Humanity only has a few years to act before the world may irreversibly plunge into an environmental catastrophe of global proportions, climate experts warned in a recent report. Their calls are muffled, however, by a ballast of dozens of past dramatic predictions that have failed to pan out.
Environmental experts have been predicting upcoming doom for many decades. Most, though not all, of the prognostications involve climatic cataclysm that appears to be just around the corner, only to fizzle out as the deadline approaches.
As the failed predictions pile up, climate experts appear to be more cautious in making their predictions too specific. The current general consensus among climate change proponents is that extreme weather events, such as droughts and storms, will become more prevalent or intense.
The full IPCC report hasn’t been released yet.
But it’s been exactly these kinds of bold predictions that have undermined experts’ credibility in the past.
December 1939“All the glaciers in Eastern Greenland are rapidly melting,” the Harrisburg [Pennsylvania] Sunday Courier reported.
“It may without exaggeration be said that the glaciers—like those in Norway—face the possibility of a catastrophic collapse,” the paper quoted Prof. Hans Ahlmann, a Swedish geologist, saying from a report to the Geographical Society after his Arctic expedition.
“Last Winter, oceans did not freeze over even on the north coast of Spitzbergen,” article said.
May 1947“The possibility of a prodigious rise in the surface of the ocean with resultant widespread inundation, arising from an Arctic climate phenomenon[,] was discussed yesterday by Dr. Hans Ahlmann, a noted Swedish geophysicist at the University of California Geophysical Institute,” an article in The West Australian read.
February 1952“The glaciers of Norway and Alaska are only half the size they were 50 years ago,” said Dr. William Carlson, an Arctic expert, according to a newswire run by The Cairns Post in Australia.
March 1955“There are now six million square miles of ice in the Arctic. There once were 12 million square miles,” said Arctic explorer Adm. Donald McMillan, according to Rochester, New York’s Democrat and Chronicle.
October 1958“Some scientists estimate that the polar ice pack is 40 percent thinner and 12 percent less in area than it was a half-century ago, and that even within the lifetime of our children, the Arctic Ocean may open, enabling ships to sail over the North Pole,” The New York Times reported, noting that the Arctic ice sheet was about 7 feet thick at the time. Currently, the ice is about 7 feet thick, too.
November 1967“It is already too late for the world to avoid a long period of famine,” The Salt Lake Tribune reported, citing Paul Ehrlich’s prediction of famines by 1975.
April 1970“Scientist predicts a new ice age by 21st century,” The Boston Globe reported, saying that pollution expert James Lodge predicted that “air pollution may obliterate the sun and cause a new ice age in the first third of the new century.”
October 1970Ehrlich went on to predict that America would be rationing water by 1974 and food by 1980, California’s Redlands Daily Facts reported.
July 1971“The world could be as little as 50 or 60 years away from a disastrous new ice age,” said atmospheric scientist S. I. Rasool of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Columbia University, The Washington Post reported.
January 1972“We have 10 years to stop the catastrophe,” said Maurice Strong, then-U.N. environmental secretary, regarding world’s environmental problems, according to a Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
December 1972Two Brown University geologists wrote a letter to President Richard Nixon, reporting that a conference attended by “42 top American and European investigators” concluded “a global deterioration of climate, by order of magnitude larger than any hitherto experienced by civilized mankind, is a very real possibility and indeed may be due very soon.”
January 1974“Space satellites show new Ice Age coming fast,” The Guardian reported.
June 1974“Another Ice Age?” a Time Magazine headline asked.
January 1978“An international team of specialists has concluded from eight indexes of climate that there is no end in sight to the cooling trend of the last 30 years, at least in the Northern Hemisphere,” The New York Times reported.
February 1979“There is a real possibility that some people now in their infancy will live to a time when the ice at the North Pole will have melted, a change that would cause swift and perhaps catastrophic changes in climate,” The New York Times said.
May 1982Mostafa Tolba, then-executive director of the U.N. environmental program, said that if the world didn’t change course, it would face “an environmental catastrophe which will witness devastation as complete, as irreversible, as any nuclear holocaust’’ by the year 2000, according to The New York Times.
September 1988The small island nation of Maldives was threatened to be completely covered by “a gradual rise in average sea level” in 30 years, Agence France-Presse reported, noting that “the end of the Maldives and its people could come sooner if drinking water supplies dry up by 1992, as predicted.”
June 1989“A senior environmental official at the United Nations, Noel Brown, says entire nations could be wiped off the face of the earth by rising sea levels if global warming is not reversed by the year 2000,” California’s San Jose Mercury News reported.
December 2001“The changes in climate could potentially extirpate the sugar maple industry in New England” within 20 years, according to George Hurtt, co-author of a 2001 global warming report commissioned by the U.S. Congress, according to Albuquerque Journal.
February 2004The Guardian reported on a secret Pentagon report that predicted climate change will lead to nuclear war, major European cities will sink into the ocean, and Britain would descend into “Siberian” climate by the year 2020.
January 2006“Unless drastic measures to reduce greenhouse gases are taken within the next 10 years, the world will reach a point of no return,” The Associated Press wrote, paraphrasing Al Gore, a prominent global warming advocate.
November 2007This year was the “defining moment” of the climate change fight, according to Rajendra Pachauri, then-head of the U.N. climate panel. “If there is no action before 2012, that’s too late,” the official said, according to The New York Times.
November 2007“The Arctic Ocean could be free of ice in the summer as soon as 2010 or 2015—something that hasn’t happened in more than a million years,” Canada's Canwest News Service reported, paraphrasing polar researcher Louis Fortier.
December 2007“Arctic Sea Ice Gone in Summer Within Five Years?” said an Associated Press headline.
December 2007“Artic summers ice-free ‘by 2013’” the BBC reported.
"Our projection of 2013 for the removal of ice in summer is not accounting for the last two minima, in 2005 and 2007," a researcher from the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, told the BBC.
March 2008“If Norway’s average temperature this year equals that in 2007, the ice cap in the Arctic will all melt away, which is highly possible judging from current conditions,” said Olav Orheim, head of the Norwegian International Polar Year Secretariat, according to Xinhua, China’s official propaganda mouthpiece.
April 2008“North Pole could be ice free in 2008,” reported New Scientist.
June 2008“We’re actually projecting this year that the North Pole may be free of ice for the first time [in history],” said David Barber, of the University of Manitoba, according to National Geographic News.
June 2008“In five to 10 years, the Arctic will be free of ice in the summer,” The Associated Press reported, paraphrasing James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Sciences.
September 2012“Enjoy snow now … by 2020, it’ll be gone,” The Australian reported. It still snows in Australia. Last year’s snowfall was, in fact, significantly above average.
July 2013“Ice-free Arctic in two years heralds methane catastrophe—scientist,” The Guardian reported.
February 2014“The End of Snow?” asked a New York Times op-ed headline, talking about declining snowpack in Western United States. The past decade overall has marked no significant snowfall decline in the region.
July 2017After then-U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the U.N. Paris Climate Agreement, physicist Stephen Hawking said, according to BBC: “We are close to the tipping point, where global warming becomes irreversible. Trump’s action could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees [Celsius] and raining sulfuric acid.”
August 2017“Snowy retreat: Climate change puts Australia’s ski industry on a downhill slope,” The Sydney Morning Herald reported. It’s been snowing quite as usual in Australia in recent years, weather data indicates.
January 2018"The chance that there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 is essentially zero," said James Anderson, a Harvard University professor of atmospheric chemistry, according to Forbes.
July 2020“The end of snow,” said an Australian Geographic headline. “Could a warming climate be putting Australia’s magnificent alpine landscapes at risk?”
December 2021The Los Angeles Times ran a story headlined, “A ‘no snow’ California could come sooner than you think.”
August 2022“The End of Snow Threatens to Upend 76 Million American Lives,” Bloomberg reported, referring to predictions of snow disappearance in the western United States.
March 2023“Arctic ice has seen an ‘irreversible’ thinning since 2007, study says,” The Washington Post reported.
The ice hasn’t thinned much over the past decade.