UCL Department of Geography


John Adams

It is with deep sorrow that we announce the passing of John Adams, our esteemed Emeritus Professor, who left us at the age of 85.

A Legacy of Environmental Advocacy

John was a founding member of the original Board of Directors of Friends of the Earth in the early 1970s and remained deeply involved in public debates about environmental issues throughout his life. His activism was marked by his participation in numerous public inquiries and parliamentary committees where he presented evidence on forecasting, traffic modelling, cost-benefit analysis, and risk assessment.

John's influential work extended beyond academia; he was a regular contributor to radio and television programmes and broadsheet newspapers, sharing his insights on transport and risk themes.

Pioneering Work in Risk Management

John's groundbreaking theories on risk management, particularly his concept of 'risk compensation' and the "risk thermostat," revolutionised the field. His 1995 book, Risk, remains a seminal work, providing critical insights into how individuals and societies perceive and manage risk.

Intrigued by Environmental Risk Attitudes

John was fascinated by the persistence of attitudes towards environmental risks. Reflecting on his decades-long involvement with Friends of the Earth, he noted how the same arguments, slogans, and insults continued to be exchanged in environmental debates. His work aimed to transform these often heated exchanges into more constructive dialogues, seeking a deeper understanding of the reasons behind these persistent attitudes.

A Life of Influence and Inspiration

John's career was not only marked by his academic achievements but also by his ability to engage and inspire others. He was a sought-after speaker, addressing diverse audiences from oil drillers to parliamentary committees. Even in retirement, his insights continued to influence public discourse on risk and transport issues.

Remembering John Adams

John is survived by his wife, Lynn, their children Laura and Tom, and his granddaughter, Molly. He leaves behind a rich legacy of intellectual contributions and a lifetime dedicated to environmental and risk management causes. His wisdom, humour, and dedication will be dearly missed by his family, friends, colleagues, and the many students he mentored.

John Adams, a "cheerful fatalist" who blended rigorous analysis with humour, will forever be remembered for his profound impact on the fields of geography, risk management, and environmental activism.

This memorial page is dedicated to celebrating the life and legacy of John Adams, an extraordinary scholar and a beloved member of our community.

Memories of John

Your Messages

Ray Harris, UCL Department of Geography

"It is very sad news that John Adams has passed away. He was a great friend and colleague in the Geography Department at UCL. He is well known for his work on risk and transport, including the famous stories of a London airport in Hyde Park, and the potential value of bad brakes and spikes in steering wheels for driver safety. They show John’s wit and humour while also indicating his relentless focus on core issues. I remember a story John once told me where he was introduced to a professor of medicine at a UCL social event. John was introduced as an expert on risk, but the medic thought he was being introduced as an expert on wrists so the medic spent the next 10 minutes talking about wrists and John, having realized the problem, had to bring him around to risk. This shows John’s self-deprecating sense of humour and his deep intelligence to understand context. He is greatly missed."

Professor Trevor Barnes, University of British Columbia

“I have so many reasons to be grateful to John... I learned an enormous amount from the generous application of his blue editorial pencil. That has stayed with me my whole professional life.”

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