I find that being relatively old does have its relative advantages, one of which is perspective. And one thing my perspective tells me is that dire warnings of impending catastrophe (whether environmental or sociological) rarely turn out to be prophetic. Some examples:
- When I was 15, The Club of Rome published a book called The Limits to Growth. This book apparently still holds the record for the best-selling environmental publication of all time. I read it and was told that by the 1980s or 90s the world's exploding population would deplete natural resources (such as oil) and the ability of the earth to produce enough food. It didn't happen, though there were plenty of reasons at the time to think it might.
- A couple years earlier, Alvin Toffler wrote Future Shock, in which he argued that the pace of technological change had accelerated to such an extent that we could no longer cope psychologically and our brains were going to explode (OK, slight exaggeration). All this was before the widespread introduction of the PC, cellphones, the Internet, the Ipod, satellite radio . . . need I say more? The pace of change did accelerate, and if anything, we now clamor for more change, faster. (Speaking of which, where's my Windows Vista Service Pack release?)
- Around the same time, the major media were running stories about acid rain and how emissions from factories were going to cause global environmental catastrophe. After a few years, the hysteria died away, and last time I looked, there were still trees in my backyard. Acid rain does exist, and steps were taken to curb it, but it doesn't seem to have been a problem of the magnitude that was portrayed at the time.
- In 1971, Science magazine published a paper that suggested aerosol sprays and increasing levels of CO2 were very possibly going to usher in a new ice age. You can read an excerpt here. Other scientists apparently concurred. At the time.
All the above brings to mind the saying that, "Predictions are difficult, especially when they are about the future."Of course, the failure of certain prognosticators in the past does not prove the inaccuracy of different prognosticators today. But it does lead one to think that maybe the sky isn't falling, after all, maybe the bandwagon is getting a bit too crowded, and maybe it might be worthwhile to listen to some contrary voices and alternate viewpoints.
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