2020, And The Prediction Business

In the catchy year that is 2020, it's interesting to look back at the many predictions that came true, and those that didn't, when it comes to the state of the Earth

Greta Thunberg, as she travelled up the awareness scales, and helped build a wider movement for climate activism, never changed one aspect of her pitch. Listen to the science. Time after time, the Swedish youngster has repeated this refrain, and in doing so, achieved two very clear objectives. One, she took out accusations of subjectivity, fear mongering and being ‘agenda driven’, for at least the more reasonable of the fence sitters on climate change. Secondly, she put the spotlight squarely on the scientists and experts who have put their reputations and expertise behind their predictions and evaluations on the impact and causes of climate change respectively.

One of the more interesting aspects of this divide has been the broad division that has emerged in the climate argument. On one side are the millennials, and those who followed them. And on the other, the ‘boomers’ or a generation that still has memories from the 1970’s. Why ?

It is really interesting, for those old enough to remember, that in the 1970’s, and even the early 80’s, global warming, was not really anything close to the headline issue it is today. Quite strangely, global cooling was. Countless voices of science, from researchers at Stanford, to scientists at NASA, to climatologists at respected institutes, spoke about the risks of global cooling, which never came to pass of course. More importantly, the era was dominated by doomsday scenarios of population explosion, famines to follow and worse. In fact, as we trawl through the records of those times,  these sound less like predictions and more like prophecy’s. Simply because the science was not as well understood as it is today.

In the 80’s, global warming, and rising ocean levels finally made their appearance, with predictions of ocean level rise swallowing islands altogether. In fact, in one of the starkest predictions, Maldives was supposed to go under in 30 years, according to predictions made in 1988. Well, Maldives is still around, and noone should grudge them for surviving that prediction.

As we should’t, for the hundreds of millions more, who share the earth today, and yes, do survive, much to the ‘Boomers’ surprise perhaps. So is their skepticism justified? Not really, as it turns out.

Some of the most respected  predictions of global warming , made in the 1990’s, did come true, as it turns out. These related to the rise in carbon concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere, and its impact on global warming. While some had predicted too much, and others a little less, the fact is, the Earth has warmed. IPCC predictions from the early 2000’s , of more hotter days, and less cold days have also come true.

The impact of warming on more sensitive eco zones, be it ocean reefs, or tropical hotspots has been profound, with mass extinctions recorded in the past two decades. As we speak, a million species are at risk of extinction before 2035. Going beyond warming, related issues like plastics pollution have claimed their own share of victims. Be it ocean ecosystems, or rivers and land, all have borne the brunt of plastics pollution, as we have recorded regularly.

Air pollution, an issue only mentioned in the context of locations close to  industries earlier, is now an issue for urban agglomerations worldwide,  even as more and more of the global population moves to urban areas.

Predicting something like the  Blue Ocean Event – a summer of ice-free Artic sea is tough, but seen as inevitable today. Other tipping point factors, be it CO2 released from permafrost, methane trapped under the seabed , these are all events whose risk has gone up massively, and when they do happen, they can be a huge reinforcer of warming.

As little as a decade back, very few people predicted the sharp jump in solar and wind generation. In 2010, noone saw the massive disruption to nuclear power, a carbon free source of energy, that took such a hit post the Fukushima accident in Japan.

The lesson from all this is, yes, follow the science. It may not always inspire you to take action, as science counts on logic, the enemy of passion, some would say. But to see the young get so passionate about the climate crisis, it needs to be understood, its because they see the impact all around them. On temperatures, in the air they breathe, and in the societies they live in.  That some of the worst culprits of environmental degradation, like fossil fuel use, or forest clearing,  are also responsible for impacting climate change, is perhaps the only silver lining in the whole story of distrust of dire predictions and yes, even worse remedy’s. .  Perhaps that explains the shift in even respected ‘boomer’ (Bill Gates) led institutions like the Bill and Melinda gates foundation to place climate crisis as a key agenda focus for the next stage of their projects.  Because, give or take 5 years or even a decade, science has definitely prevailed over prophecy’s.

Predictions like periods of ‘wetter monsoons’ to be followed by eventually drier years, have been proven right, t least on the first part. It would be stupid to see the whole prediction play out on cue. For make no mistake, all said and done, the number of stark predictions vastly outnumber anything resembling optimistic scenarios today. Everyone needs to listen.

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna Singh

Prasanna Singh is the founder at IamRenew

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