25 Years of failed predictions

Somewhere there is a small group of well-placed people entirely exercised by the felt need to secure a climate deal in Paris at the end of the year, and doing their best to see that the world follows suit. The Pope has been employed to issue an encyclical on the subject, though on last reading he may be delaying its publication for further thought. But many others have begun to issue warnings about the need for action, like the Australian Medical Association. Christiana Figueres, the Executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the body that defined it as being change caused by human activity) visited Australian recently to tell us that we must stop mining coal, or else….

The talk is always similar. I read somewhere the other day that the Paris meeting is ‘humanity’s last chance’ to save itself and the planet, and that kind of rhetoric reminded me of other examples, all to do with global warming or, if you like, ‘climate change’, that I have heard over the last decade or more. I didn’t keep all the other examples —life is too short — but someone else has done it for me. Michael Bastasch has published a piece called ’25 Years Of Predicting The Global Warming “TippingPoint” in The Daily Caller, a conservative online news medium based in Washington DC. Alas, try as I might, I could only retrieve his first few — but they give you the idea.

He begins like this. For decades now, those concerned about global warming have been predicting the so-called “tipping point” — the point beyond which it’ll be too late to stave off catastrophic global warming. It seems like every year the “tipping point” is close to being reached, and that the world must get rid of fossil fuels to save the planet. That is, until we’ve passed that deadline and the next such “tipping point” is predicted. Would you believe it was eight years ago today that the United Nations predicted we only had “as little as eight years left to avoid a dangerous global average rise of 2C or more.” This failed prediction, however, has not stopped the UN from issuing more apocalyptic predictions since.

Then comes his list of 25, the first nine of which I have seen before. I’ll just give you the list and a little accompanying text. You can read the article here.
1. 2015 is the ‘last effective opportunity’ to stop catastrophic warming. The UN said basically the same thing about 2014’s climate summit.

2. France’s foreign minister said we only have “500 days” to stop “climate chaos” Ironically at the time of [his] comments, the UN had scheduled a climate summit to meet in Paris in December 2015 — some 565 days after his remarks. Looks like the UN is 65 days too late to save the world.

3. President Barack Obama is the last chance to stop global warming  In 2012, the United Nations Foundation President Tim Wirth told Climatewire that Obama’s second term was “the last window of opportunity” to impose policies to restrict fossil fuel use. Wirth said it’s “the last chance we have to get anything approaching 2 degrees Centigrade,” adding that if “we don’t do it now, we are committing the world to a drastically different place.” Even before that, then-National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Space Flight Center head James Hansen warned in 2009 that Obama only “has four years to save Earth.

4. Remember when we had “hours” to stop global warming.“We have hours to act to avert a slow-motion tsunami that could destroy civilization as we know it,” Elizabeth May, leader of the Greens in Canada, wrote in 2009. “Earth has a long time. Humanity does not. We need to act urgently. We no longer have decades; we have hours. We mark that in Earth Hour on Saturday.”

5. United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown said there was only 50 days left to save Earth.

6. Let’s not forget Prince Charles’s warning we only had 96 months to save the planet. It’s only been about 70 months since Charles said in July 2009 that there would be “irretrievable climate and ecosystem collapse, and all that goes with it.” So the world apparently only has 26 months left to stave off an utter catastrophe.

7. The U.N.’s top climate scientist said in 2007 we only had four years to save the world. Rajendra Pachauri, the former head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in 2007 that if “there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late.”

8. Environmentalists warned in 2002 the world had a decade to go green. Environmentalist write George Monbiot wrote in the UK Guardian that within “as little as 10 years, the world will be faced with a choice: arable farming either continues to feed the world’s animals or it continues to feed the world’s people. It cannot do both.”.

9. The “tipping point” warning first started in 1989. The San Jose Mercury News reported on June 30, 1989 that a “senior environmental official at the United Nations, Noel Brown, says entire nations could be wiped off the face of the earth by rising sea levels if global warming is not reversed by the year 2000.

I’m not sure whether or not Mr Bastasch’s list includes the dire warning, again from the UN, and in 2005, that by 2012 there would be 50 million climate refugees. None of them appears to have arrived anywhere. I wrote a piece about the rising of the seas and refugees, and you can read it here.

What is characteristic about these predictions is that they were made by political leaders (I guess Prince Charles is one, and he is currently in trouble about letters he wrote to Ministers a few years ago, setting out his views on this and that). James Hansen, who predicted that in New York City the Hudson would rise and flood the tunnels is a scientist who has taken on the role of a political leader. I would guess that they make these dramatic statements because they want to be reported in the media, and the media are happy to oblige. The assumption must be that we will take notice and do the right thing, whatever that is.

At the same time, electorates are used to hyperbole from politicians, and probably discount what they hear. There certainly are people who believe in the predictions and worry, and I feel sorry for them. The whole thing is reminiscent of religious doomsday cults, whose leaders prophesy that their search of the Bible shows that the Earth will come to an end on some given date. When that fails to happen, they go into a tent, later to emerge and declare that there is a new date, when this time the Earth will really come to an end.

I don’t know whether the Paris treaty propagandists ever think about the fable of the boy who cried ‘wolf’, or of the tale of the Emperor’s new clothes. But my guess is that these apocalyptic predictions are actually counterproductive for the cause. There have been far too many of them, and the predicted outcomes have all failed to eventuate. In Paris, so it seems to me, nations will be looking to their real interests, not in warnings of disaster.

And I especially hope that Australia’s delegates will be doing so.

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • dlb says:

    It’s not only the failed predictions, it’s the laughable excuses we get to explain away why things didn’t turn out as planned. One such recent example was an Australian scientist saying the recent increase in Antarctic sea ice can be attributed to anthropogenic global warming, and the ABC gives this sort of thing a free pass.
    I could never imagine the media allowing a politician to get away with contradictory statements even if there may be some element of truth.

  • Dasher says:

    Hear hear…I have written many letters to the Canberra Times (not as well I might add Don) making the point that I would have accumulated a handy pile of money if I had $50 for every tipping point that came and went (without so much as a blush from the forecaster). How could an intelligent person not have some doubts in the face of these outcomes. Interestingly, Christine Milne, on discussing her departure from politics predicted that we have 5 years to get it right or, you guessed it, face the apocalypse.Its beyond parody.

  • BoyfromTottenham says:

    Good article as usual, Don, but the fact that few if any influential people have the gonads to call “Bunk” on these bleeding obvious failed predictions is telling. My own family immediate thinks I’m a total ratbag for being a sceptic, and that family consists of two individuals with Masters degrees and another with a PhD (with an excellent research record to boot). What will it take, I ask, to reverse this perverse nonsense – an Ice Age? Dasher says “its beyond parody”, and this is true, but it seems that we as a race have lost the ability to think rationally about this subject, and this is the thing that really worries me. Never mind, keep up the good work.

  • Alan Gould says:

    Yes, first rate disarming good sense, Don. I wonder if the intractable hold these ‘tipping points’ have on the imaginations of political leaders and populace alike is more to do with the attraction of crisis to the human mind. In other words, the substance of what will form the crisis is actually irrelevant. It is the magnetism of something overwhelming, dangerous and fixed in time. Exams used to exert this gravitational anxiety – particularly in days when one knew one’s whole future depended on their outcome. I gather manic depression has a similar mechanism. The actual cause is a failure of sufficient adrenalin to reach the fight-or-flee centre in the cortex, but the ostensible cause is any handy perceived threat that arises.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Interesting tangent there. I’ll try and find something about that medical cause.



    • dlb says:

      Intriguing also to know that climate alarmism is a male dominated area. I can only really think of Oreskes as one of the vocal advocates. Then there are women such as Susan Solomon who is more an orthodox scientist and environmentalists such as Christine Milne who are broadly green rather than just climate concerned.
      On the sceptic / lukewarm side Judy Curry, Lucia L, Donna L, Jo Nova, and Jennifer M readily spring to mind. Perhaps the ladies have a bit more sense?

  • […] in the next day or so, I do my best to eschew predictions. They so often fail spectacularly, and I wrote an essay about failed predictions about climate change some time ago. But I recently came across such a […]

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