Tuesday, July 5, 2022
HomeCulture WarsSo many doomsayers, so much drivel

So many doomsayers, so much drivel

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I AM fed up with being told that I’m going to drown (rising sea levels), starve (food shortages), bake (rising temperatures), freeze (energy costs too high to heat as well as eat), get the plague (another nasty Covid variant), and die horribly (in the imminent nuclear war).

The way I cheer up is to go through my press cuttings of forecasts made during the 20th century. Maybe that will work for you? There have always been ‘experts’ anxious to help us. Here are a few prophecies, not one of which concerns global warming because if those were added I would need a 100-page blog.

In 1923 Daimler-Benz directors thought that car sales would be restricted by the shortage of chauffeurs. A book looking ahead 100 years published in 1930 forecast that the only way for aeroplanes to fly the Atlantic in 2030 would be by way of ‘landing stations moored in mid-ocean’. The author recommended airships. 

An article in 1935 What life will be like 20 years hence forecast ‘rooftop aerodromes, and most building on the communal plan . . .  blocks of flats with dining rooms, swimming pools and dance floors . . . the use of private aeroplanes will have relieved traffic congestion on the ground.’ All that by 1955!

‘The Volkswagen,’ pronounced Lord Rootes (chairman of a major car manufacturing company) in 1946, ‘does not meet the fundamental requirements of a motor car.’ He was commenting on the original ‘Beetle’, of which the company went on to produce more than  21million sold all over the world.

In 1947, the founder of IBM pronounced there would be a world market for about five computers. (Two billion now and counting.) In 1956, the Astronomer Royal says space travel is ‘utter bilge’. Arthur C Clarke in 1961: ‘The British motorway system will be obsolete by the time it is completed. Cars will run on the hovercraft principle.’

A 1962 newspaper headline told us of the ‘Dreadful Fate of Man in AD 2000.’ ‘In the next decade,’ said the article, reporting on the views of a conference of 120 philosophers, scientists and writers, ‘two thirds of the human race is most likely to stagger along the road from increasing poverty to social unrest.’

The outlook in 1967 was more optimistic. Twenty experts at the Rand Corporation decided that by 2020 we would have regional weather control, ocean farming to produce at least 20 per cent of the world’s food, plus many other benefits to make life easier.

Headline in 1984: ‘Coming Soon – a robot slave for everyone.’ The story included a comment from Sir Clive Sinclair that ‘by the end of the decade imports and technical change will virtually remove all employment’.

The following year common sense obtruded: ‘In a forecast,’ said the then City Editor of the Daily Mail, ‘give a figure or a date. Never both.’ Such wisdom quickly vanished. Only two months later Brussels bureaucrats forecast that ‘by the year 2001, there will not be a traffic light left on any main road in EU countries’. There would apparently be electronic beacons able to stop vehicles automatically.

1988 saw a ‘Future of the UK in 2010’ conference. ‘Britain in the 21st century,’ it said, ‘would be a place where people shop and work underground . . . this would leave the surface of our crowded countries to be landscaped, wiping out urban dereliction.’

There was more in 1989 about 21st century life: ‘Britain may well have abolished income tax completely by the early years of the 21st century . . . and the BBC licence fee will have long since gone.’ Experts in 1990 forecast that women will be liberated from housework in the home of the future. The following year David Icke (remember him?) told us that the British Isles would be struck by four separate disasters, one of which would stop the Channel Tunnel being completed.

The Adam Smith Institute had a go in 1994. By 2020 in the UK, it claimed, ‘high-speed air and rail travel link all main population centres while wolves and bears roam the countryside’. Was that an early forecast of re-wilding? Three years later everyone was worried about the computer millennium problem. ‘Six times as large as the Kobe earthquake and 20 per cent costlier than the Vietnam war – that is the scale of the problem for making computers comply with the year 2000.’ So said Merrill Lynch.

When a selection of dooms and catastrophes are in the news every week, it is somehow very comforting to look back at those prophecies. Every one of which was wrong.

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Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams is a freelance writer and has been a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society since 1984.

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