COVID-19, Halley’s Comet and — climate change?

1918 Flu Pandemic (Library of Congress)

The modern state of Israel didn’t exist yet when in 1910 Haley’s Comet’s tail drifted closer to Earth than normal, so there’s no official Israeli account of the inane panic that swept the globe in that year. Hucksters could have been peddling their “comet pills” in the Levant too though, and it’s possible that some frazzled individuals, overcome with dread, took their own lives there as well amid a rash of suicides worldwide owing to the frenzy. Indeed, police in Oklahoma had to intervene to quash a plot to sacrifice a virgin in order to forestall the supposed impending calamity.

The Jewish nation was over a half century old on January 1, 2000 however. So the IDF and Israeli police have in fact recorded the hare-brained antics of Y2K prognosticators who insisted that, after so many failed fits and starts, the end-days were upon us—yet again. Israeli authorities actually set up a task force to guard against fringe-religious and other zealots attempting to engage in provocative attacks on holy sites so as to help the apocalypse along should it run out of steam on its own.

As embarrassing as both of those ridiculous chapters in recent history are, it’s germane to note that they occurred in modern times. Contemporary citizens of a sophisticated 21st century society are reluctant to admit that such ludicrous events aren’t constrained to ages long past, blanching at the idea that they’re somehow part and parcel of the urbane and sensible era at present.  And there’s no blunting the discomfiture by dismissing those incidents as outliers because, in fact, they are nothing of the sort. The entire last century has seen a non-stop series of fear-mongering episodes stamped into the record, to the shame of forward-looking Western civilization.

A death-spewing cometary tail was only the start of almost a dozen decades of apocalyptic hot air—mass global starvation that turned into an obesity crisis, fizzled population bombs, coming ices ages that never arrived, peak oil crises that never peaked. There were even a few ozone holes and Mayan calendar disasters thrown into the mix for good measure.

Almost nothing, however, measures up to the current, longest-running, most destructive end-days caprice.  The world at present has been served with shrill ten-year long climate change ultimatums issued in the most catastrophic terms, owing to nothing less than the very breath we and all living creatures exhale.  Indeed, the great shock is that the carbon dioxide supporting the food chain that nourishes every carbon-based lifeform should turn out to be now excoriated as “carbon pollution.” But perhaps not quite as shocking as the lack of the world’s self appraisal in brushing to the side that these “tipping points” have been delivered repeatedly, one after the next, expired deadlines reset, as if the previous bungled prognostication had never been broadcast much less shouted to the high heavens from one end of the planet to the other.

Climate catastrophism’s previous failed attempts to predict anything accurately have left a third of a century long record of awkward results. As early as 1989 the same United Nations that regularly rebukes Israel as a rogue state issued a “tipping point,” sternly demanding that the world immediately adopt its “global warming” dictates or else in ten years time “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by coastal flooding and crop failures.” This dire nonsense was published in thousands of newspapers across the world, run on the Associated Press’ wires, June 29, 1989.

It’s understandable that in past ages charismatic figures could delude medieval villagers to follow them to the mountaintop to await the end of the world.  But of all the unflattering foibles of humankind, the millennia-old end of times canard is certainly one of the oldest and least clever so it’s truly inexplicable that any modern human could still be falling victim in 2020.

The peril in all this is that obsessions with nebulous doomsday scenarios sap civilization’s concentration, interest, time, awareness and energy to prepare for those terrible onslaughts that must occur and will catch such a society off-guard. The current COVID-19 viral crisis causing real havoc in Israel and dozens of other countries is a salient reminder that one need not go to the trouble of inventing imaginary terrors since they abound on Earth and always will. And the deadliest are almost always the ones that few activists on any soapbox ever predicted.

Pill salesmen foresaw make-believe death and destruction spewing from the tail of a comet—and yet were blind to the real and terrible slaughter of World War I only four years later, and to the cataclysmic influenza pandemic at the close of that conflict, together sweeping away to their deaths close to 100 million people. Strident climate gurus also have foreseen great fatalities as they have waited patiently for decades for their “tipping points” to kick into gear. In the meanwhile, just as with the tablet peddlers from 1910, while they were busy attempting to harangue the world into giving the age-old apocalypse tradition one more try, the coronavirus epidemic slipped in right under everyone’s noses.

Such a lesson is more than relevant at this time and it’s truly a simple one. As the Jewish proverb has long advised, “Teach your tongue to say ‘I don’t know’ rather than making up something.” There’s no better time than now for climate scientists to rein in the hyperbole and get their discipline in order; their collective surrender to politics is dangerous.

About the Author
David Nabhan is a science and science fiction writer. He is the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three other books on seismic forecasting.
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