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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?

 
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Feb 13, 2014
"a potential global disaster that the general public saw coming, with at least a ten year warning"

Only three kinds come to mind that fit the description:
1 World Wars.
2 Doomsdays from non-scientific sources. I shall forego these.
3 Climate Change. I think this one is excluded by implication.

Only World Wars remain, of which we had two.

The second one was predicated by the first one. The third one was avoided by realizing this well in advance and headed off by the Marshall plan.
 
 
Apr 24, 2013
In all the examples you cite, efforts, sometimes extreme efforts, were made to slow or stop the negative events. That is what the AGW would like to see. Efforts made to slow or stop negative events.
 
 
+57 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 21, 2013
"a fully-validated and evidence-based model today."

I had to highlight this comment about AGW, because it so perfectly illustrates how people have been taught to avoid thinking. Some scientists who study forecasts have evaluated the predictions of climate models. They found a random walk performs better. They say there is "no scientific basis for forecasting climate."

"It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong. -- Richard P. Feynman"

AGW isn't just experimentally wrong, it's very bad, sloppy, subjective, biased science. Half the instrumental trend of the 20th is in adjustments, and the other half may be in UHI -- if the past keeps getting colder at this rate our grandparents will soon freeze to death. Peer review has been some horrible combination of inept and corrupt, as the recent Marcott debacle illustrated (along with Steig, Briffa, Mann etc before it).

I could go on but this is already TLDR. Suffice it to say, I challenge any reasonable, open-minded person to read WUWT daily for a month and then tell me if they're still confident AGW is a sound theory.
 
 
Apr 18, 2013
Drowlord: It's the mass number of weasels who constantly tell the villagers the boy is a fat slob who owns a jet, and scream at the top of their voices if anyone suggests we at least consider the possibility of a wolf being out there, what with sheep disappearing and all.

The weasels are better dressed than the boy and appear on network television with "journalists" who nod and say all claims are equally valid. Their story is reassuring even if the boy keeps pointing out gaping holes and the fact the weasels work for Global Friendly Puppy (formerly Ravenous Wolf Unlimited). And since it takes an effort to confirm the truth and act on it, most villagers stop listening and tend whatever sheep they have left.
 
 
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 17, 2013
@CliffClaven,

So, in your world view, it isn't the boy who cries wolf that's to blame? It's the villagers who quit listening?
 
 
Apr 17, 2013
Yes, there are some profiteers working the doom and gloom market. That does not mean there's nothing to worry about.

It's the sleazy optimists who are more likely to kill us all, whether denying climate change, pitching easy cure-alls (The free market will solve everything, because nobody would ever place momentary self-interest above the economic or literal health of their countrymen), or assuming God will step in to save Americans from any inconvenience.

Yes, we're often eager to delude ourselves. But cultivating denial has become a major industry, aggressively undermining hard science, mathematics and common sense to protect the clients' short term financial interests. The Tobacco Institute was a bunch of amateurs by comparison.

By the by -- It wasn't just improved oil extraction that bought us some time. It was improved fuel economy and other cost-driven innovations that reduced use. Imagine if we all still drove 12mph barges.
 
 
Apr 16, 2013
Hitler.
 
 
+30 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 16, 2013
Scott asked for examples of GLOBAL DISASTERS.

Strangely, few of the examples dragged up here are really in that category. Others deal with issues that some or even many suspected beforehand. That's not the same as the majority knowing enough to prepare for it, and doing that. Still others jump to conclusions about aspects of disastrous issues that MIGHT still go wrong.

Scott: I think your theory would be absolutely bullet proof if you changed the word "avoid" to "handle".

I agree with your thoughts that there is practically nothing mankind can't cope with as a society/species if we know enough to prepare for it, though we might not literally avoid it.
 
 
Apr 16, 2013
The predictions of doomsayers fail because they are marketing a product. And when you are in the business of marketing doom - you don't moderate the product by adding reason to the ingredient list. You need fire - vitriol - hyperbole - prophecy - catastrophic emanation. This is what sells doom. So it's a marketing problem. And in some cases you can sell more product by raising the price, which is why so many people are hardwired to think that they have to suffer to appease the gods. The Aztecs institutionalized human sacrifice for this reason alone: because doomsayers convinced an entire civilization that if someone didn't suffer, the sun wouldn't rise. This is probably in our DNA. And it's an example of why humans aren't rational.

A rational human does exactly what you have done and make a list of all the doom that didn't happen. One can go a step further and point out that the business of doom has been responsible for a great deal of suffering over the millenia.

I would make the same argument about another dangerous product - the antithesis of doom: utopia. Utopian visions have caused far more suffering than visions of doom. It is probably wise and rational to avoid extremes in anything - whether it is emotion, or predictions of the future and how to get there.
 
 
-24 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 16, 2013
Depends on the culture.
The US starting wars left and right, equipping henchmen and generally using killings as a normal policy tool, starting from the late 60's, it was pretty clear to most non-westerners that someday someone would find a way to bring the war home to the US.

And then 9/11 happened.

Next stop - being in the crosshairs of a nuke capable middle east country you have pissed off since they rid themselves of the shah you sponsored.

Maybe then your christian nation will stop doing to others things it doesn't want done to itself.
 
 
-49 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 16, 2013
Every actual 'Problem' on earth is caused by humans. The solution is to have the smartest and most benevolent of our kind be in charge. It would be fairly easy to implement... but getting everyone else on board would be more painful than a swift kick in the nuts, which is exactly what it would turn out to be.

Throughout all of history the pendulum of ideology has gone back and forth and yet, moves forward.

There is no 'natural' disaster that is or is going to happen that we humans can foresee to prevent, only accommodate.

We can't predict an earthquake, but we can accommodate for it by building buildings that can withstand the tremor.

While we do see a lot of asteroids, I don't think anyone saw the one that nailed Russia. If we did, could we have stopped it? I dunno, but we can accommodate for any future ones by building solutions now.

As for human perceived crises, it all comes down to ideology, lack of communication and anger.
As for man-made disasters, it's usually just bad engineering.

Is running out of oil a bad thing? One man's crisis is another man's opportunity.

Is a zombie apocalypse a bad thing? Only if you're a zombie I suppose. The rest of us don't have to worry about paying our mortgage and we get lots of target practice with no gun laws.

I would supposed the most dangerous and foreseeable crises is the collapse of the global economy. It seems quite fragile as it is and, apparently, those who run it don't seem to give a sh!t about it anyway. It seems like everyone who's directly involved like to beat the markets like a rented mule, while some unknown to me, responsible people keep it propped up. Probably just to take advantage of it later on.

While this might seem like a considerable crises, I for one wouldn't mind seeing it happen. It would give us a chance to start over... learn from the mistakes of corruption and greed and build a better system to grease our society with.

Every actual 'Problem' on earth is caused by humans. The solution is to have the smartest and most benevolent of our kind be in charge.

 
 
-92 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 16, 2013
I'm not really surprised by all the commenters throwing unwarranted suspicion on the established science of anthropogenic climate change - you find these people on the internet all the time. I am, however, shocked by all the up-votes those comments have gotten. I thought this audience was smarter than that. Seriously, the theory has been around for years, having gone from a simple hypothesis by the pioneering chemist Sventhe Arrhenius in the 19th century, to a fully-validated and evidence-based model today. The evidence has gotten so obvious that every single government and major corporation has been preparing mitigation strategies to deal with it. I hope Scott's right, and that the slow-moving nature of the disaster means we can avert it. I'm far less optimistic myself. But no one with a working brain should still be trying to deny it even exists.
 
 
Apr 16, 2013
The fall of the Galactic Empire was foretold by Hari Seldon several hundred years in advance, and publicly, too.
 
 
Apr 16, 2013
Partizanship paralyzing the American government. A growing polarization of Congress was one of the reasons why George Washington stepped down. It looks like that particular design flaw of the US Constitution did end up causing problems.

European settlement of North America. It worked out great for the settlers, but not so well for the Natives, who definitely knew it was happening for years, or decades depending on how far west we're talking about.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 16, 2013
Nuclear Power Plant disasters were predicted over ten years ago and have happened. Ironically I'm pro-nuke though. Go figure?
 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 15, 2013
There was the Black Death in the middle ages. The general public knew that an apocalyptic scourge that would wipe out 1/3 of the population was coming. I don't think they quite anticipated what happened next, however. (What science predicts, it can often solve. What faith predicts, on the other hand....)

When problems grow large enough that our interests converge - we solve them. The good news is that recent trends are towards greater convergence of interests - and more awareness of same.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 15, 2013
Charlie Sheen.

and what Phantom II said.
 
 
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 15, 2013
@boingball

...Ummm...none of the things you mention meet the criteria Scott mentions, ie, disasters the general public saw coming for years and years. I was there during the Reagan years and I can assure you that the folks I hung with held Reagan in very low esteem and blamed him for all sorts of things but we did not beleive that Hussein or the Afghan rebels would one day be Americas enemies.

And William Shirer in his book Rise and Fall of the Third Reich assures me that until Hitler publicly set his sights on Poland WWII looked preventable to the general public of the west and the German public themselves beleived it would be prevented right until September 1 1939. As he was there Im inclined to beleive him.
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
A few corrections:
- Malthus' overpoplulation wasn't prevented by farming technology - no improvement would have overcome exponential growth. Instead humans changes their growth rate.
- Social security is on the same path it has been on for decades - demographics will cause it to pay out more than it takes in. Maybe Obama's proposal to fix it will gain some traction...
- US debt is still growing faster than the economy, which is not sustainable. There is still more work to be done here.
- It looks like 2013 will be another drought year for California - 2012 wasn't much of a reprieve.
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
I wonder whether the general public is convinced that global warming is happening.
Also the media has no interest in just showing the facts for disasters. If they pick up on a disaster it will be sensationalized in order to increase hits. Which then makes it easy to say later it was not as bad as we thought it would be...


Some disasters:
1933 the Nazi's came to power in Germany. World War II 12 years later was not prevented.

The Reagan administration supported Islamic movements with billions of dollars in order to fight the evil Soviet empire. In 2001 9/11 happened.
There are a couple of other examples regarding the US empires foreign policies, like installing the Shah in Iran which lead to Khomeini. Then supporting Saddam Hussein to fight against the Ayatollahs which lead to Kuwait and the Iraq war.

And lol at the 'debt is shrinking'. Perhaps the increase of raising new debt on top of the existing debt is currently shrinking, but the last surplus in the US balance sheet was during the Internet bubble in the Clinton years.
 
 
 
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