Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lemming Tracks: Blasphemy! Or, 'We're All Gonna Die' Predictions That Fizzled

If you're absolutely convinced that the coming ice age, food riots, acid rain, or hordes of Elvis impersonators are gonna kill us all, the Lemming recommends that you stop reading right now.

Really. The Lemming is going to write things that are heretical, blasphemous: and not at all fashionably hysterical. Why the religious terms? The Lemming will get to that, after a list from today's news. Or op-ed.

Excerpts that follow aren't from one of America's old-school journalistic institutions. Like, say, The New York Times or Village Voice.

Still with the Lemming? Well, you've been warned.

'And We're All Gonna Die!'

The idea that the end of the world is nigh, and that our only hope is to repent of our evil/polluting ways, seems deeply rooted in American culture. Details on just what the end of the world will be have changed as the decades rolled by.

Here's a top-eight list, from today's news. Or op-ed:

"Eight Botched Environmental Forecasts"
Maxim Lott, (December 30, 2010)

"A new year is around the corner, and some climate scientists and environmental activists say that means we're one step closer to a climate Armageddon. But are we really?

"Predicting the weather -- especially a decade or more in advance -- is unbelievably challenging. What's the track record of those most worried about global warming? Decades ago, what did prominent scientists think the environment would be like in 2010? has compiled eight of the most egregiously mistaken predictions, and asked the predictors to reflect on what really happened.

"1. Within a few years 'children just aren't going to know what snow is.' Snowfall will be "a very rare and exciting event." Dr. David Viner, senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, interviewed by the UK Independent, March 20, 2000.

"Ten years later, in December 2009, London was hit by the heaviest snowfall seen in 20 years. And just last week, a snowstorm forced Heathrow airport to shut down, stranding thousands of Christmas travelers.

"A spokesman for the government-funded British Council, where Viner now works as the lead climate change expert, told that climate science had improved since the prediction was made.

" 'Over the past decade, climate science has moved on considerably and there is now more understanding about the impact climate change will have on weather patterns in the coming years,' British Council spokesman Mark Herbert said. '"However, Dr Viner believes that his general predictions are still relevant.'..."

The Lemming suspects that we won't be hearing quite so much about "global warming:" at least, not for a while. "Climate change" appears to be what's going to destroy civilization, and all that. The Lemming will get back to the idea of change in a bit.

More, from the article:

"...2. '[By] 1995, the greenhouse effect would be desolating the heartlands of North America and Eurasia with horrific drought, causing crop failures and food riots…[By 1996] The Platte River of Nebraska would be dry, while a continent-wide black blizzard of prairie topsoil will stop traffic on interstates, strip paint from houses and shut down computers.' Michael Oppenheimer, published in 'Dead Heat,' St. Martin's Press, 1990...."

"...3. 'Arctic specialist Bernt Balchen says a general warming trend over the North Pole is melting the polar ice cap and may produce an ice-free Arctic Ocean by the year 2000.' Christian Science Monitor, June 8, 1972...."

"...4. 'Using computer models, researchers concluded that global warming would raise average annual temperatures nationwide two degrees by 2010.' Associated Press, May 15, 1989...."

"...5. 'By 1985, air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half.' Life magazine, January 1970...."

"...6. 'If present trends continue, the world will be ... eleven degrees colder by the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us in an ice age.' Kenneth E.F. Watt, in 'Earth Day,' 1970...."

There's a good explanation for why this doomsday prediction was a tad inaccurate:

"...'Present trends didn't continue,' Ehrlich said of Watt's prediction. 'There was considerable debate in the climatological community in the '60s about whether there would be cooling or warming … Discoveries in the '70s and '80s showed that the warming was going to be the overwhelming force.'..."

There: now we can feel properly terrified of an "overwhelming force" that's gonna kill us all - and probably the fur seals and spotted owls, too.

Armageddon tired of all this? Sort of, but there are still two to go:

"...7. 'By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people ... If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.' Ehrlich, Speech at British Institute For Biology, September 1971...."

"...8. "In ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish." Ehrlich, speech during Earth Day, 1970..."

Change Happens

It would be a little disturbing, from the Lemming's point of view, if things didn't change at all as decades passed.

Like the fellow said: "Nothing endures but change." (Heraclitus, 540 BC - 480 BC) And, as I opined in another blog, "So why are conservationists trying to keep everything just like it was?"

Repent! The End is At Hand?!

The Lemming also notes the zeal with which staunch defenders of the environment have preached of coming doom, guilt, and a need for repentance. The words are different, but the 'tune' seems to be pretty much the same as those Christian groups which have been insisting that Armageddon is upon us.

One set of 'true believers' is generally (although not exclusively) secular; the other is stridently religious.

The Lemming's not in either camp. Not that I'm "apathetic," except in a peculiar cultural context. The Lemming's written about that before.

There was a time when the Lemming saw lovely piles of suds floating down the Mississippi River: That was in the mid-seventies. Suds in the river, a canal that caught fire (briefly), and clueless waste management policies encouraged the Lemming to be rather concerned.

That was then.

Problems? Yes - Panic? No

Folks learned that it's a bad idea to dump raw sewage in their drinking water, developed social and political controls over what we drink and breathe, and got lyrics like "If the hoods don't get you, the monoxide will." Decades later, the Lemming remembers snatches of that song: Pollution, Tom Lehrer (1965), lyrics at The Mad Music Archive)

This is now. We've still got problems: including what to do with landfills, and how to dispose of old CRT monitors.

But 'it's the end of the world?'

The boy who cried wolf (AKA The Shepherd's Boy and the Wolf) found out that after a while, folks stop listening. Or, rather, did: back in Aesop's day.

Today, the Lemming supposes it helps that it isn't always the same dire threat. That, and in our case the 'shepherd's boy' apparently really believes that there is a wolf out there.

The (alleged) coming end of the world and getting a grip, from the Lemming's point of view:Climate, change, life, and the Lemming:More:

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