In 1956, we thought we would be out of oil by 1980

1956_newReading almanacs can be enlighting. Surprinsgly, matters of today echo back to yesterday. Some concerns sprouted up in the past and are still worrying us now. “Will we still have oil in 2000?” This is the question that came up in a headline of the 1956 French Hachette Almanac.

In the 50s and the 60s, the environment was not a major concern. As today, man wanted to exploit resources. Man’s greed had no limit and after all, we probably thought there would always be plenty and more. Labeled as the golden age, the 50s era was filled with illusions, rock ‘n’ roll and unwavering faith in technological progress. Yet in 1956, oil stocks roughly came to 20 billion tons. Given the increasing consumption, stocks should be exhausted in less than 30 years, the article pointed.

According to the World Energy Resources Program of the US Geological Survey, it would take now less than 50 years to run out of oil. Of course, no one can really be sure of the remaining years and estimations vary from one organization to another. Besides, some factors have to be taken into account, such as coal by-products, recycling materials or unexploited reserves located in Alaska’s wildlife sanctuaries, for instance. Let us hope that nature will have the last word.

In 1956, the US knew that oil stocks were constantly decreasing and decided to import black gold from the Middle East. At that time, it was believed that oil resources would last for 12 years, no more. “In the best case scenario, we certainly have oil for over 30 years, maybe 40 … but probably not 50”, says the author.

Some believed that nuclear energy would be the ultimate solution. They thought that cars would be powered by uranium…


Global warming warning in the Fifties

“Is Earth warming up?” This is the surprising question that I came across, leafing through a 1956 almanac. The answer is even more startling. After all, back in those days, we were decades away from environmental concerns.

1956_0001Since meteorological facilities are installed on floating ice floes in the Arctic Ocean, Russians and Americans have recorded significant rising temperatures in the North Pole. The same phenomenon was observed in Antarctica. In the 50s, the Arctic ice caps had a retreat of 150 meters per year, while in Siberia, melting ice was revealing mammoth carcasses.

But that is not all. The average temperature of the city of Leningrad increased by 1° Celsius (33.8° F) between 1940 and 1954. And in the northernmost parts of Europe, birches and pine trees were spreading.

global-warming-1494965_640Scientists such as Charles Keeling and Roger Revelle had already studied the greenhouse effect in the late 50’s but their work had little impact and mostly lack of interest back then. The men were ahead of their times because it was not until the 90’s that governments start taking action and consider the need to embed the protection of the planet into sustainable economic development.

At that time though, it was still unclear whether this trend was a slow and steady one since the end of the Ice Age, or a sudden one. For a century, the average annual temperatures across the globe increased depending on the locations, from 1° to 4° C (33.8° to 39.2° F). “One day,” the author says in the almanac, “our temperate regions will be hot and dry. Population and civilization will move northward, causing a change in the global balance of power. Canada, Alaska, Russia, Siberia will be humanity’s new poles of attraction.”

polar-bear-1509103_1280Therefore, Russians and Americans will set new stations in Arctic areas, the journalist concludes. Since 1930, 5 million Russians have been colonizing the area. Northern Lights and the melting of the ice caps are to be studied in the years 1957 and 1958.

“One of the most surprising consequences of the melting of the ice caps will be the sea level rise of several dozen meters, and Paris will perhaps become a real seaport! …” Um .. Not really looking forward to this prediction.

In 1958, Frank Capra produced an educational film titled “The Unchained Goddess”. Amazingly it is clearly stated that global warming may be the next danger humanity will have to face. This statement gives you shivers up and down your spine: “Because with our present knowledge we have no idea what would happen. Even now, man may be unwittingly changing the world’s climate through the waste products of his civilization. Due to our release through factories and automobiles every year of more than six billion tons of carbon dioxide, which helps air absorb heat from the sun, our atmosphere seems to be getting warmer.”

Animals are reflections of our own humanity

sans-titre-numerisation-20-copierMahatma Gandhi said that the greatness of a civilization is measured by the way we treat animals. The quote is still topical, even if the images presented here, are from 1906 French magazine “Je Sais Tout”. Photos of Trump sons proudly showing off their trophy hunting in Africa to recent slaughterhouse scandals in France, respect for animal condition is far from being obvious in our societies.

In the early twentieth century, animal welfare sounded like a joke. While in the US, the caption goes in every movie (“no animal were harmed”), intensive livestock farming deprives cows, chicken or pigs of any consideration. We are so inconsistent. In 2015, animals are granted new legal status in France. French parliament admits that animals are “sentient beings”. Which is not so amazing when you think that animals can always be sold and exploited. Besides, it does not affect our traditions like bullfighting, hunting with hounds, ritual slaughter and so on. Of course, we have come a long way. In 1906, it was quite different.sans-titre-numerisation-15

The animal was just a thing. A thing without a soul, without sensitivity, even without that ability to feel pain. The captions are awful, proving that sometimes humanity is either ignorant either inhuman. The man is proudly posing between the carcass of an elephant and a baby elephant playing with the rifle. “The little elephant is considered as the most intelligent animal. However, the instinct did not warn it that the gun was used to kill its mother. sans-titre-numerisation-16He sniffs the head, not understanding.” The cynicism of the author of these lines was probably less important than his ignorance.

Meanwhile, in slaughterhouses, progresses were achieved to reduce animal sufferings. In Germany, cows were shot instead of being hammered. In a museum of the early twentieth century, visitors could see the body of a young Botokudine woman from Brazil. Captured in 1841, she arrived in London to be exhibited as a “freak“. She only survived a few months. Her body was kept in alcohol so she still could be exhibited. At the same time, the Bronx Zoo in New York was locking an African man in a monkey cage…

To love humanity, it is necessary to know how to regard, without offence, its weaknesses and its vices.” (Silvio Pellico, 1834) Indeed we must.