Episode 4: Peter Piper picked a peck of … climate change solutions?!

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Full transcript available here. 


In this episode, Nick gives us a live reading* and we discuss all things risks.

This episode was recorded on 5 August 2019.

The Drawdown Project

  • Led by Paul Hawken, this project aimed to find ways to reverse climate change
  • Note the difference between mitigation (reduce the effects of something) and reversing (stopping the phenomenon and possibly undoing). Drawdown was looking at reversing climate change
  • A range of potential methods identified, and ranked according to particular criteria – in this case, emissions reductions and costs
  • Coming out in the top spot #1 was … refrigerant management?!
  • Drawdown prioritises solutions based on effectiveness, rather than ranking threats based on severity, and focuses exclusively on climate change
  • Read: “Risk and Triage in Reality: Drawdown – A case study in prioritization
  • Read: “Intro to Sustainability and Risk”


  • Triage is the idea that you should treat the most severe problem first – this is what they do at emergency rooms in hospitals
  • We lack a triage-based approach to sustainability
  • There are three steps to achieving this:-
    1. Identify candidate issues for consideration
    2. Develop criteria
    3. Apply criteria to issues, and – ta da! – develop a ranked list
  • Read: “Risk and Triage
  • Read: “Risk-based Sustainability Models”

Infinite risks

  • Working definition: “Global existential risk is a risk that threatens to either annihilate humans, or to drastically curtail our potential”
  • The Global Challenges Foundation presented a new definition of risk that includes a new category: infinite risk
  • Risk = Probability x Impact
  • The precautionary principle builds on this – it doesn’t matter if we don’t have full information about probability, if the impact is going to be big, we should act regardless
  • The impacts of some risks are essentially infinite – e.g. the Manhattan Project and nuclear bombs
  • Read: “Infinite Risk

Endurable and terminal Risks

  • Nick Bostrom popularised a way of assessing risk, based on two variables: scale and severity
    • Onto these two factors, we can superimpose probability
  • An endurable risk ties into the idea of resilience – in spite of loss, the human species can still survive
  • A terminal risk is one that irreversibly annihilates the species, or greatly curtails its potential
    • However, a seemingly endurable risk may actually be terminal, depending on what is lost (e.g. loss of reproductive capacity)
  • According to Bostrom, existential risks are global in scale and terminal in impact, regardless of probability
  • Read: “Defining Risk”

The Grass Ceiling

  • The overwhelming majority of conversations we have about existential risk are about climate change
  • As mentioned by Will Steffen (upcoming TGC interview, stay tuned!), if we continue as we are now, we could see the global population shrinking to around one billion
    • Climate change is definitely severe, but is it endurable? Depends on your definition of survival
  • The line between terminal and endurable risk is not entirely clear, and it’s ultimately based on what the person who determines those definitions thinks is “worth” keeping or losing
  • Read: “Risks and ‘Blind Spots’: The Grass Ceiling’s Role in Creating ‘Blind Spots'”


  • In a risk-conscious society, a siege mentality may develop, so what’s important is channeling efforts to turning challenges into opportunities
  • “Risk for who?” is an important question to ask
  • Annihilation doesn’t necessarily have to be about the absolute number of lives lost, and with it, there are many ways endurable and terminal risks – and survival – can be defined
  • What if we uploaded our brains to computers and our bodies disintegrated? Is that still considered “survival” of the human race?
    • This comes down to the bigger philosophical question: what is humanity?
  • Read: “Risk and Survival”

*Although it is mentioned in the episode that this is a reading of one article, this content has been published as a number of separate pieces, all here on our website. Links have been included where relevant.


One thought on “Episode 4: Peter Piper picked a peck of … climate change solutions?!

  1. Pingback: Podcast Ep4: Transcript – The Grass Ceiling

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