Editor’s note: Marshall Brain – futurist, inventor, NCSU professor, writer and creator of “How Stuff Works” is a contributor to WRAL TechWire.  Brain takes a serious as well as entertaining look at a world of possibilities for Earth and the human race.  He’s also author of “The Doomsday Book: The Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Threats.” 

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RESEACH TRIANGLE PARK – Have you ever heard of Murphy’s Law? Since ChatGPT is my new friend, I asked ChatGPT to give us a quick intro:

“Murphy’s Law is a popular adage that states that ‘Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.’ It is often used to express the idea that things don’t always go as planned and that unexpected challenges and setbacks are a normal part of life. The origin of the term ‘Murphy’s Law’ is unclear, but it is widely believed to have originated in the United States during the mid-20th century. It is often attributed to Captain Edward A. Murphy Jr., an American engineer who worked on early air and space projects.”

What about the Peter Principle? It comes from the world of management. It says:

“In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence.” Dr. Laurence Peter is the person who thought of it. The idea is that a person who is good at their job gets promoted, and then promoted again. But eventually they get promoted into a position where they are bad or mediocre, so they stop getting promoted. The unfortunate side effect of this process, according to Dr. Peter, is that it can fill corporate hierarchies with people who are bad or mediocre at their jobs.

What about Occam’s Razor? Again, from ChatGPT:

“Occam’s Razor is a principle of scientific and philosophical reasoning that states that ‘Simpler explanations are more likely to be correct than complex ones.’ It is often expressed as the idea that, given two explanations for a phenomenon, the simpler one is more likely to be correct. The principle is named after 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham, who is credited with being its originator. The principle states that, in cases where multiple explanations for a phenomenon are available, the simplest explanation is preferred because it is less likely to be based on false assumptions or to contain logical flaws.”

I mention these three adages because today I would like to introduce a new adage to the world. I call it Brain’s Law, and it states: “Even when something must obviously happen, people often refuse to do it.”

We see Brain’s Law happening all the time, throughout human lives and human societies. Here is a simple example. Imagine a woman named Sally. Sally has started shooting heroin. We say to Sally, “Sally, you have to stop shooting heroin or it will ruin your life!” Despite our warnings, Sally continues to shoot heroin. Eventually, sure enough, Sally dies of a heroin overdose.

To recap: 1) It was completely obvious what needed to happen, but 2) Sally refused to do it, so 3) Sally died. This is Brain’s Law in action.

The problem is that Brain’s Law is epidemic when it comes to climate change. Humanity is actively destroying Planet Earth via the mechanism of Brain’s Law. The only way for humanity to save itself is to recognize that Brain’s Law is a huge problem. Then we must, as a species, overcome it. Let me give us four examples of the phenomenon and offer some solutions that might save the planet, or at least moderate some of the worst effects.

Example #1 – Humans must stop adding new carbon dioxide to the atmosphere

Humans must stop adding new carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. We all know it. At this point it is completely obvious to every thoughtful human being. But humanity refuses to stop.

We add new carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every time we burn fossil fuels like gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, natural gas, propane, coal, and so on. Example: One gallon of gasoline adds 20 pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere when we burn it in a car engine.

This is just like Sally’s situation. Humanity is currently addicted to fossil fuels. We must end the addiction, or we will destroy the planet. But we refuse to do it. Humanity is reaching all-time highs when it comes to the burning of fossil fuels.

Good intentions have failed. We have been talking about ending fossil fuels for decades, but we are still notching record highs for fossil fuel consumption each year. Therefore, we must take real action. We must end the addiction or our planet is doomed. Here are two possible ways for this to happen:

  1. We can start to eliminate fossil fuel consumption by rapidly creating sources of things like synthetic gasoline and synthetic natural gas. For example, natural gas is methane, or CH4. We can synthesize methane from hydrogen and carbon dioxide using a process called the Sabatier reaction or similar. We know how to do it. Humanity simply needs to invest the money to scale up production rapidly. In order to break Brain’s Law in this case, we must act immediately and dramatically. The developed nations of the world must gather, collect the $X trillion necessary to make it happen, and make it happen on the shortest timeline possible.
  2. In conjunction with #1, humanity could immediately add a $1.50 fee to the price of every gallon of gasoline sold everywhere on the planet. This money would be used to extract the 20 pounds of carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere when the gallon of gas burns. Apply the same kind of fees to diesel fuel, coal, etc. The nations of the world could gather and enact a global fee like this very easily. The fact that we have not done it already shows the effects of Brain’s Law.

See this video for information on how to make synthetic fuels: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8c_wfNm1RK0

Example #2 – Humans must stop burning down and cutting down the Rainforests

Humanity has already destroyed a good portion of the Amazon Rainforest. Humans cut down or burn down the trees to create farm fields or pastureland. The problem is that if we cut down enough trees, the rain will stop and the rainforest will die. When the rainforest dies, hundreds of gigatons of carbon dioxide get released into the atmosphere and several million species die. The whole rainforest will convert into grasslands or, in the worst-case-scenario, desert land. It will be a huge loss for Planet Earth.

Humanity must end the rapacious abuse of the planet’s rainforests. It is completely obvious that this must happen. But because of Brain’s Law, we refuse to do it. The solution is to remove human activity from the rainforests and let the rainforests regrow and heal. See this video for more info: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAZAKPUQMw0

Example #3 – Humanity needs to eliminate all the nuclear weapons on Planet Earth

Russia currently has nearly 6,000 nuclear warheads. The United States has about the same. And many other countries have their own stockpiles.

The problem is that it does not take very many nuclear warheads to blanket the planet in a dust cloud that brings on a long-term nuclear winter scenario, as seen in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haOgojZ1vq8

The difficulty that humanity faces today is that Russia has been actively threatening to use nuclear weapons if it does not get its way in Ukraine:

Russia threatens nuclear war if it loses in Ukraine

“A Kremlin insider warned Thursday that Russia could start a nuclear war if it lost its conventional war in Ukraine. Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s security council and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, made the threat in a post on the Telegram messaging app. ‘The loss by a nuclear power in a conventional war can provoke the outbreak of a nuclear war,’ Medvedev wrote in a post criticizing Western powers ahead of a Friday meeting in Germany to discuss further military support for Ukraine.”

Consider how dire the situation is for Planet Earth. One or two madmen in Russia have the power to destroy our entire planet. And this is the macro version of Ukraine. In the case of Ukraine, the decisions of one or two madmen in Russia can destroy an entire sovereign nation.

There are possible solutions to this demonstration of Brain’s Law. We could eliminate the nuclear arsenals. More likely, we could eliminate the madmen. Imagine a world where each nation is governed by sane, rational people. Difficult to imagine? Yes. Impossible? No. The reason it is not impossible is because we have seen a model for how the world could better manage this madmen problem in the case of Russia. Whenever a nation empowers madmen, the rest of the world could cut off that nation from the world community. Put the nation under maximum sanctions until sane, rational leaders are in place as judged by the rest of the global community. It is not a perfect system, but it would be better than nothing.

Example #4 – Humanity needs to eliminate Single Use Plastics

Perhaps the best example of Brain’s Law, and possibly the easiest to solve, involves single use plastics. You can immediately grasp the scale of the problem by watching this video: https://youtu.be/DZ32lSQjWU0?t=29

You only need to watch 60 seconds of this video to be overwhelmed by the utter stupidity at play. Each piece of plastic you see (out of the millions we see here) represents a human being carelessly littering an item of single use plastic. Plastic water bottles, plastic soda bottles, plastic bags, plastic utensils, and so on cause what we see in this video. This video represents an extreme example of the problem, but the same thing happens to varying degrees everywhere.

All of this plastic flows down streams to rivers, flows down rivers to the oceans, and then creates a gigantic plastic problem for marine life and marine habitats.

A global ban on single use plastics would go a long way toward slowing down this mess. It does not solve the problem because there is already so many megatons of plastic floating in the oceans. But it does stop the problem from getting worse.

Brain’s Law states: “Even when something must obviously happen, people often refuse to do it.” Obviously we need a global ban on single use plastics. Will humanity be able to break Brain’s Law and end the plastic scourge destroying the world’s oceans? Stay tuned and we will see.


  1. https://wraltechwire.com/2023/01/23/artificial-intelligence-tool-aichat-gpt-isnt-all-hype-here-are-ways-to-make-it-useful/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabatier_reaction
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8c_wfNm1RK0 – How are Synfuels (synthetic fuels) produced?
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAZAKPUQMw0 – The destruction of the Amazon, explained
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russia_and_weapons_of_mass_destruction
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haOgojZ1vq8 – Could Humanity Survive a Nuclear Winter?
  7. https://nypost.com/2023/01/19/russia-threatens-nuclear-war-if-it-loses-in-ukraine/
  8. https://youtu.be/DZ32lSQjWU0?t=30 – The Problem of Plastic Pollution in the Rio Motagua, Guatemala | Rivers | The Ocean Cleanup