Mankind has always seemed to be fascinated by promises of apocalypse and global catastrophe. Often they were based around religion. The Book of Revelations, for instance, foretold an array of disasters, such as wars, plagues and famines in punishment of man’s sins, But many civilisations had similar stories, from the Assyrians to the Hindus, and the Aztecs to the Vikings.
Early myths had concluded that the city of Rome would be destroyed in 634 BC. Prophesies of doom multiplied in the Middle Ages, often based upon the idea of
divine retribution for the sins of mankind. In the 1970s a new brand of prophecy emerged, not based on religion but instead on environmentalism. However, these claims shared the common denominator of the sins of man. Many supposed experts predicted dire famines, mass starvation, falling life expectancy, ozone holes, a new ice age and the end of civilisations. Stanford University biologist Dr Paul Ehrlich even predicted that everybody would disappear in a cloud of blue smoke before 1990.
We can look back now and laugh at these crackpots, but in those days, they were treated very seriously indeed. In more recent times, we have become used to ever-more frequent claims of impending doom, this time because of climate change. But are such claims any more credible than those earlier ones? This analysis looks at some of the history of climate alarm.