been dented. The end is still nigh, it’s just not quite as nigh as we thought…

A more recent attempt to put a date on the end of the world is a regular feature on the pages of the Guardian, no less.

I smell smoke, I see flames and I think it is time to shout. I don’t want you to panic, but I do think it would be a good idea to form an orderly queue to leave the building.

Because in just 100 months’ time, if we are lucky, and based on a quite conservative estimate, we could reach a tipping point for the beginnings of runaway climate change.

The words belong to Andrew Simms, policy director and head of the climate change programme at the New Economics Foundation (No Foundation Economics). Simms and his chums scribbled some estimates on the back of a beermat at the pub, and determined that there were only 100 months left for the world to do exactly as they commanded, or it would all come to an end. The result is the monthly update at the Guardian, and the countdown clock at .

So what’s the difference between Simms, Ehrlich, Camping, and Malthus?


  1. Chuckles

    ‘So what’s the difference between Simms, Ehrlich, Camping, and Malthus?’

    Some are more likeable and less dangerous than others?

  2. Mooloo

    “So what’s the difference between Simms, Ehrlich, Camping, and Malthus?”

    Camping’s followers reach a peak at the alloted time. They are really obviously wrong at one particular time.

    Ehrlich’s and Simms’ followers get to quietly forget their erroneous projections as the time draws near and they are obviously wrong. So there is no embarrassing moment when the Apocolypse fails to arrive. In fact by then they will have made a new prediction, for a later date naturally.

    Malthus was a much stronger thinker than the others listed. He was sometimes right, for a start.

  3. DavidNcl

    Camping’s followers have no real power or influence, but Ehrlich and his mates do?

  4. geoffchambers

    What’s the difference ..? Simms writes in the Guardian, one of the world’s most respected newspapers. His views are official editorial policy, and are shared by all major political parties.
    The Guardian, like the BBC and other left-leaning media, has a long honorable tradition of presenting opposing views on most subjects – though not on this one. Before Copenhagen, the Guardian had a long Simmsian editorial which – they proudly announced – had been translated and published in 40 newspapers around the world. Only Pravda in the old Soviet Union could boast such international unanimity.
    Independently of “the science”, independently of the average global temperature in 2050, this situation is a political and cultural disaster for the entire western world. Climate sceptics are in the position of atheists in the 19th century – tolerated (just) as long as they keep their heads down.
    My objection to climate science, I’m coming to see, has nothing to do with hockey sticks or Arctic sea ice. It’s a political objection to having intellectual worms like Simms in a position of moral and intellectual superiority over me and the rest of mankind.

  5. Sam the Skeptic

    It’s a political objection to having intellectual worms like Simms in a position of moral and intellectual superiority over me and the rest of mankind.

    Especially when they’re talking tripe and we know they’re talking tripe.

  6. Lewis Deane

    I hope your watching Adam Curtis – a very interesting attempt at essaying on tv – though I’m not always convinced and I think his lack of thesis this evening is becoming unconvincing!

    And, of course, Adam Curtis is completely wrong about Ayn Rand – not be cause she meant much but because she means so little – the idea that Greenspan was influenced by her is laughable. Yes, the bankers took charge, in a rentier sociecity that’s inevitable!

    So, his thesis seems to be based, as yet, on our impotence. But, of course, he’s wrong about economics – because he misunderstands the ‘law of uneven development! O well!

    {LEWIS — please try to post all your thoughts in one comment. Thanks. Ben.}

    And, yes, what absurdity, an inability or an incapacity to look at the world. When I say I’m a pessimist, it isn’t that we’ll fail to achieve material ‘happiness’, on the contrary, I know economics, I know history, ‘our’ technical resources are inexhaustible, I just worry that, ‘they’, in that future will be reading Marx or Poe or Baudelaire or Me!
    I know, Ben, perhaps as much or more than you, the ”irrational’ absurdity of these people – and, I wonder, how is it possible they can pretend to themselves their ‘truth’?

  7. james cox

    What night be an important point, is that enviromental politics does not amount to ideology in it itself, and as such can be co-opted by almost all political interest.

  8. james cox

    Would like to know what the “law of uneven developent” my be ?



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