Extreme Nonsense

August 27, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Maclean’s, Canada’s weekly news magazine, currently has a cover story that is causing climate skeptics to roll our eyes. “Hottest Summer on Record. Extreme Weather Warning” it proclaims. The subtitle reads: “Fires, floods, droughts, and freak storms. Why it’s only going to get worse.”

Yadda, yadda. As if we hadn’t been chided, mere months ago, to remember that weather is not the same as climate (when parts of the world were coping with unusually large amounts of snow and lower-than-average temperatures). As if San Diego weren’t experiencing a remarkably cool summer. As if Bolivia weren’t struggling with millions of dead fish killed by a recent cold snap. As if cooler-than-normal temperatures hadn’t been blamed earlier this month for respiratory distress in one third of Chile’s urban population (apparently due to the cold itself as well as unhealthy sources of home-heating).

A gent by the name of Wayne Moores observes in a comment beneath the online version of the extreme weather article that Maclean’s has a less-than-stellar record when it comes to predictions. He writes:

I invite anyone to look at a front cover of a McLean’s [sic] from two summers ago. Oil will reach 200 a bbl. Your life will never be the same…bla..bla..bla. Well oil is 71 a bbl today. Earlier this year we were told by another cover story by this mag to expect Canada’s economy to totally tank with a double dip recession of biblical proportions. Still waiting.

Thanks for the tip, Mr. Moores. A few seconds with Google does, indeed, turn up a May 2008 Maclean’s article titled “After cheap oil.” It breathlessly proclaimed that the “world is now facing an oil crisis few predicted and even fewer are prepared for.”

Many of its hyperbolic statements are giggle-inducing:

…Exactly how the end of cheap oil will change our lives is still far from clear. But change them it will, in profound and dramatic ways.

…The pain has already begun…with gas prices so rich, a wave of gasoline theft has swept the continentThe police, meanwhile, may have to chase down those criminals on foot. Rising prices have many police departments parking their cruisers…

…the real storm has just begun to gather. Should oil hit US$200 in the next few years, the world will be scarcely recognizable.

…”The suburbs will turn to slums, salvage yards and ruins,” says the author…Kuntsler foresees apocalyptic fallout. It will become unfeasible for people to drive from the burbs to distant jobs, and as the petroleum refugees flee their McMansions, the sprawling cul-de-sacs will turn to ghost towns. As the global supply chains collapse, major importers like Wal-Mart will go out of business.

…As the predictions for $200 oil grow louder, so too does the realization that huge changes are coming. The agony that’s been felt at the pumps…

…And don’t think for a moment that Canada…can escape unscathed.

as oil prices reach the stratosphere…people will find the era of cheap clothes and home electronics will screech to a halt.

…it will redraw everything from how we work to how we socialize….”Some people are going to have to adjust every aspect of their lives.”

…there’s no avoiding the fact that the world has entered a whole new realm.

…”The world has never confronted a problem like this”…

And here’s the final paragraph:

All signs suggest that planning for real change won’t come until it’s too late. “People don’t wake up until things are flying apart,” says Matt Savinar, a California lawyer… Everything that he’s been preaching is coming true, but still no one is listening…”If you imagine your worst nightmare, we’re right on track for that to come true. Just look at the news.” [bold added to all the above]

If this reminds you of the over-the-top media coverage regarding the Y2K computer bug you aren’t alone. There is, as I’ve observed elsewhere, absolutely no accountability for media scaremongers. When overwrought predictions fail to transpire, everyone has already moved on. No one remembers the names of the journalists who wrote nonsense. No senior editor loses his or her job. The system contains no feedback mechanism whatsoever to rein in these sorts of excesses.

The media and environmental groups share things in common. Both jostle for our attention. Both benefit financially when they over-dramatize (we buy magazines with exciting sounding covers and donate money to advocacy groups with urgent sounding campaigns). Both, therefore, portray issues of concern not as problems that will require ingenuity to solve but as crises that will decimate our lives.

There’s a good reason why “people don’t wake up until things are flying apart.” That’s because the professional doomsayers are nearly always dead frakking wrong.

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Entry filed under: media, predictions that failed. Tags: , , .

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