Thursday, March 18, 2010

The hysteria of warming

Climate politics driven by panic
Al Gore, Hollywood VIPs and deep-thinking intellectuals are scared we are cooking planet Earth. Their grim reports about global warming's cataclysmic effects (certain to occur anytime between later this afternoon and the middle of the 23rd century) are the latest in a string of disaster scenarios that make great movie themes. But in real life, such frenzied, Chicken Little predictions have posted a solid losing record.

Recent planet-boiling scenarios sound a lot like warnings tossed around during the Y2K hysteria. Remember that scene? The end of life as we knew it was going to occur at the cursed stroke of midnight, on New Year's Eve 1999.

People feared computers would stop functioning and the contents would evaporate. Electrical grids might melt. Bank records could be lost. During the days preceding that definitive disaster date, merchants gleefully sold computer back-up disks, copies of financial statements and gasoline generators. But after the Times Square clock struck 12, lights stayed on, computers functioned without a hitch and banks opened the next workday.
In 2005, the big disaster wasn't going to infect our computers; it was going to end our lives. This invisible threat would spread unnoticed, through the very air we breathe. World Health Organization scientists predicted hundreds of millions of deaths in an impending pandemic from a virulent strain of avian (bird) flu -- the H5N1 virus -- that could mutate so rapidly vaccines would be ineffective. United Nations experts directed governments to prepare for disruptions in sanitation, transportation and power delivery. Paper facemasks were big sellers at drug stores. Reporters liberally compared the unstoppable crisis to the 1918 pandemic that killed nearly 100 million people. In 2005, vaccines were prepared. Emergency management personnel expected the worst. But like Y2K, it was a false alarm. By February 2010, the WHO confirmed a grand total of 478 cases of H5N1, which caused a mere 286 deaths worldwide.
Anyone using a pharmacy this winter noticed large signs offering free swine flu (H1N1) inoculations. Last fall the U.S. government ordered 250 million doses of this hastily produced vaccine to combat the latest killer virus, and drug stores offered more checkout counter specials on paper facemasks. Like following an old script, H1N1 was compared to the 1918 influenza. The military was ready to quarantine sections of cities to contain the advancing plague, and it also developed plans for temporary morgues to deal with an overflow of dead bodies. Emergency personnel were set to react when transportation, sanitation, public services, food and power deliveries were disrupted. Sound familiar? Read more.

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