David K. Every
I went to school in the 70's. I remember the teachers (and the News) telling me that we (Denizens of Earth) were running out of oil, and "according to scientists" we would be completely out by 1982 (the Year I graduated High School). Not to spoil my teachers day, but it is 1997, and last I checked my car was running just fine.
It is not like this is the first time for such great failed predictions. In the 50's it was Nuclear War (build your bomb shelter now, and persecute your neighbor because they could be a commie) -- the press dragged that fear on for decades. In the 60's it was a new Ice-Age coming (immediately) and Global Cooling caused by air-pollution. The 70's had green-house gasses and Global warming (talk about your complete reversals). In the 80's it is CFC's that were destroying the Ozone layer -- and that the amount of UV we are bombarded with means we should not be able to go outside without wearing asbestos suits or lead-paint -- but then there is the great lead-paint scare, or the asbestos terrors to say that wasn't a safe option either. In the 80's Apple was doomed because the Mac would never gain any Marketshare against the IBM PC... now in the 90's Apple is doomed because "Windows is as Good as a Mac". The only thing these things have in common is that they are all wrong (to varying degrees).
We didn't have a Nuclear war, because men didn't want to destroy themselves -- and they suddenly got rational when faced with MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Sure there was posturing, but we didn't really want to end humanity. Nuclear deterrent may have been the greatest success in mankind, as there have been no more big wars since we got Nukes, and overall the world has gotten into less major conflicts (quite a change in trends from WWI and WWII). Limited wars? Sure -- but no really big ones (unless it was you or your family that was killed -- then it seems big to you). That means that something is working, despite all predictions to the contrary. Fear gets attention, sells papers, and politicians can use it to get what they want (our money or power). It is a way to cater to emotions instead of reason -- and if you buy into it, you are paying to be scammed.
Pollution is a problem, and was more of one in the 60's and 70's. It was even more of one around the turn of the century. We've been getting better, not worse, but the press (and special interests) want to sensationalize -- because it gets them power, money, or influence. We are truly arrogant when we think that we can destroy this planet -- we can destroy ourselves, but this planet is much tougher than we are. There are things we can make things worse, and we should take care and be responsible -- but lets get some perspective! We could house every person in the world (assuming family of four, living in a typical suburban 2,000 sq. ft. home), inside of Alaska. If we assume the same population density as say New York City, then we could house Every person in the world inside of Texas. Now think how big the rest of the world is, and think how likely it is for that few people to really cause the effects many claim that we are. We can cause local problems -- but most global scares are just hype. That isn't to say that population (and their pollution) won't be an issue in the future -- nor that we shouldn't think about it, and act reasonably. Is it reasonable to panic people NOW about things that are 50 or 100 years down the road?
Instead, some listen when the press starts telling people what the evil man-made Acid-Rain is doing -- and ignore the fact that Acid-Rain comes from volcanoes as well (only much worse). In fact our little man-made evils are child's play compared to a few million tons of Molten Lava ruining your day, or the other little practical jokes that nature can play (an earthquake, tidal wave, hurricane or tornado are much more likely to ruin your day). People use Pollution (whatever kind), conservation, or the end of the blue-footed tee-tsee bird as a way to scare people into giving up their rights, power or money to some politician to fix it, or to sell papers. Which they can not do. The problems do exist -- but usually they are 1:10,000th as bad as they are reported.
Now don't even get me into CFC's and Green House Gasses. I realize that water is an evil green-house gas that must be stopped NOW! Lets block up those volcanoes, since they put out far far more green-house gasses than humanity does. I hate the way the press runs off on any half-cocked idea... like CFC's. We found out that CFC's could break down O3 (ozone) and make O2 (oxygen, which is a corrosive gas and a form of pollution caused by plants) -- but we had made a big deal out of it, and started banning CFC's before we had conclusive proof of anything. When we started banning them we didn't have a study that proved that CFC's were getting up to the stratosphere to deplete the Ozone layer at all -- let alone doing more substantial studies to find out if we were actually harming the Ozone layer or to learn more about it. Now we did studies AFTER the fact (ban). But the fact that we over-reacted at the time, and happened to be more or less right, is not the point -- we DID overreact at the time. Waiting the extra 2-5 years would not have made much of a difference in the bigger scheme of things. But we had the potential of doing far more harm by running off half informed, than was being done.
Worse yet was the misinformation (or half information) the public was presented with. Most people have no clue as to what is really going on -- because nobody (the press) cared to inform them about the truth, and preferred to further an agenda rather than to educate people to the facts.
I am not a chemist -- but here are some of the very basics that most people don't know.
Did you ever read about any of that in the press? No! Scaring people sells -- balanced reporting is boring. Our lack of information (at the time) didn't stop us from banning CFC's, or terrorizing the public. It certainly didn't get us a balanced message, objective information or the truth. This isn't to say that we should ignore the problem, or ignore CFC's potential effects -- but we should study the problem OBJECTIVELY and look at ALL the facts BEFORE we run off half cocked. It wasn't until the mid 90's that we had proof. A decade after the press had started terrorizing the public with partial information. We replaced CFC's with other propellants in a panic, and without proper investigation of what the replacements might do (because we didn't have time to study them either) -- we might have replaced CFC's with something that is even more harmful, because we didn't have time to do things right. Which I think the press would love, because they could sensationalize THAT into a good chicken little story as well.
Again, the point of all this is not that there aren't threats or dangers, or that these items aren't issues -- they just aren't the issues they were sold to us as. Remember, that we were able to react to the problem, and humanity dramatically reduced the output of a dangerous chemical in a few short years after finding out about the problem. We did not destroy the planet, and we do not require lead-paint (another scare) sunscreen to go out of doors.
As for technology, the press is usually worse. Watson (head of IBM) said that the U.S. would only need 4 or 5 computers, ever! Microcomputers were a toy that were only good for calculators (and there were those that were saying that mechanical calculators were more reliable and cheaper). Apple was doomed in the 70's because no one would want to buy a computer (toy) . Apple grew to a $100M/year business in no time -- despite the predictions to the contrary. Then in the early 80's, Apple was doomed because IBM was going to come out with their business computer. IBM did come out with a machines that was an overpriced steaming pile that was 5 years out of date the day it was designed -- but people bought it because it was IBM. Still Apple did not die (despite press predictions to the contrary), in fact they became a $1 Billion a year business. Then Apple created the Mac. Apple was doomed because no one wanted a "toy" computer with pictures and a little mouse! HA! Apple grew in the 80's to be a $5 Billion a year business. Then Windows 3 was going to be as good as a Mac -- according to the press and the experts Apple was really doomed in 1989. Apple kept selling. In '91, Windows 3.1 was really as good as a Mac -- Apple was certainly doomed. Then in '93 Windows NT was going to take over the marketplace -- analysts predicted that Apple would be out of business by '95 -- and NT was going to have 80% of the computer business in 3 or 4 years (it is at around 4-5% of the market, with a far smaller installed base than Macs). Windows 95 was really and truly as good as a Mac (according to the press), not like all the other times they lied, this time they meant it. Some said Win95 is even better (those that don't use both). Apple is really really doomed. Apple hit $10 Billion/year in sales in '95, more in '96.
It is now rolling into '98. All those people that didn't buy Macs for the last 12 years have only screwed themselves -- they threw money down the toilet on higher maintenance costs, higher training costs, a more stressful and frustrating computer and sometimes even higher initial costs. Apple is still a multi-Billion dollar industry, and still has incredible technology and is making incredible alliances and inroads. Yet still the chicken little's persist. Apple is doomed any day now. Some day they may be right, but until then I save money year over year on my Mac (rather than a PC). I am going to continue to use the machine that makes the most sense for me. That is still a Mac.
Remember, "the Media" is one giant negative feedback loop. Idiots and extremists make radical statements to get themselves attention and power. The press doesn't really know anything about anything (if they did, they would be doing that instead of being a reporter) -- but they reports these stories because it will sell papers. 1,000's of scientists who disagree don't matter -- one idiot with a mouth (and lacking a brain) can scare the public, because the press will find the extreme statements an interesting story -- and the press will call themselves balanced because at the very end of a sensationalist article they will say "Some scientists don't concur" or "Scientists need to study the data further". People reward the extremists with money or attention, and so they do it some more.
So when I hear a press prediction, I think about what is really being said (and how reasonable that is). I remember predictions like "Wang was the computer maker for the next century", or the predictions in 1981 that Apple would be out of business in 2 years. Then I make my own decisions. Mankind is cutting down 40% of the worlds forests every year (and has been for 20 years)? Doesn't sound right to me! The Sky is falling? Naah! A $10B/year industry (that is higher on the Fortune500 list than Microsoft) and that has the highest customer loyalty in the industry (and some of the best products) is just going to disappear because a few people don't like non-conformity? I don't buy it. I'll think for myself, thank you very much, since I seem to be much better at it than the average reporter, special interest group or politician.
I don't expect people to all agree with my views (political or philosophical) -- and certainly not to the same degrees as I do. I am just pointing out some views that should make people think a little, even if they don't agree.
Before we get too critical of ONLY these groups, we should also look at our own industries as well, and what we can do to improve them. (This whole site is part of my efforts to improve mine).