Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
The climate crisis is the latest in a long line of predictions about how bad things are going to be in the future. Let’s remember that while scary headlines sell newspapers, journalists have a terrible track record.
140 years ago, when George Eliot was writing Middlemarch, that great work described by Virginia Woolf as “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people,” it was obvious that most predictions are a pointless waste of time.
Humans have little idea of what the future holds. Conventional wisdom, prevailing orthodoxies, reigning intellectual fads – all of these prevent us from seeing the world clearly.
In 2008, Canada’s weekly news magazine, Maclean’s, ran an article titled Soaring energy costs are about to change everything. “Should oil hit US$200 [a barrel] in the next few years, the world will be scarcely recognizable,” it warned.
We were told that our lives were about to change “in profound and dramatic ways.” That the “apocalyptic fallout” would turn suburbs into ghost towns, slums, and salvage yards since it would “become unfeasible for people to drive from the burbs to distant jobs.”
We were advised that the coming era of expensive oil would “redraw everything,” and that the world had “entered a whole new realm.”
A mere six-a-half-years later, the rhetoric in that news story’s final paragraph strikes us as pathetically idiotic:
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.” [bold added]
Oil is currently trading at US$52 a barrel. The two journalists who wrote that 2008 news story didn’t have a clue. Nor did the magazine’s editors. Nor did all the experts who were interviewed and quoted.
Rank speculation masquerading as news. That is what predictions about the future amount to. And that, dear friends, is what the entire climate crisis boils down to. Experts imagining they know what will happen next. Journalists pretending that experts know what they’re talking about.
Whatever the future holds, it will likely surprise us all. So be of good cheer – and have a Happy New Year!
“Among all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most gratuitous.” George Eliot, Middlemarch