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It's Eleven Years, Not Twelve

March 19, 2019

When Congressze Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced the Green New Deal earlier this year, she said we had only 12 years to save the planet.

When Congressze Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced the Green New Deal earlier this year, she said we had only 12 years to save the planet. In saying this, she contradicted the "scientific consensus." The prior year, the U.N. had determined that we only had 12 years to go. So, this year, we only have 11 years. It's simple math. 12 - 1 = 11.

Eleven years as of now is actually a generous estimate of the end of the world.  In 2017, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis said we only had 10 years remaining to save the planet. Since that was two years ago, we now only have eight years remaining.

Also in 2017, the Union of Concerned Scientists gave sapiens-kind "a second warning." Their first warning was in 1992. At that time, they warned of a climate catastrophe in “one or a few decades.” So, the world could have ended seventeen years ago ("one decade" from 1992). Perhaps we and everything about us is an illusion. A playing out of someone's imagination. We're not merely post-modern, we post-reality.

Alternately, we might concern ourselves with what "a few" means in scientific discourse. Without counting systems, the numbers go "1, 2, many." But, with the development of counting systems, sapiens advanced to numbers like 6, 7, zero, minus 1, fractions, decimals, pi, the square root of 7, and the square root of minus 7. "A few," to have scientific content, would have to mean something like 2 or 3 or possibly 4.

To translate the original statement of the Union of Concerned Scientists into precise language, as of 1992, the end of the world was forecast to come to an end with 30 percent probability each in 1, 2 or 3 decades or 10 percent probability in 4 decades, or something like that. As we are now toward the end of the third decade of their forecast, enjoying growing populations and increasing standards of living, we've been mighty lucky.

But, what does it mean for the Union of Concerned Scientists to give us "a second warning?" Does this mean we go back to the end of the world coming in "one or a few decades?" If the Union of Concerned Scientists has the power to change the end of the world clock, why don't they say the end of the world will come in one or a few billion years? Please, oh priests of the end of the world clock, be merciful on us mortals!

And what does it mean, really, for a scientific organization to re-gather, as the Union of Concerned Scientists did two years ago, to recognize the Silver (25th) anniversary of their end of the world forecast?  Doesn't it mean that they are a little slow on the uptake?

At the first Earth Day, waa-ay back in 1970, Paul Erlich famously said that four billion humans would perish in a great “die-off” between 1980 and 1989. Next year will be the Golden (50th) Anniversary of that forecast. Will we get "a second warning" of imminent disaster from the environmentalists?

You can bet on it.

Author
Clifford F. Thies is the Eldon R. Lindsay Professor of Economics and Finance at Shenandoah University. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Boston College.
cthies@su.edu