The drumbeat of doom sometimes recedes into the background and other times (like now) grows louder, but its rhythm remains steady and incessant. Today, Reuters is recycling a 5-year old prediction by Australian microbiologist Frank Fenner that accumulating environmental crises (most especially including man-made climate change) will make Earth uninhabitable for people by 2100. Back in 2010, Phys.org reported:
Eminent Australian scientist Professor Frank Fenner, who helped to wipe out smallpox, predicts humans will probably be extinct within 100 years, because of overpopulation, environmental destruction and climate change.
Fenner, who is emeritus professor of microbiology at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, said homo sapiens will not be able to survive the population explosion and "unbridled consumption," and will become extinct, perhaps within a century, along with many other species.
The new Reuters story uses Fenner's alarming prediction as an opening to argue that the U.N. climate negotiations are failing and that much greater efforts must be taken to avoid catastrophic climate change. Interestingly, Reuters does take note of earlier predictions of catastrophic climate change:
For years now, we have heard that we are at a tipping point. Al Gore warned us in An Inconvenient Truth that immediate action was required if we were to prevent global warming. In 2007, Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor to the British government, declared, "Avoiding dangerous climate change is impossible – dangerous climate change is already here. The question is, can we avoid catastrophic climate change?" In the years since, emissions have risen, as have global temperatures. Only two conclusions can be drawn: Either these old warnings were alarmist, or we are already in far bigger trouble than the U.N. claims. Unfortunately, the latter seems to be the case.
And yet, despite the recent rejiggering of global temperature data by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, most researchers find that global average temperatures have not been increasing at the rates predicted by computer climate models. If the lower trend is maintained, predictions of climate apocalypse go out of the window. In fact, the researchers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who honcho satellite temperature data recently revised the temperature trend downward from a rate of +0.14 to +0.11 degrees Celsius per decade. That implies an average increase in temperature over the next 85 years of under 1 degree Celsius. That's not nothing, but it's not apocalyptic.
If you'd like a more accurate (and therefore more optimistic) analysis of how environmental, technological, and economic trends are likely to unfold over the course the 21st century, I heartily recommend buying and reading, The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-First Century (St. Martin's, July 21). Spoiler alert: Human beings don't become extinct by 2100.