The end is nigh. And it has been for the last 50 years, at least. In this month’s issue of Wired, Matt Ridley looks back at a generation’s worth of apocalyptic predictions by established scientists and assesses what did and didn’t come to pass. He cites a 1970 Life magazine article that maintains, “In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution.” And there were the pandemics that did happen but never quite lived up to their doomsday hype — Ebola, mad cow disease and SARS among them. So, are any of our mass worries worth the worry? Yes: greenhouse gases and climate change. Still, Ridley points out, “the lesson of failed past predictions of ecological apocalypse is not that nothing was happening but that the middle-ground possibilities were too frequently excluded from consideration.”
In this month’s issue of National Geographic, Peter Miller writes about the gradual uptick in extreme weather — droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes and severe storms — over the last several decades, in part due to global warming. “The primary forces driving recent disasters have been natural climate cycles,” writes Miller, citing El Nino and La Nina, the seesawing pools of warm and cool sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific that push storms around the globe. But the human-induced buildup of greenhouse gases has made the world a warmer and wetter place that’s more conducive to giant storms and savage weather. On paper, it all seems a little abstract, but the photos — haunting images of mile-high dust clouds, fires, cyclones, floods and other biblical-style meteorological disasters — help drive the point home.