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Baum S.D.,Global Catastrophic Risk Institute | Handoh I.C.,Humanity
Ecological Economics | Year: 2014

Planetary boundaries (PBs) and global catastrophic risk (GCR) have emerged in recent years as important paradigms for understanding and addressing global threats to humanity and the environment. This article compares the PBs and GCR paradigms and integrates them into a unified PBs-GCR conceptual framework, which we call Boundary Risk for Humanity and Nature (BRIHN). PBs emphasizes global environmental threats, whereas GCR emphasizes threats to human civilization. Both paradigms rate their global threats as top priorities for humanity but lack precision on key aspects of the impacts of the threats. Our integrated BRIHN framework combines elements from both paradigms' treatments of uncertainty and impacts. The BRIHN framework offers PBs a means of handling human impacts and offers GCR a theoretically precise definition of global catastrophe. The BRIHN framework also offers a concise stage for telling a stylized version of the story of humanity and nature co-evolving from the distant past to the present to multiple possible futures. The BRIHN framework is illustrated using the case of disruptions to the global phosphorus biogeochemical cycle. © 2014 Elsevier B.V. Source


Denkenberger D.C.,Global Catastrophic Risk Institute | Pearce J.M.,Michigan Technological University
Futures | Year: 2015

Mass human starvation is currently likely if global agricultural production is dramatically reduced for several years following a global catastrophe, e.g. super volcanic eruption, asteroid or comet impact, nuclear winter, abrupt climate change, super weed, extirpating crop pathogen, super bacterium, or super crop pest. This study summarizes the severity and probabilities of such scenarios, and provides an order of magnitude technical analysis comparing caloric requirements of all humans for 5 years with conversion of existing vegetation and fossil fuels to edible food. Here we present mechanisms for global-scale conversion including natural gas-digesting bacteria, extracting food from leaves, and conversion of fiber by enzymes, mushroom or bacteria growth, or a two-step process involving partial decomposition of fiber by fungi and/or bacteria and feeding them to animals such as beetles, ruminants (cattle, sheep, etc.), rats and chickens. We perform an analysis to determine the ramp rates for each option and the results show that careful planning and global cooperation could maintain humanity and the bulk of biodiversity. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. Source


Baum S.D.,Global Catastrophic Risk Institute
Environment Systems and Decisions | Year: 2015

Risk and resilience are important paradigms for analyzing and guiding decisions about uncertain threats. Resilience has sometimes been favored for threats that are unknown, unquantifiable, systemic, and unlikely/catastrophic. This paper addresses the suitability of each paradigm for such threats, finding that they are comparably suitable. Threats are rarely completely unknown or unquantifiable; what limited information is typically available enables the use of both paradigms. Either paradigm can in practice mishandle systemic or unlikely/catastrophic threats, but this is inadequate implementation of the paradigms, not inadequacy of the paradigms themselves. Three examples are described: (a) Venice in the Black Death plague, (b) artificial intelligence (AI), and (c) extraterrestrials. The Venice example suggests effectiveness for each paradigm for certain unknown, unquantifiable, systemic, and unlikely/catastrophic threats. The AI and extraterrestrials examples suggest how increasing resilience may be less effective, and reducing threat probability may be more effective, for certain threats that are significantly unknown, unquantifiable, and unlikely/catastrophic. © 2015, Springer Science+Business Media New York. Source


Baum S.D.,Global Catastrophic Risk Institute
Physica Scripta | Year: 2014

Some emerging technologies promise to significantly improve the human condition, but come with a risk of failure so catastrophic that human civilization may not survive. This article discusses the great downside dilemma posed by the decision of whether or not to use these technologies. The dilemma is: use the technology, and risk the downside of catastrophic failure, or do not use the technology, and suffer through life without it. Historical precedents include the first nuclear weapon test and messaging to extraterrestrial intelligence. Contemporary examples include stratospheric geoengineering, a technology under development in response to global warming, and artificial general intelligence, a technology that could even take over the world. How the dilemma should be resolved depends on the details of each technology's downside risk and on what the human condition would otherwise be. Meanwhile, other technologies do not pose this dilemma, including sustainable design technologies, nuclear fusion power, and space colonization. Decisions on all of these technologies should be made with the long-term interests of human civilization in mind. This paper is part of a series of papers based on presentations at the Emerging Technologies and the Future of Humanity event held at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on 17 March 2014. © 2014 The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Source


Maher Jr. T.M.,Global Catastrophic Risk Institute | Maher Jr. T.M.,Bard College | Baum S.D.,Global Catastrophic Risk Institute
Sustainability (Switzerland) | Year: 2013

Global catastrophes, such as nuclear war, pandemics and ecological collapse threaten the sustainability of human civilization. To date, most work on global catastrophes has focused on preventing the catastrophes, neglecting what happens to any catastrophe survivors. To address this gap in the literature, this paper discusses adaptation to and recovery from global catastrophe. The paper begins by discussing the importance of global catastrophe adaptation and recovery, noting that successful adaptation/recovery could have value on even astronomical scales. The paper then discusses how the adaptation/recovery could proceed and makes connections to several lines of research. Research on resilience theory is considered in detail and used to develop a new method for analyzing the environmental and social stressors that global catastrophe survivors would face. This method can help identify options for increasing survivor resilience and promoting successful adaptation and recovery. A key point is that survivors may exist in small isolated communities disconnected from global trade and, thus, must be able to survive and rebuild on their own. Understanding the conditions facing isolated survivors can help promote successful adaptation and recovery. That said, the processes of global catastrophe adaptation and recovery are highly complex and uncertain; further research would be of great value. © 2013 by the authors. Source

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