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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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Apr 15, 2013
The flip side of this argument is that people always over-hype the danger of incoming disasters
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
I would argue maybe the war on drugs (30 years in, inner cities are in shambles) and the health care situation which we've known was going to be bad for 15 years now (does anyone think this is going well?) are examples. Both cases I think there's research to support policies going in other directions but no political capability to do so.
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
@stevesk

I can see that you have trouble understanding what I was asking for in my comment so let me try again: are you from a place that was part of the Roman empire? If you are or have some other expertise in this matter, fine, I will accept your assertion that the Roman empire was a bad thing but please outline that expertise. If not then you and I will simply have to wait for someone who knows what hes talking about to set us straight.
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
Let me try to break this down a little. The 'disasters' you mention fall into three categories: I characterize these three categories as:

Absolute BS Sky-Is-Falling Crap (ABSSIFC)
These are still problems that you're pretending have gone away (TASPTYPHGA)
Your characterization might be correct but no disaster was predicted (YCMBCBNDWP)

Let's take the topics in the first category (ABSSIFC) first. They include:

Bill Maher
Anthropogenic Global Warming
Running out of food
BP Oil Spill
Y2K
California droughts

Here are those you mentioned that fall into the second category (TASPTYPHGA):

Global Nuclear War
Running out of oil
The National Debt and Deficit
Social Security (and Medicare) going bankrupt
Problems associated with illegal immigration

And finally, here's the third (YCMBCBNDWP):

Offshore manufacturing
Decrease in violent crime

Now, let's take a look at the items in the first category. What do they all have in common? Simple. Each of them is a manufactured crisis used to justify an increase in the power of government. As former Obama administration chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."

We're told these crises are SO severe and their effects will be SO catastrophic that we MUST allow government to step in and create regulations, increase taxes and borrow more money to pay for 'fixes' and if we DON'T then ALL HECK WILL BREAK LOOSE AND WE'LL ALL DIE!!!!

Whenever you hear a politician hawking a crisis, reach for your wallet.

Let's look at the second group of items; those you say were tempests in a bunch of teapots and everything is just coming up smiles and roses:

Global nuclear war: Sure, I'd say the chances are slim, but with wacko nutjobs like Kim Jong-Un and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prancing around, the odds are increasing, not decreasing. At least the prospect of nuclear weapons being used by rogue states is increasing.

Running out of oil: With the liberal wing of the Democrat party (read, 99% of all Democrats) dead set against fracking and oil delivery systems such as the Keystone Pipeline, coupled with enviro-wackos who want us to all ride bicycles and throw away automobiles, we are running out of oil. Or at least we're running out of access to oil products at reasonable prices. If you don't believe this, then ride your bicycle down to your local gas station and check out the price of gasoline.

National debt and deficit: What, Scott, have you been smoking? We are borrowing roughly 42 cents of every dollar we're spending. The national debt in just this year alone has increased by almost $500 billion. By 2020 it is estimated that the national debt will have risen to $20 trillion, and paying the interest on the national debt will cost us $700 billion a year, thereby becoming the single biggest budget line item. Every time the Republicans come up with a plan to at least slow down the rate of growth, the Democrats shoot it down. And you don't see that as a problem any more? And moreover you say the deficit is going DOWN??? You need to stop listening to Bill Maher.

Coupled with the above is Social Security (and Medicare) going bankrupt. You seem to think all is rosy in old folks' town? Let me wake you up.

According to the Social Security Trustee's report (they are the ones chartered with managing and reporting on the programs' status; they're not some bunch of pundits like Bill Maher blabbing), "Both Medicare and Social Security cannot sustain long-run program costs under currently scheduled financing, and legislative modifications are necessary to avoid disruptive consequences for beneficiaries and taxpayers."

Does that sound to you like everything's fine with those programs? If you'd like to see more of what the Trustees say, here's the URL: http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/TRSUM/index.html . Trust me (no pun intended). Both programs are near bankruptcy. Check it out.

Illegal immigration: estimates vary on the cost of illegal immigration. One study puts the number at $113 billion per year. But what absolutely isn't true is that the number of illegal immigrants, particularly those from Mexico, are decreasing. Ever since the "Gang of Eight" announced that effective amnesty was on the horizon, the number of illegals has skyrocketed. Estimates are that the number has risen in the past twelve months from 16 million to 20 million. Does that sound like illegal immigration is reversing?

Yes, violent crimes (particularly non gang-related) have decreased. But what's government's response? We need more gun control!!!

Yes, California's drought situation lessened, due to natural climatic cycles. But what do you hear now? That the crisis is over? No way.

Just a couple of days ago, a new 'study' came out saying that, due to global warming, that California's wine industry was going to be wiped out by the year 2050 because it would be too hot and too dry to grow grapes.

Now, notice how these enviro-wackos always put some really long-range date on their 'predictions,' and then present them as absolute facts, and tell us we're in a crisis? Even though this falls into the ABSSIFC category, I'll bet a lot of low-information people believe it as gospel.

Take a look back over the years at the track record of 'expert' predictions. It isn't, as Scott proposes, that we saw these 'crises' coming and took steps to prevent them. It's that those 'experts' determined what they wanted to believe was going to happen, and then presented it as carved-in-stone, immutable, unalterable fact, when it was no more than BS wrapped in a swath of academic doublespeak. When it didn't come to pass, they shouted to the rooftops that swift government action averted a crisis that didn't exist in the first place.

We do have some real problems. If we're going to solve them, there's two things we need to do: first, avoid ignoring the real ones. Second, avoid giving credence to the ones that are BS. Running around trying to solve nonexistent problems while ignoring the real ones is the real crisis that we all need to face.
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
@whtllnew
I see that you have yet to recover from your many years of formal education. Don't feel bad it usually takes many years of deprogramming to begin to grasp the truth, and even then many still chose to go along with the indoctrination of their youth.
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
I love your law of slow-moving disasters. However...

I think a bigger dynamic prevents your law from being tested properly. People who predict doom are generally very bad at it -- primarily given a public platform because news agencies like to sell doom and gloom. We have successfully averted what amounts to synthetic disasters because we get our information from businesses that do best when they're inflating an issue.

I'd say that we have an ecological crisis (assuming someone is inclined to care about such a thing) where over-population will lead to the extinction of most other animal life on the planet. As far as I can tell, extinction is -- and has been -- happening at an alarming rate. And whether or not the trend continues, we're unlikely to recover the species that have already been lost.
 
 
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 15, 2013
Like any fight, it's the one we don't see coming that will get us.
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
I agree with your assessment, but disagree with your conclusion.

Yes, many disasters that are forecast do/have not come to pass. However, rather than viewing this as evidence that mankind is adept at intervening, I believe the bigger driver is the human ability to draw attention to oneself by predicting disaster. From the ancient medicine man to the modern day Al Gore's of the world, it has long been a profitable endeavor to predict the end of the world, while holding out one's hand for a fee to prevent it.
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
@steveskf

[THe fall of Rome was only a disaster for Romans. For the rest of the civilized world, it was a brief break from enslavement.]

Really. The impression I got from my high school teacher was that most of the subject people kind of liked being part of the Roman empire, the Jews being a notable exception. But if anyone here from parts of the former Roman empire wants to contradict me Ill take their word for it.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 15, 2013
I can't think of an example of a disaster that did occur, but you could add the recent London Olympics to the list of avoided ones. Literally right up until the opening ceremony, the security went wrong, everyone was worried about terrorism, the venues were over-budget, the transport links were going to be paralysed, and a million over things. It was without doubt going to be a mess and the ultimate humiliation for Britain.

In the end it went pretty well, security worked, transport worked and it came in under budget in some areas too.

I imagine a lot of other Olympics and major sports events with long lead up times looked like a disaster right up until they weren't.
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
@kfdiceman
THe fall of Rome was only a disaster for Romans. For the rest of the civilized world, it was a brief break from enslavement.
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
The fall of Rome?
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
The fall of Rome?
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
Does the general public ever see anything coming before it hits them upside the head?
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
Hmmm, slow moving disasters that we should have seen coming and were warned about for years in advance eh?
1-99% of the acts of the US congress since world war II.
2-Creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913.
3-Going off the gold standard.
4-The governments policy of "quantitative easing" aka running the cash printing presses day and night, or as they do now, using computers to add a bunch of ones and zero's to the federal reserve bank's accounts.
OOOPS!!! Sorry, I see ya qualified your request with," disasters the general public saw coming".
Never mind.
 
 
+19 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 15, 2013
Whatever happened to killer bees?
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 15, 2013
Wow, seriously, the English translation of "cucarachas" is censored????
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
Glacier and polar ice has been melting away for well over 10 years, and at a rate far exceeding what was predicted.

http://www.worldviewofglobalwarming.org/pages/glaciers.html
 
 
+18 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 15, 2013
Well, of course, if there were world-destroying disasters we didn't prevent then we wouldn't be around to comment about them on cartoonist's blogs :P

So Scott will always be correct until he isn't, but at that point only the !$%*!$%*!$% will be around to go "neener neener"
 
 
Apr 15, 2013
@Batsinthebelfry

But did anybody see that disaster beforehand? i.e., while the slave trade was going on?
 
 
 
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