Fact Checking: Adams Law of Slow-Moving Disasters

Fact Checking: Adams Law of Slow-Moving Disasters
April 15, 2013

Fact Checking: Adams Law of Slow-Moving Disasters

    I was watching Real Time with Bill Maher the other day. He had a professor on the show who said climate change can be fixed by making well-understood adjustments to how farmers raise cattle plus some other fairly ordinary changes. Apparently this is all explained in a documentary called Carbon Nation.

    I’m skeptical of any claim so big and contrarian, but it does fit with The Adams Law of Slow-Moving Disasters. Simply stated, my observation is that whenever humanity can see a slow-moving disaster coming, we find a way to avoid it. Let’s run through some examples:

    Thomas Malthus famously predicted that the world would run out of food as the population grew. Instead, humans improved their farming technology.

    When I was a kid, it was generally assumed that the world would be destroyed by a global nuclear war. The world has been close to nuclear disaster a few times, but so far we’ve avoided all-out nuclear war.

    The world was supposed to run out of oil by now, but instead we keep finding new ways to extract it from the ground. The United States has unexpectedly become a net provider of energy.

    The debt problem in the United States was supposed to destroy the economy. Instead, the deficit is shrinking, the stock market is surging, and the price of gold is plummeting.

    Social security was supposed to go broke. It might have some dents and scratches, but it looks as if it will be fine.

    Offshoring was supposed to suck the last bit of manufacturing DNA out of the United States. Instead, robotics and other market forces have caused the trend to reverse.

    Illegal immigrants from Mexico were supposed to overrun the United States with crime, steal American jobs and burden the social systems. Instead, the economy of Mexico started improving and immigration reversed.

    When I was a kid, it looked as if the country was heading for an eventual race war. Today that seems impossible unless angry white guys start shooting.

    In the seventies it looked as if crime was going to keep increasing forever until the suburbs were overrun by street gangs. Instead, violent crime has steadily decreased.

    On a smaller scale, the BP oil spill in the Gulf was supposed to destroy the Gulf ecosystem for the rest of our lives. And while the lasting damage was plenty bad, experts were generally surprised that it wasn’t far worse.

    The Y2K problem was supposed to break computers and plunge the planet into an agrarian society. Instead, programmers invented shortcuts for finding and fixing the bugs with time to spare.

    In California, predicted ongoing droughts were supposed decimate the state. Instead, it rained.

    Can anyone give me an example of a potential global disaster that the general public saw coming, with at least a ten year warning , and it actually happened as predicted?