A Brief History of Fantastically Wrong Climate Change Predictions

posted by Dan O'Donnell - 

The modern environmentalist movement began in earnest in 1970, when activists founded Earth Day as a way to call attention to the ways in which man-made climate change was destroying the planet.

Then, as now, those activists claimed a scientific consensus about just how devastating the impact of climate change would be, yet for 45 years now, scientists (not activists, scientists) have been consistently wrong in their doomsday predictions.

Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, the father of Earth Day said before the first Earth Day in 1970 that “the secretary of the Smithsonian Institute believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.”

Not to be outdone, Life Magazine reported that same year that “Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….”

Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich, the celebrated author of The Climate Bomb, wrote in 1971 that "by the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people … If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”

In 1975 Newsweek ran a now-infamous article entitled “The Cooling World,” which cited several climate scientists in concluding that “the central fact is that…the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down…If the climate change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic.”

Global famine was a popular prediction in the 70’s.  North Texas State professor Pete Gunter summed up the prevailing sentiment when he wrote in “The Lving Wilderness” that by “by the year 2000...the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”

In 1986, NASA scientist James Hansen testified before Congress that “global temperatures should be nearly 2 degrees higher in 20 years, ‘which is about the warmest the earth has been in the last 100,000 years.’”

Two years later, Dr. Hansen told an interviewer that in 20 years, the area below his New York City office would be completely changed, most notably that “the West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River] will be under water.”

Even the great Carl Sagan predicted in 1990 that “the planet could face an ‘ecological and agricultural catastrophe’ by the next decade if global warming trends continue.”

That same year, Dr. Michael Oppenheimer with The Environmental Defense Fund wrote:

By 1995, the greenhouse effect would be desolating the heartlands of North America and Eurasia with horrific drought, causing crop failures and food riots…”(By 1996) The Platte River of Nebraska would be dry, while a continent-wide black blizzard of prairie topsoil will stop traffic on interstates, strip paint from houses and shut down computers…The Mexican police will round up illegal American migrants surging into Mexico seeking work as field hands.

As recently as the last decade, both Dr. Hansen and Peter Wadhams, the head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge, believe “that the Arctic is likely to become ice-free...as early as 2015.”

That’s actually two years later than Al Gore predicted in 2007, 2008, and 2009, when he cited what he called a scientific consensus to claim that the North Pole would be “ice free by 2013.” 

That’s good, because Pentagon scientists sure weren’t in 2003, when their report “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and its Implications for United States National Security” warned that within 10 years, “it was not implausible” that parts of California would be flooded, parts of the Netherlands would be uninhabitable, and an unprecedented rise in hurricanes, tsunamis, and tornadoes would spark wars across the globe as people fought for increasingly scarce resources. 

Not to be outdone, scientists with the United Nations Environment Programme warned in 2005 that man-made global warming would so decimate coastal areas as well as the Caribbean and Pacific islands that there would be upwards of 50 million “climate refugees by 2010.”

Of course, none of these scientific predictions—from Earth Day straight through today—have ever actually been right, but more predictions keep coming...along with more admonitions that the science is settled. 

This article was originally published on March 26, 2015

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