The old future and the new future
0 comment Thursday, June 12, 2014 |

The picture is from the blog Paleo-Future. It's from a 1982 book by Neil Ardley, 'Fact or Fantasy, (World of Tomorrow)', and it depicts the 'domed city of the future,' which will be necessitated by the coming 'savage cold,' so the author told us.
The Paleo-Future blog has an interesting theme; it's about the future as seen by people in the past. It's amusing and sometimes fascinating to see how past eras foresaw the future, and it's enlightening and comforting sometimes to see just how wrong the prognosticators were.
I blogged about this phenomenon in an oblique way a while back, in a post about the apparent loss of American optimism. Many of the posts at the Paleo-Future blog hark back to the 1950s, an era which I recall as having been especially focused on the future. There was an optimism which now seems naive, in retrospect, but at the time it seemed a healthy attitude, which somehow believed that the future would be better than the present, and that technology would lead to endless improvement in the physical world and in the human condition. Of course from our present perspective, we see that our optimism may have been wishful thinking in many cases, and our faith in technology to remake the world and human nature was often misplaced. But it is interesting to see pictures from old books and newspapers, with glowing forecasts about the far-off future, the 21st century. All of us who were alive in the 50s and 60s remember the popular science fiction of that era, which always pictured a 21st century world in which everybody had a personal helicopter or other such aircraft, a la the Jetsons, and of course there would be domed cities which were climate-controlled, and we would take our meals in pill form.
Paleo-Future is full of pictures of such imagined future utopias, so it's a fun read.
The post from which the picture above is taken is called The Coming Ice Age, which reminds us that back in 1982, there was still a common belief among prognosticators that we were heading into a 'new Ice Age.' As I recall, this popular idea started in the late 60s and persisted throughout the 70s, and judging by the book which Matt quotes from, it persisted into the 80s. I wonder at what point the experts decided we were not cooling down, but headed for a world inferno based on global warming, or 'the Greenhouse Effect', as it used to be called?
If Matt at Paleo-Future is still blogging a decade or two from now, I suppose by then it will be evident whether the 'global warming' hysteria has been proven correct, or whether the future generations will look at the global warming fears with amusement, much as we chuckle over the 'new Ice Age' predictions from today's vantage point.
Reading Paleo-Future is a corrective for the belief that the 'experts' can see into a crystal ball and foretell the future. Much of what passes for solid forecasting is educated guesswork, and is not infallible. It would be wise to remember that fact. The fears of a coming 'ice age' were apparently based on a cooling trend during the late 60s and early 70s, which some scientists took as indicative of long-term trends. It's a temptation that is easy to succumb to, not only in climatological matters, but in other areas of life too. We can't see or know all the influences at work in any given situation, and what we see as a near-certainty at one point may prove nowhere near the truth in the long term.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars, as the poet Clough said.

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