ALLFED 2020 Highlights

Mes­sage from David Denken­berger, ALLFED Direc­tor and Cofounder

Plan­ning for global dis­asters is one of those things we do be­cause some­one has to, but we hope to never ac­tu­ally ex­pe­rience such an event. Yet here we are, nearly a year into a global pan­demic.

Though we don’t cur­rently ex­pect the COVID-19 pan­demic to cause food short­ages on the scale that ALLFED stud­ies (we typ­i­cally study catas­trophic events that could lead to a global food short­age of 10% or greater), the pan­demic is sig­nifi­cantly ex­ac­er­bat­ing food in­se­cu­rity around the world, and the im­pact of the pan­demic was large enough to trig­ger a prepara­tory ALLFED re­sponse.

Early in the pan­demic, it be­came clear that the threat of dis­ease was only one fac­tor putting peo­ple at greater risk of death, and that the cas­cad­ing threats as­so­ci­ated with the pan­demic in com­bi­na­tion with other ex­ist­ing con­di­tions could dra­mat­i­cally in­crease food in­se­cu­rity. To ad­dress this, we pub­lished the re­port Cas­cad­ing Risks from COVID-19 to Food Sys­tems, which we dis­tributed to rele­vant or­ga­ni­za­tions and mem­bers of gov­ern­ments. Then, in part­ner­ship with the team be­hind the Coron­avirus Tech Hand­book, we launched the Food Sys­tems Hand­book, which is a global, col­lab­o­ra­tive effort to col­late nec­es­sary re­sources for gov­ern­ments and or­ga­ni­za­tions to en­able more data-driven re­sponses to food crises around the world.

Through­out the pan­demic, we fostered an on­line en­vi­ron­ment for doc­tors, en­g­ineers, re­searchers, and oth­ers in South Asian and East Afri­can coun­tries to provide them with the COVID-re­lated re­sources they needed. Th­ese efforts and more are de­tailed in the pan­demic sec­tion here. We have also com­mis­sioned a COVID-19 learn­ing re­view to more clearly and ob­jec­tively iden­tify where we ex­cel­led and what we could have done bet­ter (high­lighted in the les­sons learned sec­tion).

For­tu­nately, there has been a lot more to 2020 than just the pan­demic.

It has been ex­cit­ing to see ALLFED’s con­tinued growth this year. Re­search out­put has been in­creas­ing steadily. We sub­mit­ted or are about to sub­mit seven new core ALLFED jour­nal ar­ti­cles, in­clud­ing three NASA-funded pro­jects: hy­dro­gen-con­sum­ing microbes as a pro­tein source for use in catas­tro­phes and in space/​re­fuges, and chem­i­cal syn­the­sis of fats. Ad­di­tion­ally, we had eight peer-re­viewed jour­nal ar­ti­cles ac­cepted re­lated to COVID-19 and to gen­eral global catas­trophic risk (GCR), and we pro­duced three other pub­li­ca­tions and a roundtable. ALLFED’s work was also cov­ered in an ar­ti­cle in Busi­ness In­sider in Jan­uary, which was picked up by dozens of me­dia out­lets around the world and trans­lated into at least 15 lan­guages.

The ALLFED team is also grow­ing: it now spans 14 coun­tries and 4 con­ti­nents, and we were thrilled to wel­come Jaan Tal­linn as our newest board mem­ber. Our team now has more than 40 ac­tive paid and vol­un­teer mem­bers.

We learned a lot about work­ing in a crisis and made many good con­nec­tions with in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions in­clud­ing the United Na­tions’ World Food Pro­gramme and Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion, with lo­cal gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and with re­searchers and pro­fes­sion­als work­ing di­rectly on COVID-19 and food-in­se­cu­rity is­sues. We also ap­plied what we learned about our in­ter­nal re­sponses this year to de­velop ma­jor ALLFED re­sponse and re­silience pro­jects, in­clud­ing an anal­y­sis of ALLFED’s crit­i­cal func­tions, our first re­sponse plan, and a readi­ness frame­work.

We are grate­ful for grants and dona­tions from the Cen­tre for Effec­tive Altru­ism, the Sur­vival and Flour­ish­ing Fund, Jaan Tal­linn, and Josh You, as well as for many oth­ers, all of which have en­abled our ac­com­plish­ments this year.

With ad­di­tional fund­ing, we could ac­com­plish even more to­wards our mis­sion of feed­ing ev­ery­one no mat­ter what. I con­tinue to be­lieve that ALLFED’s work offers the high­est ex­pected value at the mar­gin for im­prov­ing the long-term fu­ture and sav­ing ex­pected lives in the pre­sent gen­er­a­tion. Thus, I have donated half my in­come to this effort for the past 5 years and will again par­ti­ci­pate in the Face­book Giv­ing Tues­day coun­ter­fac­tual match, an im­por­tant el­e­ment of our an­nual fundrais­ing (and a good way to po­ten­tially dou­ble the im­pact of one’s dona­tion).

I hope you will join me in try­ing to take ad­van­tage of the match­ing dona­tions first thing in the morn­ing on Tues­day, De­cem­ber 1, and that you will also con­sider sup­port­ing ALLFED.

Kind re­gards,

David Denkenberger

In­tro­duc­tion to ALLFED

The Alli­ance to Feed the Earth in Disasters (ALLFED) is a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to in­creas­ing the prob­a­bil­ity that if a global dis­aster or catas­tro­phe oc­curs, then sur­vivors will be able to con­sume suffi­cient nu­tri­ents to main­tain civ­i­liza­tion. We fo­cus pri­mar­ily on de­vel­op­ing al­ter­na­tive food solu­tions for var­i­ous catas­tro­phes, par­tic­u­larly those that could block the sun’s light, such as an as­ter­oid im­pact, a su­per­vol­canic erup­tion, or nu­clear win­ter. We also fo­cus on sce­nar­ios in­volv­ing the loss of elec­tric­ity, in­fras­truc­ture, or in­dus­try, which could be caused by an ex­treme so­lar storm, a nar­row ar­tifi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI) cy­ber­at­tack, or an ex­treme pan­demic. We are most con­cerned with the events listed in the graphic be­low, as well as the cas­cade of threats that any of these events could trig­ger (e.g., cli­mate change lead­ing to a mul­ti­ple bread­bas­ket failure, lead­ing to a re­fugee crisis, which then en­ables an even more dev­as­tat­ing pan­demic than COVID-19, and so on). While each of these catas­tro­phes might in­di­vi­d­u­ally have a low prob­a­bil­ity of oc­cur­rence, the odds that some type of global dis­aster or catas­tro­phe will oc­cur is much higher, and so we fo­cus on al­ter­na­tive foods that can help en­sure sur­vival through any of these events.

The above graphic shows the global food pro­duc­tion loss (bot­tom axis) that could re­sult from a global dis­aster or catas­tro­phe. ALLFED’s work fo­cuses on al­ter­na­tive foods that could help en­sure hu­man­ity’s sur­vival and the con­ti­nu­ity of civ­i­liza­tion through any of these events.

Learn more about our work at al­

COVID-19 pan­demic work

The ALLFED team have been for­tu­nate to be in a unique po­si­tion to study and as­sist with threats as­so­ci­ated with COVID-19.

Hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple face famine in the Mid­dle East and in Afri­can coun­tries, not only be­cause of the im­pacts of COVID-19 and es­pe­cially the lock­downs, but also be­cause of the lesser-known lo­cust swarms and other seem­ingly un­re­lated but con­tribut­ing fac­tors. Our COVID-19 work on famine, food in­se­cu­rity, and cas­cad­ing threats, de­tailed be­low, is on­go­ing, and we’ve fo­cused on work that both ad­dresses the threat of famine and builds knowl­edge on how ap­proaches to this threat can scale if an even greater catas­tro­phe strikes. Ac­cord­ingly, our work won’t just help peo­ple who are im­pacted to­day — these efforts will also help us be bet­ter pre­pared if ei­ther the con­se­quences of COVID-19 be­come worse or if an even greater catas­tro­phe oc­curs.

Cas­cad­ing Risks from COVID-19 to Food Systems

In March, Sahil Shah, Mike Hinge, and Aron Mill au­thored Cas­cad­ing Risks from COVID-19 to Food Sys­tems, a re­port that pro­vided valuable early warn­ing and anal­y­sis of mul­ti­ple threats in­clud­ing COVID-19, lo­cust swarms, and oth­ers. From the re­port’s in­tro­duc­tion,

“This re­port ex­plores some of the ex­ist­ing stres­sors caused and wors­ened by COVID-19 around the world, and demon­strates cur­rent and fu­ture path­ways to pro­tracted food in­se­cu­rity, un­less early ac­tions are taken. Along with the health im­pacts, COVID-19 has af­fected labour mar­kets, mi­gra­tion, trans­porta­tion, the food sup­ply chain, in­ter­na­tional trade and eco­nomic liveli­hoods. This briefing at­tempts to high­light risks that could in­crease food in­se­cu­rity and to provide po­ten­tial miti­ga­tion mea­sures.”

Sahil wrote about the find­ings of this re­port in an ar­ti­cle he coau­thored for the At­lantic Coun­cil, Earth Day 2020 call for ac­tion: Miti­gat­ing the global food crises as­so­ci­ated with COVID-19. We also pre­sented the re­port to mem­bers of the World Food Pro­gramme (WFP), multi­na­tional bod­ies, and to gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives from coun­tries with some of the most at-risk pop­u­la­tions. As a re­sult of this work, Sahil also joined the World Bank’s Famine Ac­tion Mechanism tech­ni­cal work­ing group, helping them pre­dict drivers of famine and how and where it might break out.

Our EA Fo­rum post on the re­port led to a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Newspeak House, the Coron­avirus Tech Hand­book’s cre­ators, on the de­vel­op­ment of the Food Sys­tems Hand­book.

The Food Sys­tems Handbook

In June, Aron, Sahil, and a set of vol­un­teers worked with over twenty ex­perts, from more than a dozen or­ga­ni­za­tions, over three days to build the Food Sys­tems Hand­book (FSH). The FSH aims to miti­gate and min­i­mize the threat of wide­spread famine in re­gions of Africa, the Mid­dle East, South Asia, and Latin Amer­ica aris­ing from COVID-19, lo­cust swarms, and pre-ex­ist­ing vuln­er­a­bil­ities, among other fac­tors. It was cre­ated to be the go-to re­source to find in­for­ma­tion to re­spond to food sys­tem shocks, by com­par­ing case stud­ies, les­sons learned, and best prac­tices from field and policy in­ter­ven­tions. We aim to help de­ci­sion mak­ers gen­er­ate more data-driven de­ci­sions by pro­vid­ing them the right in­for­ma­tion at the right time.

Thanks to these early con­trib­u­tors and oth­ers, the FSH’s Airtable has grown to in­clude over 400 links, re­ports, pa­pers, and re­sources. The com­mu­nity that’s grown around the FSH in­cludes dozens of NGOs (in­clud­ing Mer­cy­corp and OXFAM), gov­ern­ment groups (in­clud­ing DEFRA and USAID), the pri­vate sec­tor (in­clud­ing Bayer and Ca­lysta), and mul­ti­lat­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions (in­clud­ing the WFP and the Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion).

The hand­book re­ceived in­put from peo­ple around the world, was quickly put into use by ma­jor or­ga­ni­za­tions, and grew through­out the year as our un­der­stand­ing of loom­ing food threats im­proved. The UK’s Depart­ment for En­vi­ron­ment, Food & Ru­ral Af­fairs (DEFRA), the Chicago Coun­cil on Global Af­fairs, and other or­ga­ni­za­tions have com­mented on the hand­book’s use­ful­ness.

With risks to food sys­tems still play­ing out, es­pe­cially as a re­sult of cas­cad­ing threats, we con­tinued work on the Food Sys­tems Hand­book in Oc­to­ber. Sahil coau­thored a sec­ond ar­ti­cle with the At­lantic Coun­cil, Data gaps, siloed think­ing, the Global Food Cri­sis, and what we can do. Sahil and Aron held a se­ries of fol­low-up roundtable dis­cus­sions, cov­er­ing ar­eas such as data gaps in food sys­tems and siloed think­ing, and they pro­duced a re­port on the con­ver­sa­tions in mid Novem­ber.

COVID-19 out­reach in In­dia and East Afri­can countries

In March, Ray Tay­lor trav­el­led to In­dia due to con­cerns about the pos­si­ble num­ber of COVID-19 fatal­ities, and also be­cause of the coun­try’s large man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­ity. He con­sulted with gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tives re­gard­ing var­i­ous is­sues re­lated to COVID-19, with spe­cial fo­cus on res­pi­ra­tors, rub­ber tub­ing, and oxy­gen, and later fo­cused on in­door hu­mid­ifiers and cor­rect­ing micronu­tri­ent defi­cien­cies as a po­ten­tial cost-effec­tive sec­ondary pre­ven­tion mea­sure in the trop­i­cal Global South.

He and a small ALLFED team, in­clud­ing Aditya SK, con­nected with doc­tors, in­dus­trial man­u­fac­tur­ers, en­g­ineers, gov­ern­ment offi­cials, re­searchers, and oth­ers. The team built col­lab­o­ra­tive on­line re­sources, in­clud­ing What­sApp and Face­book groups, Google Docs and Sheets, and other on­line ma­te­rial to share in­for­ma­tion rele­vant to COVID-19 and to match ex­per­tise and re­sources with the peo­ple and ar­eas in need. They are also work­ing with lo­cal vol­un­teers to trans­late this in­for­ma­tion into some of In­dia’s key lan­guages.

Sahil led an effort in East Afri­can coun­tries re­gard­ing vi­tamin D for­tifi­ca­tion re­search, which mod­eled the eco­nomic and health­care im­pacts of for­tifi­ca­tion. This work was shared with East Afri­can gov­ern­ments and the V20 sec­re­tariat. We also pro­vided a COVID-re­lated liter­a­ture re­view to both the Kenyan and Tan­za­nian gov­ern­ments, and we con­nected the Tan­za­nian Ce­re­als and Pro­duce Board to sup­pli­ers of vi­tamin D for for­tifi­ca­tion. We were in­vited to the Kenyan gov­ern­ment’s tech­ni­cal work­ing group on micronu­tri­ents, within which we brought the Kenya Med­i­cal Re­search In­sti­tute (KEMRI), who are now ad­vo­cat­ing for vi­tamin D for­tifi­ca­tion in Kenya. Briefings were also pro­vided to the Tan­za­nian and Ethiopian gov­ern­ments, an­a­lyz­ing the im­pact of COVID-19, lo­cust swarms, floods, and droughts, as well as miti­ga­tion mea­sures they could take.

COVID-19 re­search and pub­li­ca­tions from Joshua Pearce’s team

Given that much of our reg­u­lar re­search looks at re­pur­pos­ing in­dus­trial ca­pa­bil­ities for pro­duc­tion of al­ter­na­tive foods, we were well-po­si­tioned to pivot early and fo­cus on al­ter­na­tives to ven­tila­tors to help hos­pi­tals in need. This work was pri­mar­ily led by Joshua Pearce through his Michi­gan Tech Open Sus­tain­abil­ity Tech­nol­ogy Lab (MOST). They also pub­lished seven new pan­demic-re­lated works and hosted a roundtable (be­low and on a ded­i­cated Ap­pro­pe­dia page).

Peer-re­viewed COVID-19 pub­li­ca­tions from MOST:

“To pre­pare for the next pan­demic, this study re­views the state-of-the-art of open hard­ware de­signs needed in a COVID-19-like pan­demic”: Distributed Man­u­fac­tur­ing of Open-Source Med­i­cal Hard­ware for Pandemics

“This study de­vel­ops a dis­tributed man­u­fac­tur­ing solu­tion us­ing only an open source man­u­fac­tur­ing tool chain”: Para­met­ric na­sopha­ryn­geal swab for sam­pling COVID-19 and other res­pi­ra­tory viruses: Open source de­sign, SLA 3-D print­ing and UV cur­ing system

“As a case study, open source face masks were 3-D printed in PEKK and shown not to warp upon widely home-ac­cessible oven-based ster­il­iza­tion”: Open source high-tem­per­a­ture RepRap for 3-D print­ing heat-ster­il­iz­able PPE and other applications

A sim­ple and easy-to-build portable au­to­mated bag valve mask (BVM) com­pres­sion sys­tem can serve dur­ing acute short­ages and sup­ply chain dis­rup­tions as a tem­po­rary emer­gency ven­tila­tor: Par­tially RepRa­pable au­to­mated open source bag valve mask-based ventilator

Other COVID-19 ac­tivi­ties from MOST:

On Ap­pro­pe­dia: MTU 3-D print­ing PPE

On Open­ Con­tribute to open source health­care pro­jects for COVID-19

On The Con­ver­sa­tion: As the coro­n­avirus in­ter­rupts global sup­ply chains, peo­ple have an al­ter­na­tive—make it at home

On the Wik­i­fac­tory’s Viral Re­sponse roundtable: How to au­dit and se­cure ac­cred­i­ta­tion for your Covid-19 product

Core research

Our core ALLFED re­search con­tinues to fo­cus on the al­ter­na­tive foods that could be scaled up most quickly, at the low­est cost. Our NASA-funded re­search on al­ter­na­tive foods for space mis­sions could also be rele­vant to ex­is­ten­tial risk: if we needed to re­pop­u­late the Earth, these al­ter­na­tive foods could be used in re­pop­u­la­tion re­fuges built on Mars, or un­der­ground or un­der­wa­ter on Earth. Through col­lab­o­ra­tions, we have also pro­duced a num­ber of pub­li­ca­tions rele­vant to global catas­trophic risk (GCR). (Affili­a­tions for each of the pub­li­ca­tions be­low are listed at the end of this post.)

Po­ten­tial of micro­bial pro­tein from hy­dro­gen for pre­vent­ing mass star­va­tion in catas­trophic scenarios

Juan B. Gar­cía MartínezA* , Joseph Eg­be­jim­baA,B, James ThroupA, Silvio Matas­saC , Joshua M. PearceA,D , David C. Denken­berg­erA,B

Sta­tus: published

Ab­stract: Hu­man civ­i­liza­tion’s food pro­duc­tion sys­tem is cur­rently un­pre­pared for catas­tro­phes that would re­duce global food pro­duc­tion by 10% or more, such as nu­clear win­ter, su­per­vol­canic erup­tions or as­ter­oid im­pacts. Alter­na­tive foods that do not re­quire much or any sun­light have been pro­posed as a more cost-effec­tive solu­tion than in­creas­ing food stock­piles, given the long du­ra­tion of many global catas­trophic risks (GCRs) that could ham­per con­ven­tional agri­cul­ture for 5 to 10 years.

Micro­bial food from sin­gle cell pro­tein (SCP) pro­duced via hy­dro­gen from both gasifi­ca­tion and elec­trol­y­sis is an­a­lyzed in this study as al­ter­na­tive food for the most se­vere food shock sce­nario: a sun-block­ing catas­tro­phe. Cap­i­tal costs, re­source re­quire­ments and ramp up rates are quan­tified to de­ter­mine its vi­a­bil­ity. Po­ten­tial bot­tle­necks to fast de­ploy­ment of the tech­nol­ogy are re­viewed.

The ramp up speed of food pro­duc­tion for 247 con­struc­tion of the fa­cil­ities over 6 years is es­ti­mated to be lower than other al­ter­na­tives (3-10% of the global pro­tein re­quire­ments could be fulfilled at end of first year), but the nu­tri­tional qual­ity of the micro­bial pro­tein is higher than for most other al­ter­na­tive foods for catas­tro­phes. Re­sults sug­gest that in­vest­ment in SCP ramp up should be limited to the pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity that is needed to fulfill only the min­i­mum recom­mended pro­tein re­quire­ments of hu­man­ity dur­ing the catas­tro­phe. Fur­ther re­search is needed into more un­cer­tain con­cerns such as trans­fer­abil­ity of la­bor and equip­ment pro­duc­tion. This could help re­duce the nega­tive im­pact of po­ten­tial food-re­lated GCRs.

Food in space from hy­dro­gen-ox­i­diz­ing bacteria

Kyle A. Al­varadoA,B*, J. B. Gar­cía MartínezA, Silvio Matas­saC, Joseph Eg­be­jim­baA,B, David C. Denken­berg­erA,B

Sta­tus: in revisions

Ab­stract: The cost of launch­ing food into space is very high. An al­ter­na­tive is to make food dur­ing mis­sions us­ing meth­ods such as ar­tifi­cial light pho­to­syn­the­sis, green­house, non­biolog­i­cal syn­the­sis of food, elec­tric bac­te­ria, and hy­dro­gen ox­i­diz­ing bac­te­ria (HOB). This study com­pares prepack­aged food, ar­tifi­cial light microal­gae, and HOB. The dom­i­nant fac­tor for each al­ter­na­tive is its rel­a­tive mass due to high fuel cost needed to launch a pay­load into space. Thus, al­ter­na­tives were eval­u­ated us­ing an equiv­a­lent sys­tem mass (ESM) tech­nique de­vel­oped by the Na­tional Aero­nau­tics and Space Ad­minis­tra­tion. Three dis­tinct mis­sions with a crew of 5 for a du­ra­tion of 3 years were an­a­lyzed; in­clud­ing the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion (ISS), the Moon, and Mars. The com­po­nents of ESM con­sid­ered were ap­par­ent mass, heat re­jec­tion, power, and pres­sur­ized vol­ume. The se­lected power source for all sys­tems was nu­clear power. Elec­tric­ity to bio­mass effi­cien­cies were calcu­lated for space to be 18% and 4.0% for HOB and microal­gae, re­spec­tively. This study in­di­cates that grow­ing HOB is the least ex­pen­sive al­ter­na­tive. The ESM of the HOB is on av­er­age a fac­tor of 2.8 and 5.5 less than prepack­aged food and microal­gae, re­spec­tively. This al­ter­na­tive food study also re­lates to feed­ing Earth dur­ing a global agri­cul­tural catas­tro­phe. Benefits of HOB in­clude re­cy­cling wastes in­clud­ing CO2 and pro­duc­ing O2. Prac­ti­cal sys­tems would in­volve a va­ri­ety of food sources.

Methane Sin­gle Cell Protein: se­cur­ing pro­tein sup­ply dur­ing global food catastrophes

Juan B. Gar­cía MartínezA* , Joshua M. PearceA,D,E , Ja­cob Cates, David C. Denken­berg­erA,B

Sta­tus: submitted

Ab­stract: A catas­tro­phe such as su­per­vol­canic erup­tion, as­ter­oid im­pact or nu­clear win­ter could re­duce global food pro­duc­tion by 10% or more. Hu­man civ­i­liza­tion’s food pro­duc­tion sys­tem is un­pre­pared to re­spond to such an event, and cur­rent pre­pared­ness cen­ters around food stock­piles, an ex­ces­sively ex­pen­sive solu­tion given that a global catas­trophic risk (GCR) sce­nario could ham­per con­ven­tional agri­cul­ture for 5 to 10 years. In­stead, it is more cost-effec­tive to con­sider al­ter­na­tive food pro­duc­tion tech­niques re­quiring lit­tle to no sun­light.

This study analy­ses the po­ten­tial of sin­gle-cell pro­tein (SCP) pro­duced from methane (nat­u­ral gas) as an al­ter­na­tive food source in the case of a catas­tro­phe that con­sid­er­ably blocked sun­light, the most se­vere food shock sce­nario. To de­ter­mine its vi­a­bil­ity, the fol­low­ing are quan­tified: global pro­duc­tion po­ten­tial of methane SCP, cap­i­tal costs, ma­te­rial and en­ergy re­quire­ments, ramp-up rates and re­tail prices. In ad­di­tion, po­ten­tial bot­tle­necks to fast de­ploy­ment are con­sid­ered.

While pro­vid­ing a higher qual­ity of pro­tein than other al­ter­na­tives, the pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity would be slower to ramp up. Based on 247 con­struc­tion of fa­cil­ities, 7-11% of global pro­tein re­quire­ments could be fulfilled at the end of the first year. Re­sults sug­gest that in­vest­ment in pro­duc­tion ramp up should aim to meet no more than hu­man­ity’s min­i­mum pro­tein re­quire­ments. Uncer­tainty re­mains around the trans­fer­abil­ity of la­bor and equip­ment pro­duc­tion, among other key ar­eas. Re­search on these ques­tions could help re­duce the nega­tive im­pact of po­ten­tial food-re­lated GCRs.

Syn­thetic fat from petroleum as al­ter­na­tive food for global catastrophes

Juan B. Gar­cía MartínezA* , Kyle A. Al­varadoA,B, David C. Denken­berg­erA,B

Sta­tus: sub­mit­ted

Ab­stract: Hu­man civ­i­liza­tion’s food pro­duc­tion sys­tem is un­pre­pared for global catas­trophic risks (GCRs). Sun-block­ing catas­tro­phes such as su­per­vol­canic erup­tion, as­ter­oid/​comet im­pact or nu­clear win­ter could col­lapse the agri­cul­tural sys­tem. Re­spond­ing by pro­duc­ing al­ter­na­tive foods re­quiring lit­tle to no sun­light is more cost effec­tive than in­creas­ing food stock­piles, given the long du­ra­tion of these sce­nar­ios (5-10 years).

This pre­limi­nary as­sess­ment analy­ses the po­ten­tial of syn­thetic fat from petroleum as an al­ter­na­tive food source in the case of a sun-block­ing catas­tro­phe, the most se­vere food shock sce­nario. To this end, the fol­low­ing are roughly quan­tified: global pro­duc­tion po­ten­tial, cap­i­tal costs, ma­te­rial and en­ergy re­quire­ments, ramp-up rates and re­tail prices. Po­ten­tial re­source bot­tle­necks are con­sid­ered.

While pro­vid­ing a macronu­tri­ent largely ab­sent from other al­ter­na­tive foods, the pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity would be slower to ramp up com­pared to low-tech al­ter­na­tives. Based on 247 con­struc­tion of fa­cil­ities, 12-78% of global fat re­quire­ments could be fulfilled at the end of the first year and it would take 1-3 years to fully meet the re­quire­ments. Sig­nifi­cant un­cer­tainty re­mains on top­ics such as pro­duc­tion po­ten­tial, cap­i­tal and vari­able costs, food safety, trans­fer­abil­ity of la­bor and equip­ment pro­duc­tion. A path­way for fu­ture re­search is presented

Digi­tal Re­silience and Digi­tal Frag­ility: When The Machines Stop or the Case of Catas­trophic Elec­tric­ity Loss Events

Authors: Alexan­der Her­wixF , Ross Tie­manA, Mor­gan RiversA, Aron MillA, David Denken­berg­erA,B

Sta­tus: about to be submitted

Ab­stract: Cur­rently, we un­der­stand digi­tal re­silience as the ca­pac­ity to lev­er­age digi­tal sys­tems to in­crease so­cietal re­silience in the face of shocks such as large dis­asters. The vary­ing suc­cess of deal­ing with the re­cent COVID-19 pan­demic has vividly demon­strated the value of this form of re­silience. For in­stance, the Taiwanese re­sponse to COVID-19 has likely saved thou­sands of lifes so far, not least due to the effec­tive use of digi­tal sys­tems. How­ever, our un­der­stand­ing of digi­tal re­silience is still nascent and more work is re­quired to flesh out all of its as­sump­tions and im­pli­ca­tions. We con­tribute to this cause by play­ing the devil’s ad­vo­cate and ask­ing the ques­tion: What hap­pens when the ma­chines stop? More speci­fi­cally, we in­ves­ti­gate the like­li­hood and pos­si­ble effects of catas­trophic elec­tric­ity loss events (CELE) on crit­i­cal in­fras­truc­tures (e.g., in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy (ICT) sec­tor, en­ergy sec­tor, food sec­tor, etc.) that are in­creas­ingly re­li­ant on digi­tal sys­tems. We find that in such sce­nar­ios digi­tal sys­tems play a dual role as en­ablers of so­cietal re­silience as well as po­ten­tial sources of vuln­er­a­bil­ities that could re­in­force catas­trophic con­se­quences. We con­tribute to the the­o­ret­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of digi­tal re­silience by con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing this dual role of digi­tal sys­tems as two en­tan­gled per­spec­tives on the re­silience of so­cio-tech­ni­cal ecosys­tems: digi­tal re­silience and its flip­side digi­tal frag­ility. Based on this un­der­stand­ing, we delineate con­sid­er­a­tions for a re­search agenda on digi­tal re­silience that ac­knowl­edges the op­por­tu­ni­ties and risks in­tro­duced by the in­creas­ing digi­ti­za­tion of so­cieties.

Cur­rent pro­jects

ALLFED is en­gaged in a wide va­ri­ety of pro­jects to fur­ther ex­am­ine al­ter­na­tive foods, with the goal of adding new, cost-effec­tive foods to our cur­rent list of al­ter­na­tive food op­tions. We are also pur­su­ing more pro­jects to in­crease our un­der­stand­ing of elec­tric­ity or in­dus­try losses caused by catas­tro­phes, es­pe­cially re­gard­ing the im­pact of high-al­ti­tude elec­tro­mag­netic pulses (HEMPs) and large-scale so­lar storms. We do not ex­pect all of these pro­jects to be fi­nal­ized into pub­li­ca­tions, given that new in­for­ma­tion could ren­der some pro­jects to be less promis­ing or not to our com­par­a­tive ad­van­tage. We fre­quently re­view and repri­ori­tize re­search ques­tions to max­i­mize im­pact. We also rec­og­nize that some of the most im­pact­ful ac­tions we can take in­volve emer­gency out­reach, pre­pared­ness, and re­sponse plan­ning, and thus some of our cur­rent pro­jects ex­tend be­yond re­search.

Though these are pro­jects we’re cur­rently work­ing on, we could still use more fund­ing for many of them to en­sure we can see them through to com­ple­tion.

Cur­rent research

Alter­na­tive foods and GCR sur­vival re­search

Elec­tric-pow­ered bac­te­ria pro­duc­ing acetic acid (vine­gar) — We are do­ing two NASA-funded re­search pro­jects on this al­ter­na­tive food: for use in space or re­fuges, and for use in a global catas­tro­phe. A re­fuge con­tains a small pop­u­la­tion that could re­pop­u­late Earth if ev­ery­one else died, such as from mul­ti­ple en­g­ineered pan­demics. The re­fuge could be un­der­ground, in the ocean, on Mars, or in other lo­ca­tions that are in­de­pen­dent of the Earth’s sur­face.

Chem­i­cal syn­the­sis of sugar/​glyc­erol — Space/​re­fuge (NASA-funded). This pro­ject in­volves mak­ing food from CO2 and wa­ter with­out biolog­i­cal or­ganisms.

Cost and scaleup of low-cost, cold-tol­er­ant plants — This pro­ject fo­cuses on iden­ti­fy­ing food that could be trans­planted to grow in the trop­ics in the case of nu­clear win­ter or po­ten­tially other sun-block­ing events. In par­tic­u­lar, our re­search looks at sugar beets, bar­ley, and pota­toes.

Nutri­tion for hu­mans with in­ex­pen­sive al­ter­na­tive foods — We have calcu­lated that a mix­ture of al­ter­na­tive foods could meet nu­tri­tional needs, while not ex­ceed­ing nu­tri­ent limits as a re­sult of over­con­sump­tion of the same food. How­ever, the poor of the world will likely not be able to af­ford sig­nifi­cant amounts of the more ex­pen­sive al­ter­na­tive foods nec­es­sary for proper nu­tri­ent bal­ance. This pro­ject looks at the least ex­pen­sive al­ter­na­tive foods, in­clud­ing sea­weed, cel­lu­losic sugar, petroleum wax trans­formed into fat, food-pro­cess­ing resi­dues, nat­u­ral-gas sin­gle-cell pro­tein, sugar beets, bar­ley, pota­toes, and oth­ers.

Cost and scaleup of krill — We are in­ves­ti­gat­ing origi­nal Soviet doc­u­ments in­di­cat­ing that krill (small shrimp) might have been iden­ti­fied as a backup food source for nu­clear win­ter.

Tox­i­c­ity of leaf pro­tein con­cen­trate — We have taken a num­ber of sam­ples of com­mon agri­cul­tural resi­dues and tree leaves, with which we will de­velop a low-cost method of an­a­lyz­ing the tox­i­c­ity of leaf pro­tein con­cen­trate, ex­pand­ing on pre­vi­ous work.

Open-source leaf grinder — We have built a pro­to­type leaf grinder for leaf pro­tein con­cen­trate.

Agri­cul­tural resi­dues for ru­mi­nants — We are us­ing GIS to es­ti­mate the trans­porta­tion dis­tances re­quired to move resi­dues to ru­mi­nants af­ter a catas­tro­phe.

Loss of in­dus­try, elec­tric­ity, or other infrastructure

Trans­port­ing wa­ter with­out elec­tric­ity/​in­dus­try — The loss of elec­tric­ity/​in­dus­try is likely to be sud­den, so the pro­vi­sion of wa­ter within the first few days will be crit­i­cal. Be­cause re­lo­ca­tion of peo­ple would be dis­rup­tive and difficult, we are us­ing GIS anal­y­sis to es­ti­mate how far peo­ple could trans­port wa­ter back to their house­holds, such as with bi­cy­cles.

In­fras­truc­ture cor­ro­sion as a re­sult of los­ing in­dus­try — This pro­ject is a the­sis at the Na­tional Univer­sity of Sin­ga­pore, and we are in­ves­ti­gat­ing low-cost ways of pre­vent­ing the cor­ro­sion of in­fras­truc­ture in the event of a loss of in­dus­try, such that re­ac­ti­va­tion would be easy.

Agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion with­out elec­tric­ity/​in­dus­try — Pre­vi­ous work as­sumed agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tivity af­ter los­ing elec­tric­ity/​in­dus­try would be equal to the pro­duc­tivity be­fore the In­dus­trial Revolu­tion. We are look­ing into whether this es­ti­mate needs to be re­fined.

Pro­tect­ing in­fras­truc­ture in nu­clear win­ter — Water and sewer pipes would freeze in nu­clear win­ter. We are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the cost effec­tive­ness of solu­tions to pre­vent freez­ing, such as piling soil on top, ex­ca­vat­ing and in­stal­ling heaters, and run­ning hot wa­ter through the pipes. Thanks to the Open Philan­thropy funded nu­clear win­ter pro­ject for shar­ing cli­mate data for this pro­ject.

Global im­pact of so­lar storms — We are up­dat­ing our un­der­stand­ing of the im­pact on elec­tri­cal in­fras­truc­ture of ex­treme so­lar storms in or­der to bet­ter plan re­sponses.

Global im­pact of HEMPs — We are up­dat­ing our un­der­stand­ing of the im­pact that mul­ti­ple HEMPs could have on elec­tri­cal in­fras­truc­ture, in or­der to bet­ter plan re­sponses.

Speed of re­cov­er­ing elec­tric­ity/​in­dus­try af­ter HEMPs — Un­plugged elec­tron­ics and cars will gen­er­ally be spared dam­age from HEMPs. We are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether it would be fea­si­ble to use smart phones, tablets, or lap­tops to sub­sti­tute for dam­aged con­trol sys­tems on crit­i­cal in­fras­truc­ture such as wa­ter treat­ment plants. We are also in­ves­ti­gat­ing hy­brid cars as a source of backup power.

Other on­go­ing projects

Emer­gency outreach

A po­ten­tially high-im­pact area which could help im­prove sur­vival af­ter a global catas­tro­phe is that of large-scale emer­gency re­sponses to en­sure the global pub­lic re­ceives nec­es­sary sur­vival in­for­ma­tion. We have ex­panded our out­reach efforts to in­clude iden­ti­fy­ing pro­cesses for set­ting up sys­tems to no­tify peo­ple about ALLFED’s in­ter­ven­tions in the catas­tro­phe, es­pe­cially with re­spect to shar­ing in­for­ma­tion on search en­g­ines and so­cial me­dia, part­ner­ing with ex­ist­ing emer­gency re­sponse or­ga­ni­za­tions, and so on. In ad­di­tion to sig­nifi­cant re­search, we have also spo­ken with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Google Alerts team, the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­minis­tra­tion, and the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency to bet­ter un­der­stand cur­rent emer­gency re­sponse com­mu­ni­ca­tion plans.

Re­silience and re­sponse planning

A num­ber of re­silience and re­sponse pro­jects were already un­der­way when the pan­demic struck. COVID-19 pro­vided fur­ther im­pe­tus for us to fi­nal­ize some of our ear­lier pro­jects, and it also pro­vided use­ful learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties that gave rise to new pro­jects.

  • ALLFED built our first for­mal re­sponse plan to be ac­ti­vated for events that could trig­ger a mas­sive food pro­duc­tion short­fall, as well as for other no­table events or crises.

  • We pro­duced an ac­com­pa­ny­ing hand­out for all team mem­bers, so that ev­ery­one at ALLFED knows how to ac­ti­vate a re­sponse and, if needed, how to re­quest sup­port in the event that their safety is com­pro­mised.

  • We formed an ALLFED re­sponse team, which has un­der­gone ini­tial train­ing (with fur­ther train­ing sched­uled).

  • We de­vel­oped a broader ALLFED readi­ness frame­work to es­tab­lish the ba­sis for ALLFED’s over­all re­silience.

  • We have also iden­ti­fied key steps to main­tain in­ter­nal or­ga­ni­za­tional con­ti­nu­ity and other crit­i­cal func­tions in the event of a loss of key team mem­bers or other crises and emer­gen­cies.

We ex­pect these to be liv­ing doc­u­ments that will evolve as we learn more, and we ex­pect the ac­com­pa­ny­ing train­ing ses­sions to be­come reg­u­lar events.

We would like to thank our crisis and catas­tro­phe plan­ning con­sul­tant Gareth Jones for his lead on many of these pro­jects, and our Direc­tor of Oper­a­tions So­nia Cas­sidy for mak­ing them hap­pen.

Ad­di­tion­ally, we have had a num­ber of con­ver­sa­tions with other EAs and EA or­ga­ni­za­tions re­gard­ing the co­or­di­na­tion of an EA-based re­silience and re­sponse effort. If this is some­thing you are in­ter­ested in and/​or would like to dis­cuss, please reach out to us.

Fi­nan­cial Mechanisms

We are work­ing to en­courage gov­ern­ments to bet­ter fund plan­ning and pre­pared­ness, which can en­sure food se­cu­rity in the event of a global crop shock by in­creas­ing aware­ness of the like­li­hood and sever­ity of the im­pact of such sce­nar­ios.

This work would first re­quire holis­tic risk as­sess­ments, in­clud­ing as­sess­ing haz­ards, iden­ti­fy­ing con­nec­tions be­tween the haz­ard and its im­pact on var­i­ous food-re­lated out­comes, and de­ter­min­ing the to­tal ex­pected cost of such out­comes. Then we would cre­ate a fi­nan­cial product (e.g., a type of catas­tro­phe bond, a para­met­ric in­surance policy, or an ex­otic op­tion) that funds the plan­ning and pre­pared­ness to re­cover food sup­ply in a global catas­tro­phe. Fi­nally, we would work with the fi­nance in­dus­try ei­ther to cre­ate a new en­tity who would be able to sell the fi­nan­cial product, or to find an in­sti­tu­tion that could.

In the past year, we spoke to over 100 del­e­gates, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment ministers and ex­ec­u­tives from fi­nan­cial con­glomer­ates, about in­no­va­tive dis­aster-risk fi­nance prod­ucts for tail risks to food se­cu­rity. Ad­di­tion­ally, we are scop­ing a po­ten­tial “catas­tro­phe bond” for lo­cust swarms, which would ac­cel­er­ate re­cov­ery and con­trol from fu­ture lo­cust out­breaks, po­ten­tially pre­vent­ing mil­lions of peo­ple from fac­ing food in­se­cu­rity or even famine. In Ger­many, we met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the multi­na­tional chem­i­cal com­pa­nies BASF and Bayer to dis­cuss their po­ten­tial roles in pro­vid­ing the chem­i­cals that would be needed for this catas­tro­phe bond. We have been dis­cussing this con­cept with sev­eral East Afri­can gov­ern­ments, and with fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions that could pos­si­bly is­sue the bond.

We are cur­rently work­ing on a white pa­per to in­crease in­vest­ment into re­silience of food sys­tems to tail shocks, through mod­el­ing the eco­nomic im­pact of cli­mate-re­lated food shocks and the po­ten­tial im­pacts on the abil­ity for coun­tries to pay back their debt. We are work­ing with the Emerg­ing Mar­kets In­vestors Alli­ance and the think tank E3G to en­courage Sovereign Credit Rat­ings agen­cies to in­cor­po­rate food se­cu­rity risks into their method­ol­ogy.

We pur­sued work on fi­nan­cial mechanisms in sev­eral coun­tries. We worked with the Tan­za­nian Ce­real and Pro­duce Board and the WFP pro­cure­ment team to ex­plore the use of op­tions and fu­tures to re­duce WFP pro­cure­ment costs and to provide much needed liquidity for farm­ers. We are now scop­ing re­silience bonds for the South Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment to fund a pro­ject that would re­pur­pose pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ities to de­velop sin­gle-cell pro­teins for hu­man con­sump­tion in a catas­tro­phe. We are also look­ing at bonds for sea­weed and other types of aqua­cul­ture, fi­nan­cial mechanisms which could po­ten­tially be a part of Bangladesh’s Cli­mate Pros­per­ity Plan.

Pro­jects in need of funding

There’s always more re­search and work to do. Below are the pro­jects we’d take on with more fund­ing.

Re­sponse and re­silience af­ter loss of in­dus­try, elec­tric­ity, or other infrastructure

Build­ing heat­ing for los­ing elec­tric­ity/​in­dus­try — Be­cause the loss of elec­tric­ity/​in­dus­try is likely to be sud­den, keep­ing peo­ple warm is an ur­gent need. Op­tions we want to in­ves­ti­gate in­clude retrofitting ovens to burn wood for heat­ing.

Trans­port­ing fuel and food with­out elec­tric­ity/​in­dus­try — Ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tions in­di­cated a sig­nifi­cant ca­pac­ity for us­ing large ru­mi­nants to pull light-duty ve­hi­cles. Sub­se­quent anal­y­sis will use GIS to de­ter­mine the fea­si­bil­ity for this op­tion in lo­ca­tions across the globe.

Scal­ing up farm­ing tools with­out elec­tric­ity/​in­dus­try — There are suffi­cient num­bers of large mam­mals that can plow and har­vest Earth’s cur­rent cul­ti­vated area, and one farmer can feed ap­prox­i­mately 20 peo­ple with equip­ment pul­led by an­i­mals. How­ever, peo­ple would need to scale up this equip­ment very quickly af­ter the loss of elec­tric­ity/​in­dus­try.

Backup global short­wave ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tem for los­ing elec­tric­ity/​in­dus­try — Rapid com­mu­ni­ca­tion is crit­i­cal to main­tain­ing co­op­er­a­tion over large ar­eas. Small short­wave ra­dios can be used to com­mu­ni­cate across oceans and there­fore provide the most eco­nom­i­cal backup sys­tem. We plan to re­cruit vol­un­teers (such as news agen­cies), with hard­ware in­clud­ing un­plugged backup power, to be able to re­spond quickly to a loss of elec­tric­ity/​in­dus­try sce­nario.

In­te­grated anal­y­sis of global re­sponse to los­ing elec­tric­ity/​in­dus­try — This work would put to­gether anal­y­sis of how to meet wa­ter needs, heat­ing, trans­porta­tion, food, and other es­sen­tial ser­vices, while also tak­ing into ac­count the com­pet­ing de­mands of each.

In­ter­ven­tions for los­ing civ­i­liza­tion and co­op­er­a­tion from los­ing elec­tric­ity/​in­dus­try — An ex­treme catas­tro­phe could cause the loss of co­op­er­a­tion out­side groups of per­haps 100 peo­ple, and may mean a re­turn to hunt­ing and gath­er­ing globally. The last time the world was hunt­ing and gath­er­ing there were only a few mil­lion peo­ple to­tal, sug­gest­ing that a rea­son­able prior for this sce­nario would be that ~99.9% of peo­ple could die. How­ever, there may be in­ter­ven­tions to al­low the con­tinued use of farm­ing in this sce­nario, which would dra­mat­i­cally re­duce mor­tal­ity and make re­cov­ery of civ­i­liza­tion more likely.

Alter­na­tive foods research

In­te­grated anal­y­sis of global re­sponse to agri­cul­tural catas­tro­phes — This work would put to­gether anal­y­sis of differ­ent al­ter­na­tive foods, tak­ing into ac­count com­pet­ing de­mands for land, en­ergy, trans­porta­tion, and other re­sources.

In­ter­ven­tions for a sun-block­ing catas­tro­phe col­laps­ing civ­i­liza­tion and co­op­er­a­tion— The rea­son­able prior for this sce­nario could mean the loss of even more than 99.9% of the pop­u­la­tion. This would be due to los­ing co­op­er­a­tion out­side of groups greater than ~100, in ad­di­tion to the challenges of farm­ing or find­ing food in an ex­treme cli­mate sce­nario. Still, there may be in­ter­ven­tions we could do ahead of time to pro­duce small-scale al­ter­na­tive foods and main­tain farm­ing in the trop­ics (but with cold-tol­er­ant sea­weed and crops). Orderly mi­gra­tion may be pos­si­ble with ad­vanced plan­ning.

In­ter­ven­tions for a moist green­house effect (40°C global tem­per­a­ture rise) — Toby Ord es­ti­mated in the Precipice a one in a thou­sand prob­a­bil­ity of ex­is­ten­tial risk this cen­tury due to cli­mate change, largely due to lock­ing in a moist green­house effect. We would es­ti­mate the fea­si­bil­ity of main­tain­ing in­dus­trial civ­i­liza­tion (with even­tual coloniza­tion of space) in this sce­nario. The phys­i­cal space on Antarc­tica is ad­e­quate for in­dus­trial civ­i­liza­tion, but al­ter­na­tive foods pro­duced on other con­ti­nents would likely be re­quired, such as foods grown in air-con­di­tioned green­houses, sin­gle-cell pro­tein pow­ered by re­new­able hy­dro­gen, elec­trosyn­the­sized vine­gar, and foods cre­ated by chem­i­cal syn­the­sis. Though there would be sig­nifi­cant time to de­velop these solu­tions, the pri­mary value of this re­search would be the value of in­for­ma­tion on how much to pri­ori­tize cli­mate change as an ex­is­ten­tial risk.

Fa­cil­i­tat­ing the con­struc­tion of demon­stra­tion plants

We be­lieve it could be valuable to retrofit pa­per mills to pro­duce hu­man ed­ible sugar, which we have iden­ti­fied as an al­ter­na­tive food that could be pro­duced quickly and in­ex­pen­sively in a global catas­tro­phe. There are com­pa­nies com­mer­cial­iz­ing pur­pose-built fac­to­ries for turn­ing lig­no­cel­lu­losic bio­mass (a plant’s dry mat­ter) into sugar. But we think it would be valuable to fa­cil­i­tate a demon­stra­tion plant that ac­tu­ally retrofits a pa­per mill to pro­duce ed­ible sugar.

It could also be use­ful to trans­form petroleum wax into ed­ible fat, an­other al­ter­na­tive food which is ex­pected to be low cost. We would like to run an ex­per­i­ment demon­strat­ing this pro­cess, to op­ti­mize the fac­tory com­po­nents for large-scale pro­duc­tion, and, if promis­ing, to fa­cil­i­tate con­struc­tion of a pi­lot plant.

Other ac­tivi­ties and accomplishments

In ad­di­tion to our core fo­cus ar­eas high­lighted in this post, our team made other con­tri­bu­tions to the col­lec­tive knowl­edge of global catas­trophic risk, re­siliency, and al­ter­na­tive food solu­tions. We’d es­pe­cially like to thank Amanda Cas­sidy for her help in cre­at­ing many of our pre­sen­ta­tions.

David Denken­berger, our di­rec­tor and cofounder, dis­cussed ALLFED’s work on sur­viv­ing nu­clear win­ter with Busi­ness In­sider, in “A full-scale nu­clear win­ter would trig­ger a global famine. A dis­aster ex­pert put to­gether a dooms­day diet to save hu­man­ity.” We were ex­cited that the ar­ti­cle pre­sented our scope of work in a pos­i­tive and ac­cessible way, and that it was picked up by me­dia out­lets around the world and trans­lated into sev­eral lan­guages.

David was a coau­thor on the Cen­tre for the Study of Ex­is­ten­tial Risk (CSER) jour­nal ar­ti­cle, Ac­cu­mu­lat­ing Ev­i­dence Us­ing Crowd­sourc­ing and Ma­chine Learn­ing: A Liv­ing Bibliog­ra­phy About Ex­is­ten­tial Risk And Global Catas­trophic Risk. His 2019 pan­demic work with David Man­heim was pub­lished as Re­view of Po­ten­tial High-Lev­er­age and In­ex­pen­sive Miti­ga­tions for Re­duc­ing Risk in Epi­demics and Pan­demics.

As part of an effort to fur­ther ex­is­ten­tial hope, David dis­cussed global re­silience and peace in the Fore­sight In­sti­tute’s “Flour­ish­ing Fu­tures from COVID-19: 70 op­por­tu­ni­ties for turn­ing the cur­rent crisis from catas­tro­phe to eu­catas­tro­phe.”

Joshua Pearce, our co-origi­na­tor, wrote about the threat of nu­clear win­ter in an ar­ti­cle in The Con­ver­sa­tion.

So­nia Cas­sidy, our di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions, coau­thored New Part­ner­ships for Co-de­liv­ery of the 2030 Agenda for Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment (In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of Disaster Risk Science).

Ariel Conn con­tributed the AI sec­tion for the Global Challenges Foun­da­tion’s lat­est re­port, “Global Catas­trophic Risks 2020.” Me­dia cov­er­age of the re­port in­cluded BBC Busi­ness Daily and the UN Dis­patch pod­cast. Ariel was an in­vited speaker at Iso­darco in Jan­uary, and she spoke about ALLFED and catas­trophic risks with an EA policy group over the sum­mer.

Aron Mill, our re­search as­so­ci­ate and team co­or­di­na­tor, rep­re­sented ALLFED at the EAGxVir­tual con­fer­ence where he in­tro­duced many of our new vol­un­teers to ALLFED’s work. He also pre­sented ALLFED’s work to Alan Robock and Brian Toon’s nu­clear con­flict cli­mate mod­el­ing team, which is funded by Open Philan­thropy.

Sahil Shah par­ti­ci­pated in sev­eral ini­ti­a­tives where he pro­moted both tech­ni­cal and fi­nan­cial al­ter­na­tive solu­tions to food se­cu­rity prob­lems. Among these ini­ti­a­tives were the Oxford In­dia Cen­tre for Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment’s panel Malnu­tri­tion of Mothers and Chil­dren in In­dia Dur­ing COVID-19 (14:30 on­wards), and the think tank Bridge In­dia’s Food Se­cu­rity in In­dia dur­ing COVID-19 (17:50 to 24:00). Sahil also pre­sented (ab­stract here, on page 4) at the World Sum­mit on the In­for­ma­tion So­ciety Fo­rum 2020, a UN ini­ti­a­tive.

Sahil was made an hon­orary fel­low in the Jahn Re­search Group. Whilst vis­it­ing there, he re­viewed and pro­vided recom­men­da­tions to Pru­den­tial Reg­u­la­tory’s Author­ity cli­mate adap­ta­tion sce­nar­ios and costs to food se­cu­rity. He was also in­volved in peer re­view­ing the United Na­tions Disaster Risk Re­duc­tion (UNDRR) Global Risk Assess­ment Frame­work con­cept note.

Sahil was made an inau­gu­ral fel­low at the At­lantic Coun­cil’s GeoTech Cen­ter, where he works pri­mar­ily on the in­ter­sec­tion of agri-tech and global food se­cu­rity. He has coau­thored briefings for this group with ALLFED vol­un­teers Mike Hinge and Sa­muel Bren­ner.

The ALLFED team

Team 2020 snapshot

  • The ALLFED team now spans 14 coun­tries and 4 con­ti­nents.

  • We’re ex­cited to wel­come Jaan Tal­linn as our newest board mem­ber.

  • All mem­bers of ALLFED’s Board of Ad­vi­sors serve on a vol­un­tary ba­sis.

  • Out of 15 core team mem­bers, the ma­jor­ity started with ALLFED as vol­un­teers, and some con­tinue in this ca­pac­ity to date

  • Four vol­un­teers have tran­si­tioned into paid roles as of mid-Novem­ber, and two oth­ers are in the pro­cess of do­ing so.

  • Over­all, over 25 new vol­un­teers joined ALLFED this year.

  • Our longest-serv­ing vol­un­teer has now been with ALLFED for over 4 years.

Amanda Cas­sidy and Ross Tie­man, so­cially dis­tanced in Bri­tish Columbia, May 2020.

The ALLFED Board of Advisors

We want to thank all of our board mem­bers for their sup­port, ad­vice, and guidance this year, and es­pe­cially for their ad­di­tional in­puts as we ex­per­i­mented with pro­jects that were be­yond the typ­i­cal scope of our work. We are es­pe­cially grate­ful to An­ders Sand­berg and Robin Han­son for their un­wa­ver­ing sup­port, ideas, and cri­tique through­out the year.

In 2020, we also had the great plea­sure of wel­com­ing Jaan Tal­linn to the ALLFED Board of Ad­vi­sors. Jaan was a found­ing en­g­ineer of Skype and Kazaa, and he also cofounded the Cen­tre for the Study of Ex­is­ten­tial Risk (CSER) and the Fu­ture of Life In­sti­tute (FLI).


Our vol­un­teers are an im­por­tant part of ALLFED’s suc­cess.

We would like to thank all the vol­un­teers who have vol­un­teered with us in 2020.

In par­tic­u­lar, we wish to thank Al Hundley, who has been vol­un­teer­ing with us right from the be­gin­nings of ALLFED. Tim Fist has been our in­valuable GIS pro­ject lead for nearly two years now. Me­gan Jamer, our ed­i­to­rial vol­un­teer, has been in­stru­men­tal in writ­ing and edit­ing this post, along with ALLFED’s pre­vi­ous an­nual re­ports.

We would also like to ac­knowl­edge con­tri­bu­tions by: Emma Abele, Kyle Al­varado, Sa­muel Bren­ner, Michael Brown, Vo­jtech Brynych, Zong Hao Keh, Emily He­witt, Michael Hinge, Marisa Jur­czyk, Mat­tathias Lerner, Daisy New­bold-Har­rop, Jemma Payne, Sienna Rha­zouani, Aditya SK, Joseph Small, Flo­rian Ulrich Jehn, Noah Wescombe, Jake Willis, and Jia Yang Li, all of whom helped to fur­ther ALLFED’s work in 2020.

Cur­rently, most vol­un­teers find us through their in­volve­ment in the effec­tive al­tru­ism com­mu­nity. We are proud to be an effec­tive al­tru­ism–al­igned or­ga­ni­za­tion with a com­pre­hen­sive vol­un­teer pro­gram, which seeks to en­sure a mu­tual fit be­tween our team and the vol­un­teer and to be of benefit to both. In 2020, we in­tro­duced a range of met­rics to bet­ter eval­u­ate the con­tri­bu­tions vol­un­teers make to our or­ga­ni­za­tion as well as the im­pacts that vol­un­teer­ing with ALLFED may have on our vol­un­teers’ ca­reers and lives (to be re­viewed at the end of the year).

As a fully re­mote or­ga­ni­za­tion, we wel­come peo­ple from all over the world, as well as from all walks of life and with di­verse work and ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­rience. Like many EA-al­igned or­ga­ni­za­tions, our team un­for­tu­nately lacks di­ver­sity, de­spite our solid com­mit­ment to this value. We en­courage in­di­vi­d­u­als of all gen­ders, sex­u­alties, age, races, and cul­tural back­grounds to ap­ply to join our global, re­mote team!

Although the ma­jor­ity of our vol­un­teers have fo­cused on re­search, op­por­tu­ni­ties are available across all ar­eas of ALLFED’s work and we also wel­come com­mu­ni­ca­tions, op­er­a­tions, and HR vol­un­teers. Learn more about our vol­un­teer pro­gram or, to ap­ply, feel free to com­plete our vol­un­teer in­ter­est form.

ALLFED UK Oxford Team Day, Fe­bru­ary 2020, pre-Covid.

Les­sons learned

When con­sid­er­ing the les­sons learned in a given year, it’s of­ten tempt­ing to fo­cus on ac­tions that didn’t work out. How­ever, in this unique year, one of the biggest les­sons we learned was how ca­pa­ble we were at effec­tively and effi­ciently sup­port­ing the ALLFED team.

With the stress of the pan­demic, lock­downs, and in­creased iso­la­tion, it was more im­por­tant than ever to build and foster a re­silient, co­he­sive team. We are es­pe­cially grate­ful to So­nia Cas­sidy, Aron Mill, and Ma­ciej Pila­chowski for their con­tinued efforts to en­sure the ALLFED team thrives. What we ac­com­plished this year was due in large part to their un­fal­ter­ing sup­port, which helped the whole team main­tain en­ergy and morale through­out the year.

But of course, we also learned from ac­tivi­ties and efforts that did not go to plan.

Early on in the pan­demic, when so much was un­known, it was clear that much of the re­search we’ve done in the past could be rele­vant to re­lief efforts. How­ever, the con­nec­tions were some­what in­di­rect, and the best path­ways by which we could help were not im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous. Given our pre­vi­ous re­search on re­pur­pos­ing in­dus­trial fa­cil­ities to de­velop al­ter­na­tive foods, we ini­tially hoped we might also be able to offer guidance re­gard­ing the re­pur­pos­ing of fa­cil­ities to cre­ate ven­tila­tors and other per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment (PPE). While Joshua and the MOST lab did provide mean­ingful con­tri­bu­tions to that space, it soon be­came ap­par­ent that this was not as pro­duc­tive an area of fo­cus for the rest of the ALLFED team. At that time, we also saw the early-warn­ing in­di­ca­tions that food in­se­cu­rity was about to be­come a much greater threat around the world, and we then pivoted to our own ar­eas of ex­per­tise — food and nu­tri­ents — which led to the work listed in the pan­demic sec­tion of this post.

The un­cer­tainty of the early days of the pan­demic also shed light on our nat­u­ral ten­dency to fo­cus on the most press­ing prob­lems, even if those prob­lems weren’t always quite as well al­igned with the ALLFED mis­sion or with our strongest ca­pa­bil­ities. We learned from this ex­pe­rience and have es­tab­lished plans to help us bet­ter re­spond in the fu­ture:

  • We de­vel­oped many of the re­sponse and re­silience plans men­tioned above.

  • We are in the pro­cess of cre­at­ing a de­ci­sion-mak­ing aid to min­i­mize bias and im­prove our re­sponse time when an­other event oc­curs.

  • We in­tro­duced a host of new or­ga­ni­za­tional sys­tems to bet­ter track and man­age our time and re­sources.

  • We hosted a se­ries of in­ter­nal train­ing ses­sions to build team aware­ness of these new tools, in­clud­ing sce­nario-based re­sponse ex­er­cises.

  • We’ve com­mis­sioned a COVID-19 learn­ing re­view to more clearly iden­tify where we ex­cel­led and where we could have done bet­ter.

Fi­nally, we were also re­minded through­out the year that some progress will nat­u­rally get slowed down in the mid­dle of a pan­demic. We had hoped to be a fully reg­istered US 501(c)(3) tax-ex­empt non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion by now (we are cur­rently fis­cally spon­sored by the So­cial and En­vi­ron­men­tal En­trepreneurs), and we had hoped to have a new web­site com­pleted. How­ever in both in­stances, though we’ve moved ahead with each, it will now likely be next year be­fore we have up­dates to share.

Giv­ing Tues­day 2020

We are enor­mously grate­ful for last year’s Giv­ing Tues­day dona­tions. On Giv­ing Tues­day in 2019, we re­ceived $43,601 in dona­tions, with fur­ther $32,995 in Face­book match fund­ing. Our thanks also go to the EA Giv­ing Tues­day team, and Avi Norow­itz in par­tic­u­lar, for helping to co­or­di­nate.

As you’ve seen through­out this post, we have a lot of pro­jects un­der­way, and there are even more we’d like to launch to im­prove our un­der­stand­ing of al­ter­na­tive food op­tions in a catas­tro­phe and to build a stronger, global al­li­ance to help us provide these food solu­tions to the peo­ple who need them if a catas­tro­phe oc­curs. We need your sup­port to make that hap­pen. If you like what you’ve read in this post, please con­sider sup­port­ing ALLFED’s work this year. Fur­ther­more, if you are in­ter­ested in po­ten­tially in­creas­ing your im­pact, we in­vite you to join us in par­ti­ci­pat­ing in Face­book’s Giv­ing Tues­day match­ing pro­gram.

The EA Giv­ing Tues­day team is fi­nal­iz­ing their in­struc­tions and recom­men­da­tions, but if you sign up for their newslet­ter, they will keep you up­dated about this year’s Face­book match and how to effec­tively pre­pare. Other­wise, please check back here or at www.ea­giv­ingtues­ in the com­ing days for more in­for­ma­tion about how to max­i­mize the chances that your dona­tions to ALLFED will be matched by Face­book. Match fund­ing will likely run out in sec­onds, so donat­ing fast is es­sen­tial on De­cem­ber 1, when the match be­gins at 08:00:00 a.m. EST (05:00:00 a.m. PST).

We will up­date this sec­tion next week, when more in­for­ma­tion be­comes available.

Of course, you can always give an un­matched dona­tion to ALLFED any other day of the year! Learn more on our dona­tion page.


A. Alli­ance to Feed the Earth in Disasters (ALLFED).

B. Univer­sity of Alaska Fair­banks, Fair­banks, AK 99775, USA.

C. Depart­ment of Civil, Ar­chi­tec­tural and En­vi­ron­men­tal Eng­ineer­ing, Univer­sity of Naples Fed­erico II, Via Clau­dio 21, 80125, Napoli, Italy.

D. Depart­ment of Ma­te­rial Science and Eng­ineer­ing and Depart­ment of Elec­tri­cal and Com­puter Eng­ineer­ing, Michi­gan Tech­nolog­i­cal Univer­sity, Houghton, MI 49931, USA.

E. Depart­ment of Elec­tron­ics and Na­no­eng­ineer­ing, School of Elec­tri­cal Eng­ineer­ing, Aalto Univer­sity, FI-00076 Espoo, Fin­land.

F. Cologne Cen­ter for In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems, Univer­sity of Cologne, Cologne, Ger­many.

* cor­re­spond­ing author

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