Prince Philip was, among other things, a sceptic about the horrors of climate change, which made him a useful foil to his son, who is a renowned alarmist. The media do not seem to have mentioned the Duke’s attitudes to this supposed modern apocalypse, but Prince Charles is quite often quoted in his warnings to us about how little time we have left. And that contrast between father and son coincided with my coming across a list of 79 predictions, most of which have not come to pass, and I thought it might be useful to look at them, their qualities and their authors. Interestingly, the list was compiled by two scientists who had their work published in an eminent science journal, apparently because they seemed to be stressing that talking about the end of the world is not an effective form of communication.
‘Apocalypse’ is a term commonly used by climate alarmists, and the word comes from the Greek. While its original use was confined to religion (a sudden great and unprecedented event), even then it carried the notion of the final great destruction. So I wandered through the 79 examples to see what I could see. I can’t reproduce the table here, for it is just enormous. But it is a serious piece of work, providing the date of the prediction, the speaker’s name, his or her birth year, the scientific category of the speaker, the time horizon, whether it is too late to act or the end of the world is nigh if we don’t do something, whether the prediction was made in a speech, in writing or in an interview, and the source. That’s a lot of data.
I noted that Prince Charles appeared three times, and so did Tim Flannery, so I looked up their predictions. The heir to the throne did not predict the end of humanity. His predictions were based on the amount of time left if we did not act. Three separate predictions gave a time span of eight years (2017 was the end-date, and that has well and truly passed), 35 years and 1.5 years. The thirty-five year prediction got us to 2050, and the 1.5 deadline has already passed. Two of the predictions were made in speeches, and the other one in an interview. Alas, the sources don’t help much, because they’re too broad and general. But there’s no doubt that the Prince has spoken often and warningly about our need to act. A Google search provides plenty of data.
Now Tim Flannery is rather like his possibly future king. The three instances for him were all about the need to act quickly. One of the predictions gave us a little more than a month, another fifty years, a third one twenty years. Two of his predictions were in writing, the third in an interview. Again, I went on a search for ‘Tim Flannery on climate change’. There’s lots of stuff, but it’s fair to say that his predictions are usually couched in familiar protective language — if/then, could, might, etc. He gets about as much media time in our country for his predictions as does Prince Charles. And he also gets much more sledging, even from academics, one of them saying, somewhat caustically, ‘I wish I could be as sure of anything as Tim is about everything.’ There was a wonderful denunciation of his ‘dud predictions’, with chapter and verse, in The Australianlast month. Interestingly, the ‘colossal failure’ in the newspaper headline is not his appalling record on predictions, but his failure to have us all follow his leadership on climate change and what we must now do. His hubris is astonishing.
Where does this get us? The headline for the original essay on a sceptical blog went like this: ‘48 Of 79 ‘Catastrophic Climate Change’ Predictions Have Failed…The Other 31 Just Haven’t Expired Yet.’ I think that’s fair. The problem about a forecast apocalypse is that it will be genuinely unprecedented. There hasn’t been one in the past, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. Twenty five of the predictions are actually apocalyptic, one of them a Paul Ehrlich salvo from 1970 where the world would end in 1980. It didn’t of course happen, but he never recants.
On this website there has been running for months, perhaps even years, a dialogue between a few Commenters about climate change. One of them points out that organisation after organisation now appears to accept what ‘the science’ says, and these organisations include governments of all kinds, large corporations, academic bodies and NGOs. Given that, he says, what’s the point of arguing about its reality? His opponents keep pointing out that there is a lot of science that does not support the politically correct doom-saying or the need to de-carbonise the world by 2050. So what? comes the response — the game is over, give it a rest, and so on. The non-PC arguers can’t give up. For them decarbonisation is a massive non-solution to a non-problem. The prediction that we must do this or else is just loony. More, for them the true science is most important, and what is needed is an open debate. I used to think that one would come soon, but I now doubt it. The apocalyptics have won the game of telling their truth to power, and while they hold the reins they will see no point in debating the ‘science’ with anyone, especially not the people whom they term the ‘deniers’. I predict that won’t always be the case, and the cause will be blackouts, or a lot of cold weather or both. I’m not looking forward to such events, however.
We are faced with a cloudy future, if only because the role of clouds is one of the least studied (and least studiable) elements in the computer models beloved of the alarmists (pun intended). Governments all over the world have signed on to the 2050 target for no greenhouse gas emissions. They can do so with safety, if only because their leaders won’t be alive when 2050 comes around. At the same time they are not, as far as anyone can see, doing anything that would make such a target achievable. Indeed, with the technology we have, it is simply not achievable. To believe that something astonishing will turn up in the next few decades is a massive assumption. The number of nuclear power stations needed to make 2050 a serious target is running at one a day, starting now. They take about ten years to build, always assuming you have the right set of permissions.
I think it is probably right that the failure of past predictions to come true is one of the reasons why there is no great pressure on government to act more forcefully. That there will be no snow, and that the dams will never fill, are predictions that are easily falsified the next time there is decent snow or we have another flood. Then the wiseacres will remember that we’ve always had good snow and bad snow, floods and droughts. The Great Barrier Reef is still there, and apparently the coral is recovering quickly, or was never in real trouble.
As Yogi Berra once said, predictions are a real problem, especially about the future. Mine is that 2050 will not be news in a few years time, and that each of us should get rid of the word ‘climate’ and use weather instead. If we did that we’d all be a lot happier.
Oh yes, apparently the real apocalyptic moment is still on average twenty years away. When it doesn’t happen just push that moment further into the future.