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An inconvenient commentary: 5 times climate alarmists made horribly wrong predictions

Justin Haskins, executive editor and a research fellow at the Heartland Institute, describes five failed climate-change predictions in this commentary. (2015 file photo/Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Climate-change alarmist Al Gore’s newest fear-mongering film, “An Inconvenient Sequel,” arrived in select movie theaters over the weekend. Unsurprisingly, the film is full of dire warnings about the future of mankind and its allegedly dangerous use of fossil fuels.

However, before you trade in your car for a bicycle or your steak for insects, consider that for nearly 50 years, climate alarmists have been desperately trying and failing to predict the downfall of human civilization.

Here are just five examples of the many times climate alarmists gazed into their crystal balls and ended up looking more than a little foolish.

1. New York Times: Polar explorer predicts end of ice at the North Pole (1969)

Way back before Leonardo DiCaprio, the rise of Gore and the rampant politicization of climate science, polar explorer Col. Bernt Balchen was convinced the North Pole would melt by as early as 1979.

The New York Times reported on Feb. 20, 1969, “Col. Bernt Balchen, polar explorer and flier, is circulating a paper among polar specialists proposing that the Arctic pack ice is thinning and that the ocean at the North Pole may become an open sea within a decade or two. … A number of specialists believe that an ice-free Arctic Ocean would not freeze again.”

Needless to say, the North Pole didn’t melt. In fact, we now know the global climate was at the tail end of a decades-long cooling period.

2. Al Gore: Only 10 years left to avoid total disaster (2006)

In 2006, CBS News asked Gore a series of questions about global warming at the Sundance Film Festival, where Gore was promoting “An Inconvenient Truth.” Throughout his movie, Gore consistently gives the sense that unless something is done immediately, we’re all doomed, but he often (not always) refrains from giving a specific timetable.

CBS News’ report, however, notes Gore had predicted that the “point of no return” would come within “10 years” if greenhouse-gas emissions weren't reduced substantially.

“And politicians and corporations have been ignoring the issue for decades, to the point that unless drastic measures to reduce greenhouse gases are taken within the next 10 years, the world will reach a point of no return, Gore said,” according to CBS News’ story.

Have we reached a “point of no return,” as Gore suggested? If so, “An Inconvenient Sequel” would seem to be rather pointless, wouldn’t it? Gore was asked about this during a June interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, to which he responded: “Well, we have seen a decline in emissions on a global basis. For the first time, they’ve stabilized and started to decline. So, some of the responses for the last 10 years have helped, but unfortunately, and regrettably, a lot of serious damage has been done.”

Rather than simply admit he was wrong, Gore, amazingly, doubled down by suggesting that carbon-dioxide emission reductions have somehow immediately stopped the “point of no return” from materializing. This is a remarkably stupid claim.

Global carbon-dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency’s estimates, increased by several gigatons from 2006 to 2016. If we were on the edge of a climatic disaster in 2006, we should have crossed the threshold by now — if Gore’s prediction was correct.

Further, and perhaps most importantly, the IEA attributes much of the drop in carbon-dioxide emissions to the United States’ use of natural gas, which has boomed because of fracking, a process environmentalists and Democrats largely oppose!

“The biggest drop came from the United States, where carbon dioxide emissions fell 3%, or 160 million tonnes, while the economy grew by 1.6%,” IEA reported in March. “The decline was driven by a surge in shale gas supplies and more attractive renewable power that displaced coal. Emissions in the United States last year were at their lowest level since 1992, a period during which the economy grew by 80%.”

Don’t be fooled by the “more attractive renewable power” line, either. Renewable energy sources solar and wind only account for less than 3 percent of the United States’ total energy use.

3. New York Times: ‘New ice age on the way’ (1975)

Here’s another report from the New York Times, this one published on May 21, 1975. In this news story, reporter Walter Sullivan noted many scientists believed global cooling was “inevitable,” but he also said there were numerous researchers predicting massive, catastrophic global warming within the next century.

Here are some of the highlights from the article:

The world's climate is changing. Of that scientists are firmly convinced. But in what direction and why are subjects of deepening debate.

There are specialists who say that a new ice age is on the way—the inevitable consequence of a natural cyclic process, or as a result of man-made pollution of the atmosphere. And there are those who say that such pollution may actually head off an ice age.

Sooner or later a major cooling of the climate is widely considered inevitable. Hints that it may already have begun are evident. …

There is general agreement that introducing large amounts of smoke particles or carbon dioxide into the atmosphere can alter climate. … If worldwide energy consumption continues to increase at its present rates, catastrophic climate changes have been projected by M.I. Budyko, a leading Soviet specialists. He says that the critical level will probably be reached within a century. This, he has written, will lead to "a complete destruction of polar ice covers." Not only would sea levels rise but, with the Arctic Ocean free of ice, the entire weather system of the Northern Hemisphere would be altered.

Virtually no one today is predicting the “complete destruction of polar ice covers” in the near future or a new ice age, showing that 40 years ago, the scientific community clearly overestimated the effects of human activity on climate.

4. United Nations: ‘Entire nations could be wiped off the face of the earth’ (1989)

United Nations environmental official Noel Brown predicted absolute chaos in 1989, including dramatic coastal flooding, crop failures, “eco-refugees,” and more. The only way to save the world, Brown warned, was to reverse course on burning fossil fuels within 10 years. Sound familiar?

The San Jose Mercury News (Calif.) reported on June 30, 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. Coastal flooding and crop failures would create an exodus of ‘eco-refugees,’ threatening political chaos, said Brown, director of the New York office of the U.N. Environment Program. He said governments have a 10-year window of opportunity to solve the greenhouse effect before it goes beyond human [control].”

5. Al Gore: The final ‘snows of Kilimanjaro’ (2006)

One of the more powerful moments in Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” is when Gore shows a series of images of the famed Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, progressively losing snow. Perhaps the most common error perpetrated by climate alarmists, especially in the mainstream media, is that warming is proof of their theory. It isn’t. Many climate scientists believe it is currently warming, albeit very slowly, but that the warming isn’t being caused by humans and/or isn’t catastrophic.

However, this prediction from Gore is just too juicy to ignore. During Gore’s movie, in 2006, he predicted, “Within the decade, there will be no more ‘snows of Kilimanjaro.’”

More than a decade later, the snow is still there, and no reputable scientist I’m aware of expects it to be gone in the immediate future. You can see pictures of the snow-covered mountain by going to the blog operated by the University of Massachusetts’ Climate System Research Center, titled “Kilimanjaro Climate & Glaciers.”

Justin Haskins (@JustinTHaskins) is executive editor and a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.

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