It might seem a little foolish to attempt to predict the future, especially when you consider how often earlier predictions failed. For instance, the imminent depletion of our main fossil fuel reserves has often been proclaimed. Back in 1865 Stanley Jevons predicted that Britain’s coal reserves would run out within a few years. The U.S. government calculated in 1914 that there was enough oil left in the ground for just one more decade; subsequent forecasts in 1939 and again in 1951 predicted that the oil would be gone within 13 years. In the 1960s, optimism about the advent of nuclear energy was so high that it was actually argued that the available gas and oil should be consumed as quickly as possible because the advent of virtually cost-free nuclear energy would soon render them worthless. In 1972, the Club of Rome was forecasting that we had only enough oil for another 20 years. Peak oil—the moment at which consumption reaches its historic plateau—was called during the 2008 surge in oil prices, only for the prophets of doom to clam up when prices began to fall again. Nowadays, if you ask different energy experts how long our oil reserves will last, their projections will vary by a factor of at least three, and some will simply reply, “forever.” There are many more examples we could add. Predictions for future events fail time and again. The reason should be obvious when you consider major developments in our past. Small haphazard events can change the course of history. One spark of genius by a German mechanic changed the world of transport forever. A single decision by an Arab sheikh could bring our oil-based economy to its knees. Or a new battery technology could change our approach to transportation forever. Turning points like these can’t be foreseen. They depend on one person’s thought processes or on a stroke of experimental luck by a group of scientists. History can only be recounted in hindsight. That means futurologists have their work cut out for them: They can merely extrapolate from trends that are already visible.
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