Public anxiety about climate change does not arise from scientific study of the Earth’s centuries-long cycles of ice ages and global warming. Rather, that anxiety arises because so many people assume that the rate of climate change predicted by some computer models shows an imminent planetary crisis, caused entirely by human emissions of CO2, requiring complete decarbonization to net-zero by 2050. They believe that climate change is the sole cause of extreme weather, which is becoming more frequent and more destructive.
However, as a recent example, catastrophic flooding in Abbotsford, British Columbia was, predictably, caused by decades of ignoring repeated engineering warnings, in both that province and Washington State. Abbotsford’s dikes had been built too low and had become eroded. But the politicians who didn’t do what was necessary are not being held accountable because the terrible losses are blamed on climate change. Conveniently, all damage from extreme weather can be blamed on CO2.
The Apocalypse Myths
The imminent Apocalypse is a recurring myth throughout history. In recent years many of the apocalyptic predictions have been made by scientists assuming the role of prophets. When large segments of the public believe these apocalyptic warnings, they press their political leaders to make panicky decisions which can create serious harm.
As always, when the apocalypse doesn’t arrive at the predicted time it is kicked into the future, until it is finally abandoned. Some examples of this, in recent memory:
- In the first half of the 20th century, there was great fear that criminals and people with intellectual disabilities would have too many children, to whom they would pass on their genes, and thus weaken the gene pool. This led governments, including Canada’s to adopt eugenics policies of mandatory sterilization (e.g., the Sexual Sterilization Act in Alberta, in force from 1928 right up to 1972, and in British Columbia from 1933 to 1973.
- Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich’s influential book “The Population Bomb” (published 1968) prophesied worldwide famine within just 15 years, due to overpopulation. Ehrlich predicted that hundreds of millions of people were soon going to starve to death on a dying planet. He advocated immediate state action to limit population growth, strongly supported compulsory measures like sterilization, and argued that the United States should pressure other governments to launch vasectomy campaigns. Today, globally, food is more abundant than ever and there are far fewer deaths from starvation. However, the current climate apocalypse stories still talk about a dying planet and droughts that will cause starvation.
- In 1970 James P. Lodge, a scientist at the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, prophesied a new ice age by 2000. His prediction was confirmed in 1971 by NASA’s S.I Rasool, forecasting crop failures and mass starvation [ Predictions of Ice Age Apocalypse]. We are still waiting for that ice age.
- Just a few years later NASA did a U-turn. It warned of the terrifying consequences of man-made global warming. Around 1989 NASA’s James Hansen reportedly told a journalist at Salon that within 20-30 years (i.e., by 2009-2019) “The West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River in New York] will be under water” from ocean level rise caused by climate change. He also predicted droughts, so that “you’ll have signs in restaurants saying ‘Water by request only.’” Today, Google Maps shows this highway is still above water and carrying traffic, and restaurants in New York aren’t yet offering water by request only.