Great Moments In Failed Predictions

As we contemplate another four years of Barack Obama, a sense of doom has settled over the nation. It is easy to imagine man-caused disasters from which the United States cannot recover. So perhaps it helps to be reminded how consistently doomsayers have been wrong over the years. Anthony Watts has an entertaining post titled “Great Moments in Failed Predictions.” An excerpt:


* In 1865, Stanley Jevons (one of the most recognized 19th century economists) predicted that England would run out of coal by 1900, and that England’s factories would grind to a standstill.

* In 1885, the US Geological Survey announced that there was “little or no chance” of oil being discovered in California.

* In 1891, it said the same thing about Kansas and Texas. (See Osterfeld, David. Prosperity Versus Planning : How Government Stifles Economic Growth. New York : Oxford University Press, 1992.)

* In 1939 the US Department of the Interior said that American oil supplies would last only another 13 years.

* 1944 federal government review predicted that by now the US would have exhausted its reserves of 21 of 41 commodities it examined. Among them were tin, nickel, zinc, lead and manganese.

* In 1949 the Secretary of the Interior announced that the end of US oil was in sight.

In the sad catalog of human error, Paul Ehrlich deserves a chapter all to himself:

Paul Ehrlich: The most consistently wrong man in history?


Claims: In 1968, Paul R. Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb and declared that the battle to feed humanity had been lost and that there would be a major food shortage in the US. “In the 1970s … hundreds of millions are going to starve to death,” and by the 1980s most of the world’s important resources would be depleted. He forecast that 65 million Americans would die of starvation between 1980-1989 and that by 1999, the US population would decline to 22.6 million. The problems in the US would be relatively minor compared to those in the rest of the world. (Ehrlich, Paul R. The Population Bomb. New York, Ballantine Books, 1968.) New Scientist magazine underscored his speech in an editorial titled “In Praise of Prophets.”

Claim: “By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people … If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.” Paul Ehrlich, Speech at British Institute For Biology, September 1971.

Claim: Ehrlich wrote in 1968, “I have yet to meet anyone familiar with the situation who thinks India will be self-sufficient in food by 1971, if ever.”
Data: Yet in a only few years India was exporting food and significantly changed its food production capacity. Ehrlich must have noted this because in the 1971 version of his book this comment is deleted (Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource, Princeton: Princeton Univesity Press, 1981, p. 64).

And don’t even get me started on global cooling.

Did that cheer you up? If so, a note of caution: those failed predictions were pretty much all made by liberals.

UPDATE: One more observation. Note that the global warming hoaxers have learned from their forebears: they generally avoid making predictions that are falsifiable in a time frame that would cut off their gravy train. To Ehrlich’s credit, he at least believed what he was saying, however dumb it may have been.

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