Open Thread: 40 Years of Doom and Gloom

For just forty years now, the world has officially been doomed to destruction. Sure, we've always had religious cult leaders pronouncing the death of civilization due to the sin-of-the-moment but 1972 represented a different kind of doom and gloom: a wholly secular kind pretending to be scientific.

Today the intellectual descendants of the people who produced the book The Limits to Growth are still given credibility. It's fun taking a look at what they predicted:

That year begat “The Limits to Growth,” a book from the Club of Rome, which called itself “a project on the predicament of mankind.” It sold 12 million copies, staggered the New York Times (“one of the most important documents of our age”) and argued that economic growth was doomed by intractable scarcities. Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish academic and “skeptical environmentalist,” writing in Foreign Affairs, says it “helped send the world down a path of worrying obsessively about misguided remedies for minor problems while ignoring much greater concerns,” such as poverty, which only economic growth can ameliorate.

MIT’s models foresaw the collapse of civilization because of “nonrenewable resource depletion” and population growth. “In an age more innocent of and reverential toward computers,” Lomborg writes, “the reams of cool printouts gave the book’s argument an air of scientific authority and inevitability” that “seemed to banish any possibility of disagreement.” Then — as now, regarding climate change — respect for science was said to require reverential suspension of skepticism about scientific hypotheses. Time magazine’s story about “The Limits to Growth” exemplified the media’s frisson of hysteria:

“The furnaces of Pittsburgh are cold; the assembly lines of Detroit are still. In Los Angeles, a few gaunt survivors of a plague desperately till freeway center strips . . . Fantastic? No, only grim inevitability if society continues its present dedication to growth and ‘progress.’”

The modelers examined 19 commodities and said that 12 would be gone long before now — aluminum, copper, gold, lead, mercury, molybdenum, natural gas, oil, silver, tin, tungsten and zinc.

Needless to say, that never happened.

Yet despite their monumental failure at predicting the future, people (predominantly of the liberal persuasion but not always) are still listening to those who abuse science to predict our imminent deaths. Is there an innate appeal to such ideas or do they prosper primarily because the scientifically ignorant media allow them to?

Environment Open Thread
Matthew Sheffield's picture