First: Y2K. What was that all about?
Second: the Second Great Depression. Okay, it's probably still too early to call that one's bluff, and the methods used to avert it (whether it was, or was not, in need of averting) may be paid for by the next few generations of (mostly) Americans, but it's looking increasingly like things weren't quite as bad as all that - just like, in the couple of years before the markets melted down, it is now pretty damn easy to see that things weren't as good as they were being made out to be, either. (It might be fun to trawl through some American newspapers - and not just the business pages, either - circa 2006 to see how often people were being told that house prices would keep going up forever and that you could bet your, or more accurately somebody else's, life savings on it. Like, duh?)
Third: swine flu. August was going to be when it wreaked maximum devastation upon us all. Well, August has been and gone, or pretty much so anyway, and the vast majority of us seem to be still here, and unscathed. Yes, people are still contracting it, and there is nothing to be gained by understating its severity, but was there really anything to be gained by scaring the bejeezus out of us? (Actually, yes, there was much to be gained. Publishing a newspaper with the front page emblazoned with the headline "Everything's pretty quiet around here" isn't likely to lead to a sudden spike in advertising revenue.)
Fourth: Islamic fundamentalism. We may, or may not, be about to be overwhelmed by tyrannical fanatics of some stripe or other. We will know when it happens. But in the meantime we would, I suspect, be better off going about our business, unscathed by millenarian (that may not actually be the word I'm looking for) predictions.
Where does that leave climate change? Whether it's from growing up on a farm, or for some other, random reason, climate change has been frightening the pants off of me since long before the papers got hold of it. In fact, I have for some time been hoping it would gain some traction in the mainstream media. Which it now has. Doomsday scenarios are there, in black and white, for those who choose to look for them. They aren't (yet) on the front page, but they're there. And now that they are, my in-built media bullshit detector has unexpectedly switched itself on. Theories of climate change, after all, are just that: theories. And while I am still 100 per cent prepared to take the word of scientists over the word of conservative politicians, vested interests and lobbyists any day, I have realised that it is important to acknowledge that we are staring at the unknown. The Communists never took over the world. We weren't obliterated (or haven't been yet, anyway) by nuclear destruction, or enslaved by aliens. (Yes, Australia did lose the Ashes. Some things do go as predicted.)
Here's the thing: in August 1959, Mollie Panter-Downes, writing in the New Yorker, wrote this:
The beautiful hot summer, which has gone back to the good old sun-baked pattern of the years before the atomic bomb was popularly supposed to have upset the weather, must rank as major news here in its cheerful effect on the national morale.
You might, if you were a sceptic, substitute the words "carbon consumption" for "atomic bomb", and speculate as to what might be written a few years from now. I still think, sadly, that you would be wrong, but the course of events runs according to no plan. None that we can see, anyway. (The other thought that comes out of that quote is: history tends to record what comes to pass, not what doesn't come to pass.)
Bonus question: are our computers going to pack it in again come 01-01-10?