The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be

The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be April 22, 2015

18 Spectacularly Wrong Doomsday Predictions from the First Earth Day.  It’s anti-climate  change agitprop, to be sure and therefore written with a heavy bias that tends to exaggerate how spectacular some of the wrongness was (“We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation,” wrote Washington University biologist Barry Commoner in the Earth Day issue of the scholarly journal Environment.” was, in fact, a true statement.  Thing is, we took action and are continuing to do so, thus averting the threat.  If the American Enterprise Institute had its way, there would have been no action taken at all).

Still and all, a lot of the Chicken Little prophets on Earth Day do look spectacularly silly.  But then, as California dries up and blows away, so do an awful lot of the court prophets who have assured us that climate change is a fantasy–such as AEI.  Who am I supposed to believe?  Them or my own two eyes?

I’m always reminded of Chesterton’s fun opening to The Napoleon of Notting Hill when I read confident prophets:

Chapter I—Introductory Remarks on the Art of Prophecy

The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. And one of the games to which it is most attached is called “Keep to-morrow dark,” and which is also named (by the rustics in Shropshire, I have no doubt) “Cheat the Prophet.” The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. They then go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun.

For human beings, being children, have the childish wilfulness and the childish secrecy. And they never have from the beginning of the world done what the wise men have seen to be inevitable. They stoned the false prophets, it is said; but they could have stoned true prophets with a greater and juster enjoyment. Individually, men may present a more or less rational appearance, eating, sleeping, and scheming. But humanity as a whole is changeful, mystical, fickle, delightful. Men are men, but Man is a woman.

But in the beginning of the twentieth century the game of Cheat the Prophet was made far more difficult than it had ever been before. The reason was, that there were so many prophets and so many prophecies, that it was difficult to elude all their ingenuities. When a man did something free and frantic and entirely his own, a horrible thought struck him afterwards; it might have been predicted. Whenever a duke climbed a lamp-post, when a dean got drunk, he could not be really happy, he could not be certain that he was not fulfilling some prophecy. In the beginning of the twentieth century you could not see the ground for clever men. They were so common that a stupid man was quite exceptional, and when they found him, they followed him in crowds down the street and treasured him up and gave him some high post in the State. And all these clever men were at work giving accounts of what would happen in the next age, all quite clear, all quite keen-sighted and ruthless, and all quite different. And it seemed that the good old game of hoodwinking your ancestors could not really be managed this time, because the ancestors neglected meat and sleep and practical politics, so that they might meditate day and night on what their descendants would be likely to do.

But the way the prophets of the twentieth century went to work was this. They took something or other that was certainly going on in their time, and then said that it would go on more and more until something extraordinary happened. And very often they added that in some odd place that extraordinary thing had happened, and that it showed the signs of the times.

Thus, for instance, there were Mr. H. G. Wells and others, who thought that science would take charge of the future; and just as the motor-car was quicker than the coach, so some lovely thing would be quicker than the motor-car; and so on for ever. And there arose from their ashes Dr. Quilp, who said that a man could be sent on his machine so fast round the world that he could keep up a long, chatty conversation in some old-world village by saying a word of a sentence each time he came round. And it was said that the experiment had been tried on an apoplectic old major, who was sent round the world so fast that there seemed to be (to the inhabitants of some other star) a continuous band round the earth of white whiskers, red complexion and tweeds—a thing like the ring of Saturn.

Then there was the opposite school. There was Mr. Edward Carpenter, who thought we should in a very short time return to Nature, and live simply and slowly as the animals do. And Edward Carpenter was followed by James Pickie, D.D. (of Pocohontas College), who said that men were immensely improved by grazing, or taking their food slowly and continuously, after the manner of cows. And he said that he had, with the most encouraging results, turned city men out on all fours in a field covered with veal cutlets. Then Tolstoy and the Humanitarians said that the world was growing more merciful, and therefore no one would ever desire to kill. And Mr. Mick not only became a vegetarian, but at length declared vegetarianism doomed (“shedding,” as he called it finely, “the green blood of the silent animals”), and predicted that men in a better age would live on nothing but salt. And then came the pamphlet from Oregon (where the thing was tried), the pamphlet called “Why should Salt suffer?” and there was more trouble.

And on the other hand, some people were predicting that the lines of kinship would become narrower and sterner. There was Mr. Cecil Rhodes, who thought that the one thing of the future was the British Empire, and that there would be a gulf between those who were of the Empire and those who were not, between the Chinaman in Hong Kong and the Chinaman outside, between the Spaniard on the Rock of Gibraltar and the Spaniard off it, similar to the gulf between man and the lower animals. And in the same way his impetuous friend, Dr. Zoppi (“the Paul of Anglo-Saxonism”), carried it yet further, and held that, as a result of this view, cannibalism should be held to mean eating a member of the Empire, not eating one of the subject peoples, who should, he said, be killed without needless pain. His horror at the idea of eating a man in British Guiana showed how they misunderstood his stoicism who thought him devoid of feeling. He was, however, in a hard position; as it was said that he had attempted the experiment, and, living in London, had to subsist entirely on Italian organ-grinders. And his end was terrible, for just when he had begun, Sir Paul Swiller read his great paper at the Royal Society, proving that the savages were not only quite right in eating their enemies, but right on moral and hygienic grounds, since it was true that the qualities of the enemy, when eaten, passed into the eater. The notion that the nature of an Italian organ-man was irrevocably growing and burgeoning inside him was almost more than the kindly old professor could bear.

There was Mr. Benjamin Kidd, who said that the growing note of our race would be the care for and knowledge of the future. His idea was developed more powerfully by William Borker, who wrote that passage which every schoolboy knows by heart, about men in future ages weeping by the graves of their descendants, and tourists being shown over the scene of the historic battle which was to take place some centuries afterwards.

And Mr. Stead, too, was prominent, who thought that England would in the twentieth century be united to America; and his young lieutenant, Graham Podge, who included the states of France, Germany, and Russia in the American Union, the State of Russia being abbreviated to Ra.

There was Mr. Sidney Webb, also, who said that the future would see a continuously increasing order and neatness in the life of the people, and his poor friend Fipps, who went mad and ran about the country with an axe, hacking branches off the trees whenever there were not the same number on both sides.

All these clever men were prophesying with every variety of ingenuity what would happen soon, and they all did it in the same way, by taking something they saw “going strong,” as the saying is, and carrying it as far as ever their imagination could stretch. This, they said, was the true and simple way of anticipating the future. “Just as,” said Dr. Pellkins, in a fine passage,—”just as when we see a pig in a litter larger than the other pigs, we know that by an unalterable law of the Inscrutable it will some day be larger than an elephant,—just as we know, when we see weeds and dandelions growing more and more thickly in a garden, that they must, in spite of all our efforts, grow taller than the chimney-pots and swallow the house from sight, so we know and reverently acknowledge, that when any power in human politics has shown for any period of time any considerable activity, it will go on until it reaches to the sky.”

And it did certainly appear that the prophets had put the people (engaged in the old game of Cheat the Prophet) in a quite unprecedented difficulty. It seemed really hard to do anything without fulfilling some of their prophecies.

But there was, nevertheless, in the eyes of labourers in the streets, of peasants in the fields, of sailors and children, and especially women, a strange look that kept the wise men in a perfect fever of doubt. They could not fathom the motionless mirth in their eyes. They still had something up their sleeve; they were still playing the game of Cheat the Prophet.

Then the wise men grew like wild things, and swayed hither and thither, crying, “What can it be? What can it be? What will London be like a century hence? Is there anything we have not thought of? Houses upside down—more hygienic, perhaps? Men walking on hands—make feet flexible, don’t you know? Moon … motor-cars … no heads….” And so they swayed and wondered until they died and were buried nicely.

Then the people went and did what they liked. Let me no longer conceal the painful truth. The people had cheated the prophets of the twentieth century. When the curtain goes up on this story, eighty years after the present date, London is almost exactly like what it is now.

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  • Chris W

    The Future isn’t what it used to be… I’m still waiting for my for my Jetson’s flying car!

    • Marthe Lépine

      It think that some flying cars are actually a reality. However the catch is that anyone wanting to drive one will need a flying license in addition to a driver’s license, so it is not within reach of the general population yet.

  • Pete the Greek

    wmbriggs speaks actual sanity on this issue.

  • Steve Haag

    One of my favorite sites to browse through is

  • Elmwood

    the current rate of CO2 emissions is on par with CO2 emissions during the eruptions of the Siberian Traps, which many scientists believe led to the largest mass extinction event on record: the Permian-Triassic extinction, which killed 90% of species alive at the time.

    at some point, perhaps a few 100 years or more, if world-wide emissions of CO2 and other GHGs are not dramatically cut, we will cause catastrophic and irreversible environmental damage to our planet and to think otherwise is willful ignorance and stupid.

    i don’t know why this issue has been so hopelessly politicized, conservatives are supposed to protect the environment and not degrade it in the name of “progress”. because that’s what conservatism is supposed to be about, “conserving the good”.

    • Newp Ort

      conservatives don’t like conservation

      • PalaceGuard

        Sez you.

        • Newp Ort

          I sez, indeed!

      • KyPerson

        I am very conservative and I conserve a lot. I recycle, I live simply and I try to take care of what I have. If Hillary Clinton and Al Gore had to live my lifestyle…..let’s just say they wouldn’t be happy.

        • Joseph

          Al Gore’s mansion requires the same amount of energy to run as an entire Atlanta sub-division. He takes a private jet all around the world to tell the proles to reduce their carbon footprint and lobbies governments to make him even richer off of carbon credits. He eats lots of steak (as can be seen by his ever expanding waistline) meaning that lots of cows create a lot of extra methane just to feed his bulbous belly… and he, in turn, emits greenhouse gases of his own once his expensive palate is satisfied. Al Gore wouldn’t be happy with my simple lifestyle either.

      • ivan_the_mad

        Back in 1986, Russell Kirk urged conservatives to “reject … [t]hose who urge us to sell the National Parks to private developers”, but also observed that “a good many conservative folk in 1986, finding themselves only second-best in the pursuit of stupidity, try harder”. The more things change …

        Unfortunately, among those who denominate themselves conservative, it is still unresolved as to whether money profit is the highest good, or cultivation of virtue and the soul.

    • Hezekiah Garrett

      Please explain how similar CO2 levels now are going to cause the immense methane release marking the P-T Extinction? I would call your post a cautionary tale about nonscientists doing science, but from what I’ve seen the last two decades, odds are better than even that you’re no layman.

      (Please keep in mind that I support a worldwide abandonment of fossil fuels immediately and a return to small, sustainable agriculture when tailoring any additional hominem. )

      • Hezekiah Garrett

        Ad, not additional! I hate this new phone!

      • Elmwood

        they do have very precise zircon dates on the siberian traps which indicate these massive eruptions coincide with the mass extinction event much more closely than previously thought. the massive release of CO2 played a role, along with the plate configuration and this methane release, in the mass extinction, along with likely other phenomenon that we don’t know about.

        the volcanism could have “cooked” vast quantities of coal and evaporties, releasing methane into the atmosphere.

        but you’re correct, even if CO2 levels reach 1,000 ppm, we still probably won’t have an extinction event like at the end of the Triassic.

        • Marthe Lépine

          So, there were did actually some mass extinctions… But there are still animals in the world, maybe different, but animals nonetheless. And human beings are still around… or did evolve into the beings we are now, or continue to evolve, after those particular mass extinctions. Maybe we should not necessarily view the future, no matter how it is expected to be, with fear. One extinction might be the beginning of a new surge of life. We know that the world will reach some kind of end, simply because it has been created, and it seems to me that we can say that everything that has been created does have an end. But we also know that one of those mass extinctions – although we don’t know how many there will be before it comes – will bring the introduction of the “new heavens and new earth”, therefore is not something we need to be afraid of. So, why spend our energies fretting about the future?

          • Elmwood

            yeah that’s pretty much what the fundies believe, God gave us the earth to rape and he’ll fix it in the end, so who cares.

            • Marthe Lépine

              I think that we legitimately do what we can to avoid “raping the earth” or other damages, while at the same time believing that when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead, He will bring about the “new heaven and new earth”. Although He would probably also ask what “we” (e.g. all humans in general, including those whose “greed, manipulation and exploitation” played a definite role) did do to nature and God’s creation…

            • Joseph

              You’re basically accusing Marthe of being a Southern Evangelical who wears a suit and works and Enron, thinking that God made him rich as hell and therefore he is blessed so his dumping of waste into watersheds is not a sin but just the natural order of things.
              A Catholic doesn’t believe that, so your kneejerk response to label someone who isn’t a Warmist fundie like yourself sort of falls flat. It’s like calling someone who doesn’t think gay sex is congruent with biology and the natural order is a homophobe. Good job.

              • Dave G.

                For what it’s worth, I don’t know many Evangelicals who would say they believe that either.

                • Joseph

                  I know… I’m just enforcing (and doubling down on) the stereotype that Elmwood is projecting on his perceived political enemies. That’s all.

                  • Dave G.


            • Hezekiah Garrett

              You’re leveling your guns at one of the only sane and faithfully Catholic economist to ever comment on this blog, the most intelligent and sensitive defender of Catholic Social Justice in these parts, labeling her a Gaia raping Fundie?

              Yeah, sounds like the facts must be on your side!

              • Marthe Lépine

                Thanks! I’m not sure I deserve this…

        • Hezekiah Garrett

          I’m much more interested in how disputing your false comparisons is “willful ignorance and stupid “.

          See, I devour this stuff, so whatever ignorance is mine is not willful. As for stupid, I’m not the one drawing comparisons between the greatest extinction event on this planet and present conditions, based on a weak GHG, and wilfully ignoring the actual causes of that event, lying in an effort to terrify people into being, essentially, moral.

          Just like those nasty Gaia raping, helfire and brimstone Fundies.

          See, isn’t this fun?

  • tj.nelson

    Yep – it was mitigated – just like the 3 Days Darkness – because:

    “Thing is, we took action and are continuing to do so, thus averting the threat.”

    Or, prayer and fasting – that thing all of us Catholics online do so fervently, thus averting the chastisement. How ’bout a brewski, real quick like?

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Problem is, we are continually told that we have not taken action. Hence, the need for more treaties and protocols and what-have-you. So we have the embarrassing spectacle of temperatures flattening out while none of the drivers have.

    We have avoided the Ice Age that Kenneth Watt predicted starting around 2000. Good work on that one, at least.

    The cautionary note is what Chesterton observed: we tend to project whatever is happening right now and imagine that it will go on forever. However, what we notice about change is that it keeps changing.

    • Elmwood

      temperatures have not flattened out, if anything the warming is accelerating. most of the heat has gone into the oceans as only about 3% of the additional heat due to global warming goes into the atmosphere.

      global warming is about the long term signal of surface heating, not the short term noise from decadal oscillations in the Pacific or volcanic eruptions. the heat that goes into the ocean will be released back into the atmosphere.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        The outputs of computer models are not data.

        Even the IPCC acknowledges the cresting. It’s what you expect when a sine wave writhes around a logistic curve. The global cooling hoo-hah was an earlier example of a periodic downturn on a sine wave. This is illustrated by the following crude model:

        The world seems to have been growing warmer for something like the past 300-400 years. Thank goodness.

        I thought we had given up on the Missing Heat hiding out in the deep ocean. Have you ever tried to heat the water in the bottom of a pot by blowing a hair drier across its surface?

        • Elmwood

          the little ice age (~1400-1800) is interesting because we really don’t know why it happened (likely combination of higher volcanic activity and lower solar output). taken in isolation could confuse someone into thinking that the rapid warming we’re currently experiencing is just part of the natural change in our earth’s climate.

          but we have physical computer models and plenty of physical measurements and observations that tell us the rate of warming we’re experiencing now is well beyond what can be explained by natural phenomenon alone. its been physically measured that the earth’s atmosphere is warming because of man-made greenhouse gases. this is fact, and we know CO2 levels are higher than they have been in last 800k – 20,000k years.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Let’s not take too short a perspective. Here are temperatures and CO2 reconstructed from the Greenland ice cores. Historically, the rapidity of the temperature increase is little different from that of the previous warm spikes since the temperature began its steady decline. The velocity from 8000 years ago would seem to be more rapid still, but one should be cautious on too much precision that far back.

            The lower graph (in red) is the CO2 recovered from air bubbles in the Greenland ice. As you can see, the amount, though trivial, is indeed higher than before. Apparently evil Western patriarchal science and technology managed to travel backward in time about 6500 years in order to get things going.

            “Lower solar output….” The official models have studiously ignored solar output because the Schwabe cycle doesn’t seem to have an effect. (If you have seven factors in your model, you can force a fit heuristically by selecting coefficients. In that case, an eighth factor will not improve the R^2 and one would be tempted to say that the eighth factor is not important. But this is an effect of modeling, not of the real world.) Of course, if the cold period was due to reduced solar output, then the warm period may well be due to increased solar output, reconstructed below from beryllium-10 proxies:

            Hence, the impression that there may be an element of political science involved.

            • There is now very rapid carbon forcing. That was never true in historical times, and extremely rarely before then.

            • Elmwood

              Global temperatures are warmer than at any time in at least 4,000 years, scientists reported Thursday, and over the coming decades are likely to surpass levels not seen on the planet since before the last ice age.

      • falstaff77

        “temperatures have not flattened out”

        If statements clearly in direct conflict with widely read primary scientific references are not only wrong but also make the author a “skeptic”, then the above statement qualifies. Chapter 9 of IPCC AR5 alone uses the term “hiatus” 18 times in reference to surface temperatures over the last 15 years, relative to the much faster warming rate in the last decades of the last century. One can argue about what caused this condition, or that, as the term hiatus implies, the recent surface temperature lull is to be short lived, but the face surface temperatures measurements over the last 15 years are in a hiatus is simply not arguable.

        Nor does the measurement of ocean heat accumulation change the outcome of recent surface temperature measurements, which were forecast by all the GCMs to be at or above the warming rates seen in the last century. The GCMs, BTW, also took ocean heat transfer into account.

      • Garbanzo Bean

        The best data we have on deep ocean is from ARGO, beginning from 2003. That data indicates the deep ocean is cooling.

  • Cypressclimber

    I am pretty right wing, but I am not closed-minded about the question of global warming and human involvement. The problem is, I don’t really trust the folks who are presenting the information to the public. I’m looking for trustworthy sources.

    It doesn’t help when you have shrill voices treating climate change as much like a religion as a question of factual investigation. It really doesn’t help when people who ask questions, and are skeptical, are slimed as “deniers”–implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, equated with those who deny the Holocaust. There are lots of things wrong with that, but it’s enough that it’s unspeakably vile. And it isn’t just combox warriors trading in that ugliness; supposedly respected figures use this language.

    A few years ago, a book came out called the “Skeptical Environmentalist.” The author found the arguments for human-caused global warming persuasive, but he then proceeded to dismantle the usual approaches, on the grounds that they would spend astonishing sums, have drastic effects on economies, thus diverting great amounts of capital and energy, for piddling results. The obvious point being (if he’s right) that this approach would do harm that vastly outweighs the minimal benefit. He suggested that far more real improvement to human life could be gained on other fronts, including adapting to the effects of warming, while we continue to develop our knowledge. It may be that new strategies will emerge, but at this point, mitigation, and improving human flourishing in others ways, makes more sense.

    That seemed an entirely reasonable argument. It could be flawed, but it was well reasoned (I mean the actual argument, not my summary). It wasn’t dogmatic.

    The poor man was excoriated and hounded as a heretic. That is not confidence-building.

    Nor does it help to see so many crusaders against the threat of global warming criss-crossing the globe in carbon-belching luxury jets. As the Instapundit wryly observes: I’ll believe it’s a crisis when those who say it’s a crisis act like it’s a crisis.

    More broadly, it seems we are in an age of disillusionment. Our political class is terrible — both parties. Our cultural institutions stink. Our entertainment industry seems to have not one shred of class or style left. Our education institutions are more concerned with protecting delicate snowflakes from “triggers” and “microaggressions” than teaching students how to think. Whether the whole science community is compromised I cannot say, but there’s good reason to say the climate-change crowd certainly is.

    So, I’m waiting for an honest voice.

    • Dave G.

      Everything you said is spot on. I think there is obviously climate change. The climate has always changed. And I’m not sure that the Industrial Revolution was the greatest thing after all. I have no doubt the embrace of the artificial over the natural has probably not done good for ourselves or the environment. But to believe only one side is politicizing it, or that only one side is influenced by outside forces, is just not being realistic. Not to mention that the line keeps being moved when it comes to just what is causing climate change, what it will do, and when it will do it (not to mention what to call it). Remember, according to scientists interviewed on a CNN segment not too long ago, climate change is not just caused by industry, but the very fact that humans exist and there are too many of us. So when do we know scientists are spot on, and when do we know they are wrong or part of some vast conspiracy against the truth? Not being a scientist, I am at a disadvantage.

    • Elmwood

      do Pope Francis or Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI count as an honest voice? They are both calling for international action to reduce GHG emissions.

      “The relationship of mankind with nature must not be conducted with greed, manipulation and exploitation, but it must conserve the divine harmony that exists between creatures and Creation within the logic of respect and care, so it can be put to the service of our brothers, also of future generations”

      Pope Francis 2015 Earth Day message

      • Joseph

        Sorry, where does this quote say that the sky is falling and that the hockey stick model is scientific fact, that the world will be reduced to embers and all of the ice caps will melt? It sounds to me more of *exactly* what I believe, none of it the alarmist claptrap that the Banco de Carbon Credits board of directors are peddling through their bought off scientists who like to fudge data when their predictions crumble. But that’s just me.
        How does this truly Catholic quote relate to the International Global Warmist Insane Asylum Opportunist Association newletters?

      • Cypressclimber

        I consider them honest, but they are hardly expert in the relevant sciences. I’d like to know on whom they rely. I’m sorry to say, but our bishops are often — in my judgment — rather naive about politics. So while I trust their moral judgment, I am more skeptical when it comes to their political judgments.

      • falstaff77

        “They are both calling for international action to reduce GHG emissions.”

        In the Pope’s message above from April 22, which seems to me wise and well said, there’s no mention of GHGs, nor has the current pope ever specifically mentioned them to my knowledge. If you are aware of an instance please share. That USA Today reference only guesses at what the Pope might say in a coming encyclical.

  • Dan13

    I’m sorry, but after reading that except from Chesterton I have to refer to the Academy-Award winning film Billy Madison:

  • ManyMoreSpices

    You should be immediately skeptical that a problem exists when the people telling you that the problem exists:

    (i) don’t act like the problem exists; and
    (ii) propose solutions that are exactly the same things they would want to do if the problem didn’t exist, or existed in the opposite direction (e.g., raise taxes, force us to use public transportation, reduce the size of the suburbs, give government more control over our lives).

  • Elmwood

    The time to find global solutions is running out. We will only be able to find adequate solutions if we act together and in agreement. Hence, there is a clear, definitive and ineluctable ethical impetrative to act.

    Pope Francis, to UN Convention on Climate Change

  • Faithr

    I read a book recently that really cuts through all the political stuff and honestly looks at the history of the environmental movement, where it is has been wrong and where it has been right. It is called A Climate of Crisis by Prof. Patrick Allitt. I highly recommend it.