Feeling peaky about the future?

Remember the y2k bug?  Every time we think we can predict the future, we should look back on the y2k bug. For every good thing we predict that hasn’t come true (cure for cancer, no child living in poverty, flying cars) there’s bad things that haven’t come true either (armageddon via nuclear war, swine flu pandemics, a Super Mario Bros: The Movie sequel).

When we think of change, we tend to extrapolate rapid change in one field, without looking at the ways things will change around it. And of course, the moment we are concerned enough to do extrapolation is generally the moment of the most rapid change…

As the freeman online explains, in the 1800s, the number of horses was a major issue in London. “Writing in the Times of London in 1894, one writer estimated that in 50 years every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure.”

Of course, this nightmarish forecast never emerged. Instead, the streets were buried in the rubble  of homes destroyed in the blitz.

Here’s a great quote from the Ladies Home Journal Article entitled What may happen in the next 100 years, dated 1900:

THere will be no C, X or Q in our everyday alphabet. They will be abandoned because unnecessary. Spelling by sound will have been adopted, first by the newspapers. English will be a language of condensed words, expressing condensed ideas and will be more extensively spoken than any other. Russian will be second.

Another example, from 1910:  Here we are heating our houses with radium, en l’an 2000. Note the radium is not sufficiently warm to quite allow one to discard one’s tie, jacket and waistcoat.

And this, from 1997: (!!)

The lack of an equivalent to the Dewey decimal system on the Internet is a different matter. While it is true that experienced Internet users can eventually find what they’re looking for… critics insist that it takes more expertise and time than Internet enthusiasts are willing to admit. This point of contention may eventually be answered by software developments that are still just blips on the horizon. But such a development, according to many experts, including both Internet boosters and doubters, is likely to have to await a formalized method for paying royalties to those who self-publish on the Internet.

Immediate future prediction FAIL.

+wistful lol@royalties…

(Thanks to paleofuture.com for these last three. It’s a sweet blog. Go check it out.)

Is peak oil the new y2k bug?  Something we’re fretting over cause we think our systems don’t have enough elasticity or redundancy to cope?

Peak oil is even more pernicious than the y2k bug, because it doesn’t have a single set-in-stone prove-false date.

And the problem with peak oil is really not the peak. it’s the presumed plunge down the other side. If we hit a plateau just after the peak then we really don’t have a problem.

Resource depletion has been seen so far with forests and fish. The tragedy of the commons probably won’t apply so fiercely to oil, because unlike fish it generally lies within national boundaries and is owned by someone, and unlike forests, it has high monetary value.

Alternative fuels are coming up. The venture capitalists are throwing their money at algae. Although they will most likely end up feeling as foolish as the guy who drew these:

Thoughts on peak oil? Preposterous predictions of the future? Share them below!

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

2 thoughts on “Feeling peaky about the future?”

  1. I reckon the Ladies Home Journal article is getting pretty close to txt/net-speak…. we’ll see how that goes in the next 20 years

    There’s been a couple of article in teh last few days saying that we’ve already past the peak of oil production based on the new International Energy Agency estimates. This one is an interview with the top IEA guy, saying that it’s running out twice as fast as previously thought:


    And this from a whistle-blower saying the IEA is grossly underestimating the problem to avoid panic buying:


    I say bring it on! Every cent that oil rises in price makes the alternatives that much more economical. The problem with that is that some of the alternatives, like the Alaskan shale oil reserves, are worse that oil itself….

    And, on the lighter side, here’s my favorite spurious-correlation graph of the moment, relating US oil production to the quality of rock music:



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