One very good disincentive to going around making up wild and fanciful predictions can be found in the ancient book of Deuteronomy. At the end of the 18th chapter we find a pretty good deterrent to panic mongering and telling porkies about the future: the false prophet is to be put to death.
That is one good way to keep all the gloom and doom predictions at bay, and to restrain those who would presume to know exactly what the future holds. Such a punishment is of course no longer with us, so while ancient Israel was spared much of this foolishness, we today are not, unfortunately.
And some of the most bizarre, whacky and just plain wrong predictions, forecasts and prophecies have come from the new green religion. Radical environmentalism has been around for some time now, and they have never lacked for doomsday scenarios which could be dished up at will.
There is always some new ecological crisis just around the corner, and if we don’t act immediately – if not yesterday – then we shall all be doomed. Even before the last prediction was proven to be just so much baloney, several more mega-prophecies of global destruction are offered.
Indeed, it has become a growth industry just to keep inventing all these crises. And someone is always going to make a killing out of such apocalypse-now scenarios. Entire volumes have been penned chronicling this trail of false prophecies and failed predictions.
But just in the past week or so two helpful summary articles on this have appeared from American and Australian writers. They both cover similar ground, but they helpfully remind us that these panic merchants are a dime a dozen.
George Will in the US begins his piece this way: “Sometimes the news is that something was not newsworthy. The United Nation’s Rio+20 conference – 50,000 participants from 188 nations – occurred in June, without consequences. A generation has passed since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, which begat other conferences and protocols (e.g., Kyoto). And, by now, apocalypse fatigue – boredom from being repeatedly told the end is nigh.
“This began two generations ago, in 1972, when we were warned (by computer models developed at MIT) that we were doomed. We were supposed to be pretty much extinct by now, or at least miserable. We are neither. So, what when wrong?
“That year begat ‘The Limits to Growth,’ a book from the Club of Rome, which called itself ‘a project on the predicament of mankind.’ It sold 12 million copies, staggered The New York Times (one of the most important documents of our age) and argued that economic growth was doomed by intractable scarcities. Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish academic and ‘skeptical environmentalist,’ writing in Foreign Affairs, says it ‘helped send the world down a path of worrying obsessively about misguided remedies for minor problems while ignoring much greater concerns,’ such as poverty, which only economic growth can ameliorate.”
He examines other panics which were created by the doomsayers, including all the natural resources which were supposed to have been depleted by now. He continues, “The modelers missed something – human ingenuity in discovering, extracting and innovating. Which did not just appear after 1972.
“Aluminum, Lomborg writes, is one of earth’s most common metals. But until the 1886 invention of the Hall-Heroult process, it was so difficult and expensive to extract that ‘Napoleon III had bars of aluminum exhibited alongside the French crown jewels, and he gave his honored guests aluminum forks and spoons while lesser visitors had to make do with gold utensils.’
“Forty years after ‘The Limits to Growth’ imparted momentum to environmentalism, that impulse now is often reduced to children indoctrinated to ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle.’ Lomborg calls recycling ‘a feel-good gesture that provides little environmental benefit at a significant cost.’ He says ‘we pay tribute to the pagan god of token environmentalism by spending countless hours sorting, storing and collecting used paper, which, when combined with government subsidies, yields slightly lower-quality paper in order to secure a resource’ – forests – ‘that was never threatened in the first place’.”
Writing in Australia, another commentator goes through the lengthy list of failed predictions and overblown fright scenarios. Steven Kates begins by admitting his scepticism about man-made global warming, and then discusses why he is:
“Being myself an ageing conservative white male I found myself, and not for the first time, dwelling on my refusal to have at any time accepted the arguments of the global warming crowd. I have followed the debates and read the literature and listened to the scientists and have come out of it unconvinced. It turns out that I am part of that one band, that single stratum that has resisted all such arguments. It naturally warmed me to my fellow ageing conservative white male cohort but you do have to wonder why we have been singled out in this way either for our blindness to reality or for our ability to see through a sham and a con.
“Now I must accept that I have been white and male all my life, but I have not always been aged and, along with many others of the post-war generation I belong to, have not always been conservative. But to have lived through the 1960s did provide an opportunity to reflect on many a scam in the name of science that has left me, and possibly many others, with a jaundiced eye of sorts when I hear fantastic claims about science and what it has shown. Those younger than us have, unfortunately for them, never had the opportunity of being subjected to the kinds of nonsense that we, when young, were surrounded by on all sides. I won’t get the order right, but allow me to go through some of the major stages along the way towards a sceptical outlook that I value as part of my own lessons in life.”
He also lists many of the classic duds in this area. One of the grand-daddies of them all, Paul Ehrlich, assured us way back in 1968 that “the battle to feed all of humanity is over”. Now unless I have missed something here, this was a slight overstatement. As Kates writes:
“Needless to say, none of this happened nor have his ‘scientific’ credentials been tarnished a whit. He has apparently just this year in 2012 been made Fellow of the Royal Society of London. Right, wrong? Who cares? On he goes with nary a pause. Good luck to him but for me it was one of those lessons in science in that the word of a ‘scientist’ is not gospel and the more fad-like those beliefs are, the more resistant you should become. Mass acceptance of the implausible is a sign not so much that a theory is valid but that it fills some psychological need in those who take it up.”
After listing more enviro-scare lulus, he concludes: “So this is the kind of background we ageing conservative white males bring to the global warming debate. In my view, the world is a better place because of this scepticism. We probe and mistrust all of those gung ho science types who think that their creaky shifting models are all that’s needed for the rest of us to fall into line with their recommendations. We have heard it all before. We are not buying this on the say so of a bunch of climate scientists who are no more informed about the future than computer scientists were in 1999 or the Club of Rome in the 1970s or Paul Ehrlich in the 1960s. You have models and you have your beliefs. Fine, but let’s really test them, make sure they stand up under the pressures that they need to withstand if we are going to take the kinds of drastic actions you seem to recommend.
“Because it is also the case that what I, as an ageing conservative white male, understand more than anything else is that if you give these people power to deal with this confected emergency they will never willingly give it back. They will want to run your life for the good of the planet as they seek out and find even more reasons to add to their power and ask for ever more money to find the cure. They argue that the risks are infinitely high and therefore the only answer is to pay an almost infinitely high price to forestall this potential climate catastrophe.”
And that is the real point here: behind so many of these eco-panic prophecies are power grabs. Throw out a good scare, con the populace, and you are in a neat position to secure more power for yourself or your government, while taking away more freedoms from the general population.
For that reason alone we should maintain our scepticism of the green gloom and doom crowd.