Well, for one thing, Chicken Little has had to retire. He just can’t compete. And he was more fun.
In “Apocalypse Not: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry About End Times” (Wired,
August 17, 2012) Matt Ridley brilliantly revisits fifty years of doomsaying. His direct quotations should, but of course won’t, embarrass the prophets of doom:
Religious zealots hardly have a monopoly on apocalyptic thinking. Consider some of the environmental cataclysms that so many experts promised were inevitable. Best-selling economist Robert Heilbroner in 1974: “The outlook for man, I believe, is painful, difficult, perhaps desperate, and the hope that can be held out for his future prospects seem to be very slim indeed.” Or best-selling ecologist Paul Ehrlich in 1968: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s [“and 1980s” was added in a later edition] the world will undergo famines—hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked on now … nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.” Or Jimmy Carter in a televised speech in 1977: “We could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.”
Predictions of global famine and the end of oil in the 1970s proved just as wrong as end-of-the-world forecasts from millennialist priests. Yet there is no sign that experts are becoming more cautious about apocalyptic promises. If anything, the rhetoric has ramped up in recent years. Echoing the Mayan calendar folk, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock one minute closer to midnight at the start of 2012, commenting: “The global community may be near a point of no return in efforts to prevent catastrophe from changes in Earth’s atmosphere.”
Since Ridley mentions “religious zealots,” it is only fair to point out that
– mainstream religion does a better job of reducing the effects of freelance doomsaying than secular culture does – typically by circumscribing who is allowed to do it and under what circumstances. Christians, for example, are explicitly taught that no one knows when the world will end, so anyone who claims to have that information is wrong already by definition.
– much doomsaying originates in “spilt religion” – cults of the environment, in this case. Founded on nonsense, they quickly degenerate into panic. Hysteria becomes a virtue, if not a duty. People who should have cold water dumped on them are granted great power and influence. With just the sort of public policy results one might expect.
So, should we worry or not about the warming climate? It is far too binary a question. The lesson of failed past predictions of ecological apocalypse is not that nothing was happening but that the middle-ground possibilities were too frequently excluded from consideration.
Excluding the middle is precisely the goal of power-hungry fanatics, which is why traditional religions have built-in backstops.
Here is a question: If our cultural elites believed that Earth was fine tuned for life, as ID theorists argue, wouldn’t they be much less gullible in their embrace of one doom after the next? More focused on just managing the planet’s problems – since no one claims it is perfect, just good?