Are Doomsday Scenarios Best Seen As Failed Predictions Or Political Detonators?

  • Date: 16/09/17
  • Tor H Aase, The Geographical Journal of Nepal

The so-called ‘Theory of Himalayan Environmental Degradation’ predicted an environmental collapse by the end of last millennium, threatening the life of millions of people. Fortunately, the all-encompassing crisis did not materialize.

The article shows that the ‘Theory’ failed to take into account the vast ecological variation in Himalaya and thus generalized its contentions to the whole mountain range on the basis of deficient data. But, on the other hand, what would have happened if the prediction had not been made? A doomsday scenario like the Theory of Himalayan Degradation can, from the perspective of positivist hypothesis testing, be viewed a posteriori as a failed prediction; but from another perspective it can be seen as an alarm clock that triggered a series of policy initiatives and new knowledge.

Introduction

From time to time, doomsday scenarios enter global academic and political discourses. The gloomy future that was intimated in The Limits to Growth created great havoc in the 1970s (Meadows et al., 1972). More recently, Huntington’s notion of the Clash of Civilisations (1993) activated a heated debate over the future of multiculturalism. A hallmark of such scenarios is that they rarely come true. The 1984 passed much more pleasantly than Huxley envisaged. But should we thereby dismiss them as useless, as failed predictions that the world would have made better without? This article looks at one such prediction. The ‘Theory of Himalayan Environmental Degradation’ predicted an environmental collapse in the world’s greatest mountains by the end of last millennium, threatening the life of millions of people. Fortunately, the all-encompassing crisis did not materialize. But what would have happened if the prediction had not been made? The article asks if doomsday scenarios like the Theory of Himalayan Degradation could be regarded as an alarm clock which sets academics and politicians in motion, rather than ridiculing them on hindsight as nothing more than failed predictions.

Full paper

 



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