Vaclav Smil: The (In)Accuracy of Long-Range Forecasting


I should really be grateful that I don’t need to continually build a case for Quantitative Complexity Management because many, more learned, individuals than me keep on doing it! However, the problems remain…WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR PEOPLE OF INFLUENCE TO STOP: MAKING ASSUMPTIONS IN AN ATTEMPT TO PREDICT THE FUTURE; TALKING ABOUT THE IMPACT OF INCREASING COMPLEXITY; IGNORING THE INTERDISCIPLINARY CASE FOR CHANGE; WASTING TIME WITH AGREEMENTS AND REGULATIONS TOO COMPLEX TO EFFECTIVELY MANAGE…AND EVERY OTHER SODDIN’ THING THAT RELATES TO BUILDING A MORE STABLE AND SUSTAINABLE ECONOMIC BASIS???

Vaclav Smil profile photo

Vaclav Smil offers some thoughts on the accuracy of long-range energy forecasting. Smil is truly a goldmine of thought. The excerpts below are taken from The Perils of Long-Range Energy Forecasting: Reflections on Looking Far Ahead.

On Complexity

Greater complexity that was required to make the forecasts more realistic also necessitated the introduction of longer chains of concatenated assumptions—and this necessity was defeating the very quest for greater realism…

On the Failure of Experts

What strikes me most when looking back is the extent of individual and collective failure. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the lack of imagination underlying this failure—or, conversely, of exaggerated expectations, and of often surprisingly swiftly disproved quantitative predictions—is that so many erroneous forecasts have come from eminent innovators or from individuals (or, more recently, from institutions) considered to be the leading experts in their field….
Perhaps the most precious example of failed national long-range energy forecasting—remembered fondly, I am sure, by all those who have been around energy matters for some time—is the goal of U.S. energy independence charted by the Nixon administration for the 1980s. Felix thought that the self-sufficiency can be realized by the year 1985, despite the fact that his forecast called for the consumption of some 3000 Mtoe in 1985. A reality check: in 1999 the USA imported more than a fifth of its total primary energy use, which was about 2400 Mtoe, and just over half of its demand for liquid fuels! Read more of this post