Sunday, August 19, 2012

"Apocalypse Not"

Matt Ridley's essay in Wired surveys the spectacularly failed 'Horsemen of the Apocalypse' of the past fifty years:
... the promised Armageddons—the thresholds that cannot be uncrossed, the tipping points that cannot be untipped, the existential threats to Life as We Know It—have consistently failed to materialize. To see the full depth of our apocaholism, and to understand why we keep getting it so wrong, we need to consult the past 50 years of history.
The classic apocalypse has four horsemen, and our modern version follows that pattern, with the four riders being chemicals (DDT, CFCs, acid rain), diseases (bird flu, swine flu, SARS, AIDS, Ebola, mad cow disease), people (population, famine), and resources (oil, metals). Let’s visit them each in turn. ...
Good read. In the not too distant future we'll surely see catastrophic "climate change" added to the list of spectacularly flopped 'predictions'.

[Via Climate Depot]

2 comments:

earnestandjest said...

It's an interesting observation, but let's go through all the apocalypses to see if they truly can be compared to climate change.

The chemicals category is easy to answer. DDT, CFCs, and acid rain failed to wreak the global destruction that was predicted because something was done about them. Global environmental legislation was passed to limit the use of DDT and CFCs, and require measures to reduce the emissions of chemicals that cause acid rain. In most cases, these measures were a success, and we can now be happy that the ozone layer has stopped shrinking, birds are less likely to go extinct, and acid rain is a less frequent occurrence. If we take the same approach to limiting our carbon emissions, then climate change might be added to this list. That would be a good thing.

I don't think that any of the diseases you mention were ever thought by serious scientists to be a threat of apocalyptic-level proportions. Each one is a concern because it can (and many have) cause significant amounts of death and misery in localized outbreaks, but I've never heard anybody suggest that civilization will be brought down by AIDS or mad cow.

The last two categories don't deserve to be on the list yet, because we aren't done with them. The global population is continuing to increase, and it's a cold hard fact that we can only grow so much food with the resources we have available. The same thing can be said for natural resources like oil and metals, whose supply is very definitely finite. Addressing these problems is extremely difficult, but we should try to do so before they cause a crisis.

As for climate change, I'd love to see it on the list of apocalypses that didn't happen. But that will only be the case if we do something about it.

JR said...

If you read the article you clearly disbelieved it and remain in thrall to the myths surrounding many of the alleged “disasters-in-the-making”.

You wrote: “The chemicals category is easy to answer. DDT, CFCs, and acid rain failed to wreak the global destruction that was predicted because something was done about them. ...”

No, not “because something was done about them”. Something was done about them all right but was what was done responsible for averting disaster, or was it junk science based on over-reaction to environmental alarmism? In the case of DDT for example there’s a lot of good evidence that it was the latter. And even worse, the DDT ban likely resulted in many millions of malaria deaths world-wide. Acceptable collateral damage you say?

Close looks at the other examples yield similar stories. And “climate change” is turning into the grand-daddy of them all. Given our current state of knowledge about what drives global climate, “if we do something about it” there’ll be hell to pay, guaranteed.