Good news, everyone. Wired is reporting that the world probably isn't going to end in December. The bad news is how the magazine makes that argument.
It's a clever article, this "Apocalypse Not," framing previous apocalyptic predictions about the end of the world in the context of the Four Horsemen. In lieu of famine, pestilence, war, and death, author Matt Ridley assesses the threats from chemicals, disease, people, and resources. He walks through each "horseman" in order, dispatching as best he can past theories about how they would contribute to the eradication of humanity.
In most of his examples, his point is made quickly and cleanly. There's a massive exception, however: climate change.
The fundamental problem is that Ridley's conceit makes it impossible to judge each argument entirely on its merits without hyperbole. He can't ignore climate change, given the subject of the article, but he also can't give climate change its due: He's forced to classify it as a non-apocalypse a priori and to thereby dismiss it. After all, (1) the entire article is premised on our previous errors in assessing threats, and (2) the standard to which everything is compared is the apocalypse. I mean, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 killed 3 percent of the world's population. But it wasn't an "Armageddon" in Ridley's formulation, an existential threat to Life As We Know It. Everything becomes an assessment on a binary scale, and one that proves his thesis before he begins: nothing before has destroyed the world; ergo, our current concerns won't either. If one had, of course, Ridley wouldn't be writing the article.
Proving that something isn't apocalyptic is not a high bar. But it leads Ridley to dismiss threats wholesale in order to defend his (easily defended) thesis.