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Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.

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Punctured pessimists

England should no longer exist by now, according to Paul Ehrlich

Fox News has dug up some remarkable botched predictions about the environment. Most are familar but three were new to me:


2. "[By] 1995, the greenhouse effect would be desolating the heartlands of North America and Eurasia with horrific drought, causing crop failures and food riots…[By 1996] The Platte River of Nebraska would be dry, while a continent-wide black blizzard of prairie topsoil will stop traffic on interstates, strip paint from houses and shut down computers." Michael Oppenheimer, published in "Dead Heat," St. Martin's Press, 1990.


4. "Using computer models, researchers concluded that global warming would raise average annual temperatures nationwide two degrees by 2010." Associated Press, May 15, 1989.



7. "By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people ... If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000."Paul Ehrlich, Speech at British Institute For Biology, September 1971.

Amazingly, Ehrlich defends his prediction.

"When you predict the future, you get things wrong," Ehrlich admitted, but "how wrong is another question. I would have lost if I had had taken the bet. However, if you look closely at England, what can I tell you? They're having all kinds of problems, just like everybody else."

Here is a sample of our ``all sorts of problems' in Britain, compared with 1971:

GDP per capita has roughly doubled in real terms

child mortality is down by three-quarters

lifespan is up by eight years

obesity is a bigger problem than hunger

four times as many people go to university

people take seven times as many foreign holidays

twice as many people have a car

otters and ospreys are far more numerous

air pollution is much decreased

beaches and rivers are cleaner

the internet exists