Lev R.’s question answered at last; fate of humanity revealed

Almost two years ago, a reader named Lev R. won my Best Anthropicism Contest with the following gem:

why aren’t physicists too interested in computational complexity? because if they were, they’d be computer scientists.

As the champion, Lev won the right to ask any question and have me answer it on this blog. Here was Lev’s question:

I like your “Earth Day, Doomsday, and Chicken Little” post, but you dodged the big question. Will the world end (humans go extinct) anytime soon? Or do you think that despite our best efforts, we’ll somehow end up not destroying ourselves?

In general, I despise being asked to make predictions, even about infinitely less weighty topics — especially when there’s a chance of my being wrong, and people looking back Nelson-Muntz-like and saying “ha ha, Scott was wrong!” That’s one of only several reasons why I could never be a physicist.

An answerable question would be one that asked me to clear up a misconception, or render a moral judgment, or discuss the consequences of a given assumption. (Unanswerable: “When will we see useful quantum computers?” Answerable: “Didn’t that company in Vancouver already build one?”) Questions about relationships between complexity classes or other unsolved math problems are also fine. But as for the universe, how am I supposed to know what it’ll decide to do, among all the things it could do within reasonable bounds of physics and logic? How am I even supposed to have a prior? As a CS theorist, I’m trained to think not about what’s likely to happen, but about the very worst that could happen — within stated assumptions, of course. Among the practical consequences of this attitude, I never gamble and I never play the stock market (and not only because, while there are many things I want, almost none of them can be traded for money). I also don’t worry about being put out of a job by prediction markets. Where the Bayesian stops, and says “every question beyond these is trivial or meaningless,” that’s where I’m just getting started.

But despite everything I’ve said, after years of diligent research into the future of the human race — reading hundreds of trillions of books and articles about climate change, overpopulation, Peak Oil, nuclear proliferation, transhumanism, AI, and every other conceivably relevant topic (what do you think I was doing, writing CS papers?) — I am finally prepared, this somber April 1st, to answer Lev’s question with the seriousness it deserves. Obviously my predictions can only be probabilistic, and obviously I can’t give you the deep reasons behind them — those would take years to explain. I shall therefore present the human future, circa 2100, in the form of a pie chart.

55 Responses to “Lev R.’s question answered at last; fate of humanity revealed”

  1. elzi Says:

    that seems ridiculous.

    what is the chance that you will be alive to witness how it actually turns out?

  2. elzi Says:

    actually, some people genuinely believe its not too insignificant

  3. Blake Stacey Says:

    22%: genetic engineering allows radical life extension so that Scott A. is just entering spry middle age in 2100

    2.2%: advances in nanotechnology and the invention of Strong AI allow Scott to migrate his consciousness into an Ubuntu package and gain effective immortality.

    0.22%: same technological advances as the previous option, but instead, “Scott” is actually a persona constructed from the sum total of his blog posts and comments.

  4. roland Says:

    pie chart doesn’t load.

  5. Lev R Says:

    Thanks Scott! I was afraid this day would never come. But the pie chart made the wait worth it…

  6. Key Lime Says:

    Thanks Scott!
    Nothing could make discussion of an uncertain future more palatable than displaying it like my favorite dessert!

  7. Koray Says:

    That chart is bogus because it’s something like 346×362. Damn academics.

  8. milkshake Says:

    A forced return to pre-modern times, war and poverty is constant possibility – and I bet it won’t be a man-made disaster (we live within a thin mold layer growing on a crust of of a magma ball, surrounded by life-hostile processes)

  9. Osias Says:

    I can’t see how this is a Aprils fool. Maybe Scott WON’T do that this year.

    If so, congratulations!

  10. harrison Says:

    Hmm… I’d give your final possibility (“other”) a way bigger pie slice. How many people in 1908 could have predicted that the biggest threats facing humanity 100 years on would be (in no particular order) violent Islamic fundamentalists, environmental changes brought on by greenhouse gases, and the use of weapons that take advantage of non-Newtonian physics?

    I’m gonna go with “none,” here.

  11. John Sidles Says:

    Barrow and Tipler have a whole chapter in their book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle on this precise topic.

    The rough bottom line (if memory serves): we’re all dead in 10,000 years from global climatic instability.

  12. cody Says:

    how many of these lead to futurama?

  13. Jonathan Vos Post Says:

    Re: #10, harrison:

    “How many people in 1908 could have predicted that the biggest threats facing humanity 100 years on would be (in no particular order) violent Islamic fundamentalists… and the use of weapons that take advantage of non-Newtonian physics?”

    One did so a decade earlier than 1908, and one 6 years later.

    The Tragedy of the Korosko:
    “Written in 1898, Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tale of high adventure portrays an alarmist era of imperial sovereignty, invasive foreign policy, and religious extremism, positing the naivety of a group of Anglo-American holiday-makers against the unbending convictions of Middle Eastern banditti. Among others, a young American ingenue, her matronly aunt, a fusty old bachelor, a loving Irish couple, and an opinionated French graduate gather aboard the Korosko. But during a morning tour of the desert, they are taken hostage by a group whose intention it is either to convert them to Islam or to kill them. Conan Doyle brings his mastery of thrills and suspense to bear on this extraordinary tale of East meets West. Scottish-born writer and novelist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best remembered as the creator of the immortal detective Sherlock Holmes.”

    The World Set Free is a novel published in 1914 by H. G. Wells. It is not one of Wells’ better-remembered works, but is noteworthy for its depiction of fictional “atomic bombs” which eerily prefigure the development of real nuclear weapons.

  14. Scott Says:

    Cody: My study and research have only probabilistically revealed the future in 2100, not 3000. We know (from the first episode) that a whole lot will happen in the intervening 900 years, including two more-or-less identical alien invasions.

  15. Elad Says:

    Jonathan, if you put a million writers in front of typewriters, one will predict the future.

  16. John Sidles Says:

    A good example of successful future-prediction is the 1955 book The Fabulous Future: America in 1980 … the essay by John von Neumann Can We Survive Technology in particular is on-target.

    Si Ramo’s 1984 The development of systems engineering is also right on-target.

    So it appears that people who have both outstanding technical expertise *and* peprsonal experience in running large-scale complex enterprises are sometimes pretty good at foreseeing the future.

  17. Jonathan Vos Post Says:

    “No one can predict the future.”
    — Sir Arthur C. Clarke

    “If you are reasonably though not irrationally optimistic about the future you have a chance of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
    — Sir Arthur C. Clarke

    [thanks to John Sokol, former webmaster for Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who reminded me of these 2 quotations. There are 4 documents connecting me with Clarke, one co-edited book, one book co-authored by him for which I wrote the preface, and 2 technical items, but this is not the time nor place to detail these]

  18. Peter Shor Says:

    I expect that eliminating humans from the planet would be nearly as hard as eliminating rats or cockroaches. Civilization, on the other hand, is another matter.

  19. harrison Says:

    Jonathan: OK, I’ll grant the Wells. But the Korosko thing seems to be far closer to classic tales of “savages” (albeit with a Middle Eastern setting) than groups like al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. Plus, I still don’t think Conan Doyle would have foreseen their ability to launch terrorist attacks halfway across the globe…

  20. Gaius Baltar Says:

    “How many people in 1908 could have predicted that the biggest threats facing humanity 100 years on would be (in no particular order) violent Islamic fundamentalists…”

    Violent Islamic fundamentalists… a threat to humanity? Words have been spoken that betray a singular loss of perspective. The time will come when no-one will remember the “Prophets from the Middle East” series at all. Of course, others will take up the flame.

  21. cody Says:

    Jonathan Vos Post, its interesting, because i read your second Sir Arthur C. Clarke quote and really liked it. but then when i read Gaius Baltar’s comment, i wondered, why did he restrict it to optimism & the future? Gaius illustrated it applies to pessimism as well, so i guess maybe it should just be, “If you are reasonably though not irrationally speculative about the future…”. i think im more on the optimistic side, and so i didnt consider that when i first read the quote.

  22. Alex Says:

    That Scott thinks that the world will end up being ruled by sharia law or Harrison’s opinion (comment #10) that violent islamic fundamentalism is on of the biggest threats facing the world today is a testimony to how effective the Amercian government’s propaganda is, even on well educated and smart people.
    Come on? Do you guys really expect the majority of the worlds population to give their right to beer, porn and bikinis? and how many victims has al qaeda had compared to those of the U.S military or drug and gun related violence?

  23. Alex Says:

    I meant to say that Scott thinks that the world will end up being ruled by sharia law is even a remote possibility.

  24. harrison Says:

    Sure, drug and gun-related violence take more lives than Islamic extremists, I’d imagine. (Although I’d guess you live in America, and so it’s probably closer than you think.)

    But the former, unlike the latter, is fairly constant background noise; drug-related violence is far less likely to intensify enough to present a serious threat to international stability, while Islamic extremists already do, at least in the Middle East. I just took the three unequivocally bad scenarios from Scott’s chart that actually have a chance of happening within the next few years; and it happens that I agree with the list (and, I suppose, their ordering — although I’m pretty sure a nuclear war right now would have something to do with Islamic fundamentalism).

    And I’d bet that Scott’s opinion on the world being under sharia law (like his “transhumanist cyber-party”) is a little tongue-in-cheek.

  25. Alex Says:

    Actually, I live (or lived until recently) in an Arab country, and hence I have been a first hand witness of the destabilizing effects of fundamentalist islam. The point I am trying to make is that it will never have a major impact anywhere else besides the middle east and North Africa. And if the islamists ever do take over the middle east, then the resulting regime would implode under it’s own stupidity. They would be far an international threat or a return to the bipolarity of the cold war. China, North Korea and an increasingly belligerent and retrograde Russia represent in my opinion a far more real threat, but it’s not in the current administration’s interest to emphasize that (why bully a bunch of 18 year old’s when you can pick on the really obnoxious 10 year old).

  26. Jonathan Vos Post Says:

    WORLD COMES TO AN END:
    no more civilization, or people, or worse…

    Totally apocalyptic novels may have started as a subgenre of science
    fiction with “The Last Man”, by Cousin de Grainville (1805), the author
    being a rather a heretical priest. In terms of literally destroying the
    planet Earth, we may start with astronomer Camille Flammarion’s “Omega: The Last Days of the World” (1893). See this web page for an annotated list of book and films on the topic.

    More on Prediction (versus a millionh monkeys on typewriters) and Sir Arthur C. Clarke:

    Or Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s wacky inventions of the synchronous
    communications satellite and (first described in a humorous short
    story “Silence Please”, in his 1954 collection “Tales from the White
    Hart”, reprinted in 1970 by Harcourt, Brace & World Inc., New York).
    In it, Harry Purvis recounts the tale of the ill-fated “Fenton
    Silencer,” an anti-noise device that goes disastrously awry.)
    headphones reducing background sound by dynamic destructive
    interference.

    Then there was my humorous short story “Skiing the Methane Snows of
    Pluto” in Volume 1, Number 1 of Focus, the magazine of the British
    Science Fiction Association. In this story, I explicitly predicted —
    years before the Voyager spacecraft provided dramatic confirmation —
    volcanoes on Io, the tectonically active pizza-colored moon of
    Jupiter.”

  27. Michael Says:

    (In reply to Alex’s comment #24)
    I, also, have lived in an Arab country. I have lived in a central Asian Islamic country. I don’t think that you quite understand the topic you wrote about.

    If you believe that fundamental Islam has no chance of having a major impact anywhere besides the middle east and north Africa, you’re sadly mistaken. Take a look at the influence radical Islam has had on many European countries such as France, the U.K., the Netherlands, and Italy. Take a look at Indonesia and tell me that radical Islam only affects the middle east and north Africa.

    Just because you hate the current U.S. administration (so do we all), and just because you disagree with the reasons for war in Iraq, doesn’t mean that radical Islam is not a threat to peace.

    I will agree that Russia, China, and North Korea are the more *immediate* threat, but that does not mean we should ignore all others.

  28. Si Says:

    Why would Russia/China be a more *immediate* threat?

    With all the trade relations of Russia/China with the rest of the world it seems highly unlikely (save for unexpected events) that something really nasty will be coming from those two countries in the near future.

    I’ll agree that China would be a threat to the environment though, through the sheer size of its population and its explosive economic development, but I thought the topic was about the spread of violence and intolerance around the world.

    I think the major difference (of threat) between the communist ideal and fundamental islamist is that at least (these days) I don’t see anybody from China/Russia running to other parts of the world trying to convince people that a communism is the best way to run a country, whereas (fundamental) islam doctrine tells you to aggressively spread the religion…

    (Tis a bit off-topic but hey it’s past Apr 1st anyway ….)

  29. cody Says:

    i took a class called `cultural geography’ to fill a requirement, and the professor told us that american officials believed the ussr had an `expansionist policy’, and so to contain the threat of communism, we (america), tried to `spread democracy’ to all the countries surrounding them. he said the ussr saw us trying to persuade all their neighbors to be democracies, and that they viewed that as us having an expansionist policy, and us trying to surround them. so they did the same. im very ignorant when it comes to politics, reality, and the state/truth of the world, so i have a very simple interpretation that forcing beliefs onto other people, whether communist, democratic, islamic, extremist (of any sort), christian, whatever… it just seems wrong. and if anyone disagrees with me, well hey! damn them!

  30. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Alex,

    I hate to be the one to have to tell you, but most or all religions got big not by conversion, but by murdering everyone that didn’t join. Christians were no slouches; I read somewhere that about 1.0E6 were drowned in one day in Kiev for not joining up. Probably an exaggeration, but maybe still a record. Does anyone know the history of this event?

  31. William Says:

    Raoul,

    I am skeptical. Do you have a reference? According to this webpage, Christianity became the official religion of Kiev in 988, after the conversion of the Grand Duke Vladimir. The first page also states that Kiev achieved its “greatest period of ascendancy” more than a century later, with a population of 50,000. So 1E6 or even 1E5 seems a little out of proportion.

  32. Stas Says:

    Wikipedia mentions christianization of Kievan Rus’ “by fire” and “by the sword” only, but I heard about the drowning in Kiev too. The number can’t be that large, of course, I doubt the total population of medieval Rus’ ever reached a million.

  33. cody Says:

    well not if they kept killing everyone!

  34. Sean Pendragon Says:

    Michael said: “Just because you hate the current U.S. administration (so do we all) . . . .” I disagree. I think that the current administration has been successful in limiting the effect of Islamic terror.

    Raoul Ohio said: “I read somewhere that about 1.0E6 were drowned in one day in Kiev for not joining up.” Exactly where did you read this statement? I could say, “I read somewhere that the Amish sacrifice their first-born to the god of harvest.” Please give a more specific reference.

  35. Alex Says:

    @ Si and Raoul Ohio
    There is this myth circulating in the U.S and Europe that islamic fundamentalists are out to convert everyone in the world to islam and kill everyone who resists. This was never the case. Their main objective is, and has been since the beginning of the 20th century, to “reform” their own societies by returning them to a “purer” form of islam and defending their homelands from what they see as foreing, non muslim invaders. This was the objective of the Iranian revolution, and this is objective of Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah.
    That so many people belive the aforementioned myth is just more proof of the effectivenes of mainstream propaganda in the U.S and right wing propaganda in Europe. See my comment #22

  36. John Armstrong Says:

    John Sidles sez:

    The rough bottom line (if memory serves): we’re all dead in 10,000 years from global climatic instability.

    That can’t be right, ’cause Tipler is in the office behind me right now ranting to another of my colleagues that climate change is a sham.

  37. Jonathan Vos Post Says:

    Returning to Elad’s comment #15, inventor John Sokol emailed me the following. I’ve made a couple of spelling corrections.

    At least I am not considered one of the monkeys pounding on the typewriter. ;)

    10^6 (million monkeys with a million typewriters)
    10^6 (million years)

    10^7 (words per year)
    30(wpm) * 60 (min/hr)* 24(hr/day) * 365(days/yr) = 15,768,000
    but figure monkeys type slowly and only partial days so round to
    10,000,000 words per year.

    Although assuming monkeys can spell this is a net total of 10^19 words for million monkeys in front of a million typewriters for a million years.

    But this experiment has already begun. Because of a shortage of actual monkeys we are using humans with spell checkers. In an effort to accelerate the experiment have increased the number of monkeys, now humans, to 1 Billion in an attempt to reduce the number of years required.

    According to current figures we are proceeding at a rate of 10^13 words per year.

    Peter Norvig, the director of research at Google, made an educated guess that the Internet is a repository of more than 100 trillion words. http://digg.com/tech_news/A_100_Trillion_Words_On_The_Internet

    10^14 = 100 trillion words compiled in 10 years. so 10^13 words per year.

    Leaving us with almost the same 10^6 (million) years to go, so 10^9 humans are getting the same work done as our theoretical 10^6 monkeys.

    We are unsure as to the reasons for this discrepancy in results so far but it is suspected that Humans are far lazier then monkeys by about 1000 times. There are several contribution factors, many of these humans are not typing but instead obsessing with mating and porn, fight simulations, You Tube, and neopets and in general seem for more distracted then the monkeys we originally had planed to use.

    The researchers expects because of these same factors that at some point we will also begin to run short of humans for this experiment and would need to continue with synthetic humans, possibly constructed using metals and silicon (this research is currently proceeding) . We expect they would also perform far more efficiently, by some estimates allowing us to complete in as little as 10^2 years instead of the projected 10^6 years projected so far.

  38. Si Says:

    > Their main objective is, and has been since the beginning
    > of the 20th century, to “reform” their own societies by
    > returning them to a “purer” form of islam and defending
    > their homelands from what they see as foreing, non
    > muslim invaders. This was the objective of the Iranian
    > revolution, and this is objective of Al Qaeda, Hamas and
    > Hezbollah.

    Blowing things up on the other side of the globe counts too? It was probably a one off event, but still….

    I don’t live in the USA so I haven’t been subject to all that terrorist-fearing propaganda, but if what you say is true, then the guys behind 911 have painted themselves in a horrible light.

  39. Alex Says:

    @Si
    I don’t agree with their methods or their objectives. And yes they have very poor PR skills. They’re not, however, Timothy McVeigh or Unabomber type unprovoked psychos as the western media would have us believe. They are fighting for what they believe is a valid cause, and the U.S is in a large part responsible for some of their grievences, which is why they decided to “Blowing things up on the other side of the globe”.

  40. epwripi Says:

    I don’t think a real physical war between two countries whose citizens are powerful enough, is a good possibility in the future.
    With internet access and the ease of interaction and communication only expected to grow between the peoples of different nations, I think we’ll have a way more globalized world where – forget all out wars, but even the notion of a “country/nation” starts to become increasingly irrelevant.

    Another prediction – rather than the sharia law, I have an opposite prediction – I would say the status of *all* organized religion would be relegated to that of a cult like thing with very dwindling mainstream acceptance.

    For those of you who like analyzing the future, visit
    http://www.longbets.org/

  41. epwripi Says:

    Also, regarding extinction, etc. Peter Shor’s comment seems very apt.

  42. Michael Bacon Says:

    “They’re not, however, Timothy McVeigh or Unabomber type unprovoked psychos as the western media would have us believe.”

    Come on Alex, they’re probably not that different. McVeigh and the unabomber both ‘believed’ in what they were doing and thought of themselves as ‘provoked.’ But in some ways Islamic extremists are much worse — they have ‘god’ on their side.

  43. milkshake Says:

    First you need to have an ambitious and fairly bright middle-class young man who is angry, alienated and frustrated in his personal life before you can work on him with koranic verses – to chanel his anger and ambition against the enemies of the Umma, and to make him feel even more alienated and frustrated to the point that he would eagerly give up his life. And if he succeeds taking few infidels with him, his mommy will proudly display his martyr photo in their living room. Their family gets a great deal of respect from their neighbours and then a reward from a discreet donor…

  44. cody Says:

    milkshake, i agree with that. and so so instead of waging war, i propose that we just give them stuff. take the money we would blow on the war, and send them MTV and sports cars and CDs and burger king and all the other stuff that would prevent the majority of young male adults in america and europe from ever even considering blowing themselves up.

  45. Alex Says:

    @Michael Bacon
    You are probably right, McViegh and the Unabaomber also thougth they were provoked. On the other hand, you can hardly dismiss American intervention in the middle east as psychotics’ hallucinations.

  46. Michael Bacon Says:

    “On the other hand, you can hardly dismiss American intervention in the middle east as psychotics’ hallucinations.”

    Yes, there has been intervention, some of it bad. But what’s your point? We should understand where suicide bombers are coming from phsycologically?

    I’m sorry, but you can’t convince me that cultural phenomena that results in people taking there own lives and the lives of others in the belief that they will rewarded in heaven is anything other than a deep mental pathology.

    Islam (and Arab culture) isn’t the first set of beliefs that has lead to this type of crazy behavior on the fairly large scale — Christianity was pretty bloody back in the day.

    Still, in large measure it’s what we’re dealing with nowadays.

  47. milkshake Says:

    Sure it is crazy. And I did not propose we should give them something or try to redirect their energy, to make them whole so that they love us back. Militant Islam has taken advantage of frustrated serious young men before, infact thats where the word ‘assasin’ comes from.

    This was more like reflection on why suicide bombers are not that puritanical and devout in their personal lifes, why they come across like amateurish blunderers (dubious bomb-making, technical and organisational skills) and why they aren’t desperately poor either.

  48. Jonathan Vos Post Says:

    Although it is mildly diverting to discuss the matter in an ad hoc and qualitative way, I iterate that this is an important area of research, with much data (albeit a fair amount of it classified rather than purely academic) and there is a tip of the iceberg of peer reviewed quantitative academic discourse available.

    Applying more formal methods, here’s a paper. In a previous (denied) submission I merely gave the author and title. Let me try again with a hotlink to the paper itself, reformatted from a presentation made at NAACSOS (the North American Association for Computational Social and Organizational Sciences).

    “Disrupting Terrorist Networks–A Dynamic Fitness Landscape Approach”
    P. V. Fellman, J. P. Clemens, R. Wright, J. V. Post, M. Dadmun
    http://arxiv.org/pdf/0707.4036

  49. John Sidles Says:

    John Armstrong Says:

    That can’t be right, ’cause Tipler is in the office behind me right now ranting to another of my colleagues that climate change is a sham.

    LOL! Tell Tipler you really enjoyed his discussion of global warming in The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, in particular the discussion on p. 566-9 of Brandon Carter’s work:

    We have 4×10^4 years as [Brandon Carter’s estimate] of the length of time the biosphere will exist in the future. … But if the biosphere can only exist for a short time in the future, what can be the mechanism for its demise? … The earth’s atmosphere is finely balanced between runaway glaciation and runaway heating due to the greenhouse effect … which means it can be destabilized by relatively small perturbations, and either natural causes or human miscalculation could render the earth uninhabitable in the near future.

    Gosh, that’s even more pessimistic than Scott’s vision!

  50. Eric Baum Says:

    So Frank Tipler has come around to understanding that global warming is a sham. I’m sincerely curious, because
    I literally don’t know a single one, to know the name of a single physicist who’s looked into global warming enough to have a professional opinion, and who’s not on the global warming payroll– eg working on global warming with a government grant on the subject– who doesn’t think the global warming hysteria is at least 95% baloney. I know quite a number on the side of baloney, including myself.
    Some physicists I’ve asked have said, of course there must be something to it because the NY Times says so– but if you ask them any technical question they say– oh I don’t have any real opinion, I haven’t looked at it. Its not like its a hard field for a physicist to master. Can anybody
    out there name any physicists in the class of educated global warming believers, not on the payroll?

  51. Scott Says:

    Can anybody out there name any physicists in the class of educated global warming believers, not on the payroll?

    Eric, after less than a minute of googling, I found a call for action at the Kyoto summit signed by a large fraction of the world’s physics Nobelists at the time (Phil Anderson, Hans Bethe, James Cronin, Val Fitch, Donald Glaser, Sheldon Glashow, Antony Hewish, David Lee, Burton Richter, Charles Townes, Robert Wilson, …), and I found that Hawking is “very worried about global warming” and afraid that Earth might “end up like Venus.”

    But I’m sure all of them are just mouthing off without doing any investigation, if indeed they’re not in the pay of the global warming lobby?

  52. Eric Baum Says:

    Scott,

    thanks for pointing me at that. I’ll ask Phil Anderson next time I see him. You are certainly right that Hawking keeps yacking on the subject. I would be curious to ask any of them if they have indeed looked into it. I’d be prepared to bet few of them have, but you’d have to hope at least one of them has :^). I run into Phil occasionally, next time I’ll inquire.

    But I’d also point out, that the case for anthropogenic global warming has gotten radically worse since 1997 when that petition was promulgated. For one thing, according to all the major temperature indexes, the climate hasn’t warmed since then. In 1997, the temperature had been rising for 20 years or so, now it has been flat for 10. In fact, the IPCC’s 2001 predictions seem to have been empirically falsified, http://rankexploits.com/musings/2008/accounting-for-enso-cochrane-orcutt/
    Even the oceans seem to have slightly cooled from 2003-2008, according to the JPL robots, which are the best measurement of the ocean’s temperature yet performed.
    For another thing, in 1997, one naturally believed the ground based temperature series, which after all were maintained by government scientists. But now, we have http://www.surfacestations.org , and its obvious to anyone who looks that the ground based temperature series are at best highly problematic.

    For another thing, in 1997 the hockey stick graph was accepted as fact, and it was by far the most prominent piece of evidence for AGW. If the hockey stick graph were accurate, I’d be worried about global warming myself. But now, its been debunked.
    For another thing, in 1997 there weren’t good alternative theories, since then a number of theories have been developed and gained considerable support, both theoretical and empirical, eg look at the box at http://www.sciencebits.com/RealClimateSlurs
    for a summary of cosmic-ray climate connection case, all since 1998.
    I could go on, but the bottom line is, in 1997 the case for global warming was vastly better than it is now; and the hysteria was vastly less.

  53. James Says:

    But I’d also point out, that the case for anthropogenic global warming has gotten radically worse since 1997 when that petition was promulgated. For one thing, according to all the major temperature indexes, the climate hasn’t warmed since then.

    El Nino. You can only assert that the temperature hasn’t risen the last 10 years, if you pick exactly 1998 to start from, since 1998 was anomalously high.

    In 1997, the temperature had been rising for 20 years or so, now it has been flat for 10.

    The curve is only flat if you restrict yourself to the two endpoints. I’d call that something close to scientific dishonesty.

    1998 had the strongest El Nino of the century. We now have the same temperatures without any anomalies of this sort.

  54. John Sidles Says:

    Eric, I’ve mentioned it before, but a Google search for “von Neumann” and “Can we survive technology?” will lead you to von Neumann’s prescient 1955 analysis of the subject.

    Subsequent measurements and theoretical refinement have largely confirmed von Neumann’s early 1950s analysis.

    It is interesting that conservatives in the 1950s believed pretty much what Al Gore believes now.

    Without taking sides, it is clear that at least *one* of the sides became dumber … maybe both! :)

  55. Eric Baum Says:

    If you want to see the temperature trends, go to
    http://wattsupwiththat.wordpress.com/page/4/
    and pan down to
    To Tell the Truth: Will the Real Global Average Temperature Trend Please Rise? Part 3
    you can see graphs from the 4 major temp series.
    The smoothed average blue line smooths over both the 1998 spike and the current precipice, and this average line down the middle is flat since 1997 or so, depending which series you pick.

    More interesting is the pointer I gave to the falsification of the IPCC’s trend prediction.
    http://rankexploits.com/musings/2008/accounting-for-enso-cochrane-orcutt/ It integrates the data to arrive at a statistical assessment. It begins in 2001 when the IPCC prediction begins, and runs through the present, all the data available. The data series is short– but that is reflected in the large error bars on the trend that come from the statistical analysis. Nonetheless, the IPCC prediction is well outside them, falsified at the 95% level (and eyeballing the graph, probably at the 99% level as well). This indicates the predictive value of their GCM’s. The predictive value of their GCMs can hardly be such a surprise, since p 596 of the IPCC draft 4th report cautiously admitted they didn’t know whether their GCM’s had more data points or free parameters. The GCM’s are huge computer models attempting to deal with a chaotic system that admittedly leave various factors out. Nonetheless, the GCM’s are absolutely integral to their conclusions– without them one might reasonably expect some warming, since naive and straightforward models predict a small CO2 greenhouse effect, but there is no argument to expect warming greater than some tenths of a degree by 2100 and the argument the IPCC report gives that warming is anthropogenic also relies on believing the GCM’s. Its somewhat amusing to see an analysis that seems to falsify their models appear a few months after their Nobel Prize.