Surprisingly, I got more positive feedback from this recent blog, Insanely WRONG Predictions, than from almost any other I wrote this year.
That prompted me to write another blog along the same vein – but to instead focus on all the insanely wrong catastrophes that have been predicted in my lifetime (and that frankly scared the hell out of me when I was a kid).
This seems timely to me now too because there are so many major concerns that we face right now, including: (1) climate change; (2) another, but more serious, global pandemic; (3) a massively overvalued stock market; (4) record levels of government debt; (5) record inflation levels; (6) enormous unfunded liabilities for social security and Medicare; (7) potential wars with both China and Russia; (8) massive trade deficits; (9) an out of control Federal Reserve; (10) an opioid crisis that is plaguing much of middle America; (11) a homelessness crisis; and (12) an extraordinarily divided country when it comes to politics and class divides.
YouTube, Twitter, and the entire blogosphere are littered with predictions of wars, revolutions, and major financial catastrophes in light of these problems.
Here are a few catastrophes that terrified many Americans (including me in many cases) that never quite materialized.
- Global Starvation. In 1968, when the world’s population was about 4 billion, Stanford Professor Paul Ehrlich predicted that the world’s population growth would soon outstrip food production – fostering global famines and mass starvation. The world took Ehrlich all too seriously and even pushed for the sterilization of citizens in some third world countries. But, the famines never came and the world now has 7 billion people. In fact, starvation rates were nearly cut in half between 1990 and 2015, according to this UN report. This is one that particularly terrified me, as we learned all about this potential horror when I was in grade school – unfortunately.
- Social Unrest/Splintering America. With the 1960s race riots, Vietnam protests, prominent assassinations (JFK, MLK, and RFK), and even bombings and domestic terror attacks – many Americans were very worried that our entire country was coming apart at the seams. Sound familiar? Anyway – America not only did not fall apart, we resurged in the 1980s and on.
- Ice Age. A recurring prediction throughout the 1970s was the coming of another Ice Age – during which America would again be covered with glaciers. I distinctly remember a Newsweek magazine cover in particular from 1975 that pretty much convinced all of us we’d be covered in ice by the year 2000.
- Peak Oil. This was another recurring theme in the 1970s, as experts told us again and again that we’d soon run out of oil – leading to wars, starvation, and civilization coming to a standstill by about 1990. This too was something that nobody seemed to doubt – but that turned out to be ridiculously wrong.
- Ozone Depletion. This was another 1970s prediction revolving around a massive hole that was opening up in our atmosphere – that was going to result in deadly radiation poisoning from the sun.
- Acid Rain. Tree and crop-killing acid rain, caused by air pollution, was going to wipe out much of the Northeast and Canada. This prediction peaked about 1980 but by 1990… it was pretty much forgotten.
- Killer Bees. Very aggressive “Africanized” “killer bees” were going to take over America’s bee population and … of course – kill us all. There were even movies made about it.
- Nuclear Armageddon. This was a huge fear, sparked by the media after Ronald Reagan was elected. I remember the palpable fear when I was in college, particularly after the movie, The Day After, came out. But, I think this prediction was a bit off too, as I have yet to see a single Armageddon. 😊
- Japan Taking Over The World. In the late 1980s, everyone seemed convinced that Japan had come up with an unstoppable economic formula that combined exceptional discipline, a focus on tech and a national industrial policy. Not so much though, as Japan’s economy collapsed in the early 1990s and has yet to fully recover.
- Global Warming/Ice-Free Arctic/Manhattan and Maldives Under Water. Global warming concerns first surfaced in the late 1980s, and many experts predicted that the Arctic would be ice-free and also that much of Manhattan and all the Maldives islands would be underwater by now. Note: Climate change is certainly a threat, I am merely observing that many related (and dire) predictions missed by a mile.
- Technological Changes Creating Mass Unemployment. This prediction has been around since the dawn of the 20th century, e.g. autos wiped out the horse and buggy industries. But, it too never comes about – as new industries and economic opportunities continually surface, e.g. Social Media Manager, SEO Specialist, App Designer, Computer Programmer, Uber Driver, Game Designer, Professional Gamer, Podcast Producer, Instagram Influencer, YouTuber, TikToker, etc.
- China Taking Over the World. The jury is still out but this does not look good for China right now in light of their aging population, housing bubble (makes the U.S. in 2008 look like a cakewalk) and debt problems.
I could list many more predictions including an onslaught of “super hurricanes,” massive droughts, insurmountable air and water pollution, nuclear power plant meltdowns, and much more.
But, the above list makes my point.
So, why do these dire predictions gain so much traction when they are wrong again and again?
Here are a few possible reasons: (1) Really scary stuff sells more newspapers and gets more clicks – so our media are motivated to mislead us; (2) Politicians exploit scary predictions both to play hero and to garner more power; and (3) The “experts” making the predictions are often far too focused on their own area of expertise, according to Forbes, so they miss the major influences outside of their field that might show them why their predictions are wrong.
Anyway – the next time we are losing sleep because of the seemingly insurmountable problems the world faces, we might all remember that almost all of the problems are either surmountable or not nearly as bad as our “experts” might make us think.
Huge Catastrophe I Missed!
An agent reminded me of a huge catastrophe that I left out: Y2K!
Also, known as the “The Year 2000 Problem,” it refers to potential computer errors resulting from the storage of dates in two-digit formats (last two digits of the year, e.g. 98 vs. 1998) – making the year 2000 indistinguishable from 1900, for example.
Millions of people thought this glitch would crash computers all over the world and bring civilization to a standstill.
Worse, thousands of fringe religious and cult groups were convinced that Y2K was a harbinger of the “end of times,” convincing many people to sell everything to prepare for the worst.
Anyway – we survived that “catastrophe” too – without so much of a wrinkle….
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