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:-
- Identify candidate issues for consideration
- Develop criteria
- Apply criteria to issues, and – ta da! – develop a ranked list
- Read: “Risk and Triage“
- Read: “Risk-based Sustainability Models”
- 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
- Species-level thinking is a trap that may allow us to gloss over the inequalities across groups, and the differences in values across cultures
- E.g. triple whammy: drought, land clearing, climate change – cultural loss for Aboriginal people
- 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.