David Denkenberger: Loss of Industrial Civilization and Recovery (Workshop)

This tran­script of an EA Global work­shop, which CEA has lightly ed­ited for clar­ity, is cross­posted from effec­tivealtru­ism.org. You can also watch the talk on YouTube here.

A pow­er­ful elec­tro­mag­netic pulse, so­lar storm, or nar­row AI virus could leave large por­tions of the globe with­out elec­tric­ity. As a civ­i­liza­tion, are we pre­pared to han­dle challenges of this mag­ni­tude? And if not, can we be­come pre­pared? This work­shop from EA Global 2018: Lon­don, led by David Denken­berger of ALLFED, deals with these ques­tions.


First I’ll give some in­tro, and then we’ll break into small groups. You’ll dis­cuss the sce­nario that I give you, about how peo­ple would deal with a ma­jor catas­tro­phe. Then I’ll get into how it might be differ­ent if we ac­tu­ally pre­pare for these catas­tro­phes, and then your groups will dis­cuss what you think would hap­pen. Then we’ll come back to­gether and dis­cuss re­sults.

1530 David Denkenberger

A lit­tle back­ground on Alli­ance to Feed the Earth in Disasters: many peo­ple on our team are ac­tu­ally in the UK, and other peo­ple are in the US. We started with the book Feed­ing Every­one No Mat­ter What.

1530 David Denkenberger (1)

We’re look­ing both at the re­search side and also the real world prac­ti­cal pre­pared­ness and plan­ning. Some more back­ground on what ALLFED does, if you look at a spec­trum of global food pro­duc­tion shock, most effort is on catas­tro­phes or dis­asters that only have a roughly 1% loss in food pro­duc­tion, like what hap­pened in 2007, 2008. So we don’t fo­cus on that.

1530 David Denkenberger (2)

We do fo­cus on sce­nar­ios that could cause a roughly 10% re­duc­tion in food pro­duc­tion, so these are things like vol­canic erup­tion, like the one that caused the year with­out a sum­mer in 1816, where there was famine in parts of Europe. There are also a num­ber of other dis­asters that could cause a ma­jor food re­duc­tion, like a su­per weed. Then we also look at dis­asters that could com­pletely block the sun, like nu­clear win­ter. To­day, we’ll fo­cus on sce­nar­ios that could dis­rupt elec­tric­ity. Since pretty much ev­ery­thing else is de­pen­dent on elec­tric­ity, like pul­ling fos­sil fuels out of the ground, this sce­nario could pos­si­bly en­tail a col­lapse of in­dus­trial civ­i­liza­tion.

1530 David Denkenberger (3)

The em­pha­sis within EA has been on ex­is­ten­tial risks, which many times peo­ple as­so­ci­ate with out­right ex­tinc­tion. The agri­cul­tural catas­tro­phes we’ll be talk­ing about are un­likely to cause out­right ex­tinc­tion. How­ever, the origi­nal defi­ni­tion of ex­is­ten­tial risk from Nick Bostrom was not just events that could cause ex­tinc­tion, but also ones that would cause a sig­nifi­cant re­duc­tion in the po­ten­tial of hu­man­ity in the long term. So if one of these global catas­tro­phes were to de­stroy civ­i­liza­tion, and we didn’t re­cover from it, that ac­tu­ally would con­sti­tute an ex­is­ten­tial risk, be­cause we have not at­tained our po­ten­tial as hu­man­ity. There are a num­ber of rea­sons why, if we lose civ­i­liza­tion, we might not re­cover it. For in­stance, we’ve already burned the eas­ily ac­cessible fos­sil fuels, and fos­sil fuels were im­por­tant in cre­at­ing in­dus­trial civ­i­liza­tion. We’ve also had a sta­ble cli­mate for the last 10,000 years, while we might not be so for­tu­nate in the fu­ture. And then, an­other pos­si­ble way of hav­ing far fu­ture im­pact is that if one of these catas­tro­phes hap­pened, and things went poorly, then the trauma from the catas­tro­phe could make us nas­tier, and maybe we’d be more likely to have fu­ture catas­tro­phes. Or maybe worse, post-catas­tro­phe val­ues end up in an AI, and are locked in. So pre­vent­ing catas­tro­phes are an­other way of hav­ing far fu­ture im­pact. All right. So that’s back­ground on Global Catas­trophic Risks and ALLFED. Now I’ll quickly go over the sce­nario.

1530 David Denkenberger (4)

So we’ve men­tioned so­lar storms. A ma­jor so­lar storm hap­pened in 1859, the Car­ring­ton Event, when we ba­si­cally only had tele­graphs. We didn’t have much elec­tric­ity, but the storm did dis­rupt tele­graphs. In or­der to dis­rupt elec­tric­ity globally, it would have had to be a more se­vere event. But there ac­tu­ally have been more se­vere events than what hap­pened in 1859, two of them in the last 2000 years. A so­lar storm would burn out trans­form­ers con­nected to long elec­tric lines. The next sce­nario is the high al­ti­tude elec­tro­mag­netic pulse. A nu­clear weapon deto­nated at high al­ti­tude would cre­ate an elec­tro­mag­netic pulse. There, you de­stroy not just trans­form­ers, but pretty much any­thing plugged into the grid. So like com­put­ers would be fried, and even large ve­hi­cles. Most of the em­pha­sis is on just a sin­gle elec­tro­mag­netic pulse. But if there were mul­ti­ple around the world, it could po­ten­tially dis­rupt elec­tric­ity globally. Then the third cat­e­gory that could dis­rupt elec­tric­ity globally is a nar­row AI cy­ber at­tack, or com­puter virus. One com­puter virus already did dis­rupt elec­tric­ity lo­cally.

1530 David Denkenberger (5)

But ac­tu­ally, for to­day, we’re go­ing to fo­cus on what we call the ap­prox­i­mately 10% loss of elec­tric­ity and in­dus­try sce­nario. So we’re talk­ing about some­thing around the size of the Car­ring­ton Event. So­lar storms tend to af­fect the high lat­i­tudes more strongly. So it might be that high north­ern coun­tries, or states, in the case of Alaska where I live, or Nor­way, Swe­den, Fin­land, Ice­land, Es­to­nia, Latvia, Den­mark, maybe parts of other coun­tries, could have their elec­tric­ity dis­rupted. That might be around a one in 100 chance per year. Or, we could have a sin­gle EMP, like over North Amer­ica or Europe, and you would not only lose roughly 10% of your in­dus­trial ca­pa­bil­ity, but those ar­eas pro­duce a lot of food. As you’ll see, if you don’t have in­dus­trial agri­cul­ture, you can’t pro­duce as much food. So it’s likely to be a 10% re­duc­tion in global food pro­duc­tion at the same time.

Similarly, a cy­ber at­tack could af­fect a con­ti­nent in­stead of globally. There has also been some talk about at­tacks that might be aimed at dis­rupt­ing the in­ter­net, and if we lost the in­ter­net, it wouldn’t be as bad as los­ing all of elec­tric­ity, but still many pro­cesses are de­pen­dent on the in­ter­net. So this could be some­thing like a 10% dis­rup­tion in our in­dus­trial ca­pa­bil­ity. Then fi­nally, if we had a con­ven­tional World War that did not go nu­clear for some rea­son, that could be a 10% de­struc­tion of in­dus­try. Here are some pretty pic­tures of the five sce­nar­ios.

1530 David Denkenberger (6)

Okay. So now, for your small group work, we’re go­ing to fo­cus on just one par­tic­u­lar sce­nario. Let’s say we have an EMP over Eastern United States, the elec­tri­cal grid is de­stroyed, plus all the elec­tron­ics that are plugged in. We can’t pull fos­sil fuels out of the ground, we can no longer pump it through pipelines. They’ve ac­tu­ally done some test­ing to simu­late EMP, and they found that larger ve­hi­cles tend to be de­stroyed by it, so larger ve­hi­cles won’t work. But smaller ve­hi­cles would still func­tion, if they can get fuel. But we have a prob­lem with fos­sil fuel pro­duc­tion and re­fin­ing in this sce­nario. Also wa­ter dis­tri­bu­tion and waste wa­ter treat­ment would stop. Then from an agri­cul­tural per­spec­tive, it is pos­si­ble to farm by hand, but in the United States, we might only get one third as much food out of the same land that we do right now.

1530 David Denkenberger (7)

So here is an ex­am­ple of what an elec­tro­mag­netic pulse over the US might look like. This is the in­ten­sity of the volts per me­ter. We won’t get into the de­tail. So prob­a­bly, it would prob­a­bly be cen­tered over the Eastern US, be­cause there is more in­dus­try there, and there are more peo­ple. Gen­er­ally, the EMP doesn’t harm peo­ple di­rectly, but as we’ve seen, it greatly dam­ages in­fras­truc­ture.

1530 David Denkenberger (8)

So, now we’re go­ing to break up into groups. What would be great is if each group does have some­one with a lap­top to kind of record ideas, or you can do it on pa­per if you want. But it’s great if you do record on a lap­top, then you can send it to us, if you feel com­fortable. We’re always in­ter­ested in what peo­ple come up with.

For this first sce­nario, we’re try­ing to think what might hap­pen if we don’t do any prepa­ra­tions. Take about five min­utes, then each group can pre­sent their re­sults.

Some ques­tions to think about are: What would the re­ac­tion of other coun­tries that still have in­dus­try be? Would it mean that they would help out? Would they not in­terfere at all? Or would they ac­tu­ally con­quer, like take over? Then also, think about in this sce­nario, how much of a far fu­ture im­pact do you think it would have? Be­cause it hap­pens, how much re­duc­tion in far fu­ture po­ten­tial of hu­man­ity do you think might hap­pen? This can be what we call cas­cad­ing failures, like, the ini­tial sce­nario, if it goes poorly, then that could have long term im­pacts.

If you want to fol­low along with the work­shop, take five min­utes to think through these ques­tions be­fore read­ing on.

Group Re­sponses to First Scenario

Group One: In this group, we have more ques­tions, so we tried to out­line our ig­no­rance. The top­ics that we dis­cussed im­me­di­ately were, would other in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions jump up to help? A lot of ques­tions re­volved around, can they help? Other ex­am­ples, how fast can you put food in the US if you re­ally were short by half or one third of the pro­duc­tion? Other thing that we dis­cussed is how fast and in what con­di­tions does the or­der of so­ciety break down? Is the lo­cal state able to keep con­trol over the peo­ple be­fore they riot, be­fore crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions take crit­i­cal parts of the poli­ti­cal in­fras­truc­ture un­der their con­trol? We also dis­cussed differ­en­tial effects of how this would af­fect peo­ple from differ­ent so­cial classes. So we have ig­no­rance about the situ­a­tions, but that’s what came to our minds.

Group Two: We talked about whether any­body would ac­tu­ally send aid to the US, and Canada, and po­ten­tially Mex­ico as well, given that we’ve got ap­prox­i­mately two UK pop­u­la­tions on the Eastern seaboard alone that would be with­out power. Would there be ri­ot­ing? Would other coun­tries ac­tu­ally send any aid to help? There is go­ing to be spoiling food ev­ery­where. One sug­ges­tion was that the US could sell some­body else an air­craft car­rier in or­der to get aid back, which I thought was quite in­ter­est­ing.

Group Three: We first talked about whether any­one would in­vade us, and we con­cluded prob­a­bly not, be­cause the Western US is still go­ing to be up and run­ning, we as­sume. We have air­craft car­ri­ers and stuff, so we’re not at risk of be­ing in­vaded, ba­si­cally. The big haz­ards af­ter elec­tri­cal shut­down would be like any­thing like chem­i­cal pro­cesses, nu­clear power plants. Those might not be such an is­sue, be­cause the graphite rods would drop into them. But there would be big risks of fire, be­cause fire en­g­ines might be knocked out, and the EMP would maybe cause fires, even. So that might be a very big cur­rent risk. I think that’s what we got to, and chem­i­cal stor­age leak­ing, that sort of thing.

Group Four: Okay, so we were talk­ing mainly about two ar­eas. The first ques­tion is, as men­tioned, is the gov­ern­ment go­ing to stay in con­trol? Are peo­ple go­ing to freak out? Is the mil­i­tary go­ing to be able to keep con­trol of the East Coast? We as­sume the mil­i­tary in­fras­truc­ture will prob­a­bly stay func­tional, be­cause you might think that they are at least in part pre­pared for these kind of sce­nar­ios, and the com­mand in­fras­truc­ture would stay sta­ble. But would they be able to keep con­trol of other civil so­ciety? Or will that be a prob­lem? Se­cond ques­tion is would com­mu­ni­ca­tion in­fras­truc­ture still work? So we’d as­sume that prob­a­bly civil, again, the nor­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion in­fras­truc­tures would break down, which would be a big prob­lem. But maybe, again, that’s on the mil­i­tary, maybe they will be able to kind of jump in and build up new com­mu­ni­ca­tion and new ways of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Group Five: In our group we talked a lot about the short term im­pacts, mean­ing im­me­di­ate com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and how peo­ple re­act, be­cause we wouldn’t ac­tu­ally prob­a­bly know what’s go­ing on, given the is­sue. Also, a lot of flee­ing. I think once peo­ple do un­der­stand what has hap­pened, and where it’s hap­pened, we’ll see peo­ple try­ing to get out of the East Coast ar­eas, to­wards the West Coast. So the West Coast might be lo­gis­ti­cally im­pacted, due to the fact that the things in the East Coast will no longer be work­ing. Canada is prob­a­bly af­fected as well, mas­sively. Also, cities ver­sus coun­tryside. Coun­tryside is very ru­ral in the United States, phys­i­cally speak­ing. Pos­si­bly that could be a prob­lem for them from lo­gis­tics, mean­ing cities would prob­a­bly have more at­ten­tion once aid does come in. But at the same time, de­pend­ing on the time of year, they would be able to ac­cess food maybe lo­cally. But then also, there are spoilage is­sues and what­not.

Group Six: We started off as well with com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and thought about that. We thought that most of mil­i­tary is prob­a­bly pro­tected against EMPs, so they would have im­por­tant hard­ware for com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, to reestab­lish them. We thought of al­ter­na­tives that work with the mo­bile phones, be­cause most mo­bile phones won’t be plugged in at the mo­ment of the EMP. So they would last like for an­other two days, prob­a­bly. There is a Fire Chat app that con­nects phones, and is it­self a tool that en­ables peo­ple to send mes­sages. You can have peer to peer net­work be­tween phones through wifi. So you just need to in­stall the Fire Chat app. But you need to do it be­fore the global catas­tro­phe. So maybe one sim­ple thing peo­ple could do is to have the Fire Chat app on their phones. Also, we need to charge phones, maybe with me­chan­i­cal charg­ers. In that case, peo­ple could have com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Then we had one more tech­ni­cal idea, that nu­clear pow­ered sub­marines wouldn’t be af­fected by the EMP. They could come up, and they have a re­ac­tor that could power the cities, or at least some cru­cial in­fras­truc­ture. We also thought that maybe air­craft car­ri­ers could provide some elec­tric­ity when they re­turn from other places. But then again, would there be good in­fras­truc­ture nec­es­sary on land, like trans­form­ers, to ac­tu­ally con­vert the elec­tric­ity from the power plants on the car­ri­ers to the lo­cal grid? It would de­pend on the voltage in the ship gen­er­a­tors.

Prepa­ra­tion for Se­cond Scenario

I think a lot of good ques­tions were raised, and some good ideas. So we’re go­ing to have to move for­ward to the next sec­tion here, where I talk about some of the things ALLFED has been think­ing about, in prepar­ing for a sce­nario like this.

1530 David Denkenberger (9)

First I’ll talk about if there were a global sce­nario, like we didn’t have any in­dus­try at all. We have some ad­van­tages in get­ting food out of the land. We un­der­stand how fer­til­izer works, so we can burn wood in land­fills to cre­ate phos­pho­rus potas­sium fer­til­izer. We also would plant a lot of peas, beans, and peanuts, be­cause they fix ni­tro­gen from the at­mo­sphere.

Hope­fully we could keep us­ing im­proved seed va­ri­eties that don’t rely on con­tinued ge­netic en­g­ineer­ing. We could po­ten­tially use farm an­i­mals that we cur­rently raise for food, as draft an­i­mals and for trans­porta­tion. I’ll talk about that more later. Also, we would ideally shift to types of crops that pro­duce more calories per hectare. We also might rely on al­ter­nate foods, which ALLFED re­searches in our other area of work. We gen­er­ally define al­ter­nate foods as foods that don’t re­quire the sun. So these are things like, you can grow mush­rooms on agri­cul­tural waste. So we might want to do that.

1530 David Denkenberger (10)

Also we might want to clear more land for agri­cul­ture. The prob­lem is that with­out in­dus­try, we don’t have chain­saws. So the way of do­ing it is you would gir­dle the tree, which means cut­ting a strip of bark around the bot­tom, which kills the tree, and then af­ter a year or so it dries out, and then you would ac­tu­ally burn the for­est. But, this is a backup plan, and we’d want to do it in a way to limit bio­di­ver­sity im­pact. But if we did all of these things, then even though we couldn’t get as much food from the amount of land that we cur­rently have in pro­duc­tion, we ac­tu­ally could feed ev­ery­one sev­eral times over.

1530 David Denkenberger (11)

For trans­porta­tion, of course, ships used to be wind pow­ered. There was even a train here that was wind pow­ered, back in the day. So we would definitely want trans­porta­tion, be­cause we ei­ther want to move food to peo­ple or move peo­ple to food. They could also be kite pow­ered, which might be bet­ter than sails. Then on land, the other op­tion for rail cars is that they can be pul­led by cows, one at a time.

1530 David Denkenberger (12)

But then of course, there are many other needs than food, and we brought up some of these, like health­care. Of course, the hos­pi­tals that are de­pen­dent on elec­tric­ity, you’re not go­ing to be able to main­tain.

1530 David Denkenberger (13)

But we do have some ad­van­tages over pre-in­dus­trial so­ciety. We un­der­stand the germ the­ory of dis­ease, that wash­ing your hands is im­por­tant. We can cre­ate soap by com­bin­ing an­i­mal fat and ash, and burn bio­mass to boil wa­ter, to kill the germs. We would need to move to where we can get wa­ter by hand. We would need to do san­i­ta­tion. We could even do some birth con­trol. We need to keep warm, but you can make wood burn­ing stoves fairly eas­ily. Then for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, there is a short wave ra­dio, some­times called ham ra­dio, that can be used with­out large in­fras­truc­ture sys­tems, and can trans­mit large dis­tances. Now, many of these solu­tions that we just talked about, could be rele­vant even in a 10% loss of in­dus­try sce­nario.

1530 David Denkenberger (14)

But I think even if there were mas­sive aid from out­side, it’s still go­ing to take time to re­store many ser­vices. So we would need to use a va­ri­ety of strate­gies. They might in­volve im­port­ing ve­hi­cles, also im­port­ing the fuel to power the ve­hi­cles. One big is­sue is that cranes for un­load­ing ships, many of them are elec­tric pow­ered. But there are ones that are diesel pow­ered. So if we could move in diesel pow­ered cranes to be able to un­load ships, that would be very helpful. Then im­port­ing diesel gen­er­a­tors, as you men­tioned, maybe you have the gen­er­a­tor on the ship it­self, like a nu­clear pow­ered sub or a ship. Then you’d want to im­port food as well.

1530 David Denkenberger (15)

So now the ques­tion is, let’s think about the same sce­nario. But let’s say we spent say 30 mil­lion dol­lars to ac­tu­ally have some plans ahead of time, we have a short wave ra­dio sys­tem that could trans­mit in a catas­tro­phe, and that we’ve tested out that even peo­ple who live in the city, that don’t know how to farm, that we could give them the right in­struc­tions to con­struct tools and ac­tu­ally pro­duce food.

So we’d need to run those ex­per­i­ments, and then mod­ify our in­struc­tions. So if we spent that money and got that prepa­ra­tion, now I’d like you to con­sider that same sce­nario, and say, well, would it run any bet­ter? How much bet­ter? Then again, think about how much prepa­ra­tion might re­duce the far fu­ture im­pact of a catas­tro­phe.

If you want to fol­low along with the work­shop, take five min­utes to think through these ques­tions be­fore read­ing on.

Group Re­sponses to Se­cond Scenario

Group One: So we were think­ing about the prepa­ra­tions for the prob­lem of food and how ev­ery­one could have stor­aged some rice, and we’ve got an es­ti­mate, like 300 kilo­grams of rice is enough to feed a per­son for a year. In ad­di­tion to that, we would have pre­pared seeds, be­cause you told us we have tu­to­ri­als how to in­form peo­ple how to farm for them­selves. So with the seeds, de­pend­ing on what seeds you have and what cli­mate, you can have sev­eral har­vests a year. We’d have a lot of la­bor­ers, be­cause nor­mal jobs in cities are fal­ling away in such catas­trophic situ­a­tions, so at least the prob­lem of find­ing farm la­bor is to­tally man­age­able. Yeah, that was the ba­sics of our dis­cus­sion. At the end we tried to make an es­ti­mate on how much that would im­pact the fu­ture. We’ve got a no­tion that this sce­nario would be less im­pact­ful than the first one, be­cause it’s maybe only stal­ling the de­vel­op­ment, and not rout­ing our po­ten­tial.

David: Okay, yeah. I’ll men­tion that we’re de­vel­op­ing a model, a guessti­mate model. So as you have more time to think about it, you’d be able to put in your own num­bers to see how var­i­ous pos­si­bil­ities work out. Now the other thing, I’ll just com­ment quickly about stor­ing food. Yes, it would be great to store a year’s worth of food. But then you’re talk­ing trillions of dol­lars if you want to do it globally. So we wouldn’t ac­tu­ally be able to af­ford that. But definitely some of the other things we could do.

Group Two: So we started out, I guess, dis­cussing how effec­tive it would ac­tu­ally be to have dis­tributed this in­for­ma­tion. We were un­clear whether peo­ple would ac­tu­ally be able or will­ing to im­ple­ment the in­for­ma­tion they would be given. Maybe more so in ru­ral ar­eas. Even if you’ve done an ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram it doesn’t mean that peo­ple will effec­tively im­ple­ment it. It would be much more effec­tive if lo­cal gov­ern­ment is still func­tion­ing and has some com­mu­ni­ca­tion ca­pac­ity, and can still man­age that pro­cess. The other thing we thought, in terms of food, even if it’s pos­si­ble to have enough food pro­duc­tion to feed ev­ery­one, there might be dis­tri­bu­tion is­sues.

So it might be that cities, there’s just too many peo­ple and we can’t get the food in. So ru­ral ar­eas or smaller towns might be fine. But in cities, it might just not be pos­si­ble to sort out the dis­tri­bu­tion prob­lem enough that lots of peo­ple don’t die first. It’s un­clear what effects it would have on peo­ple’s short term re­ac­tion, be­cause in some ways, hav­ing no idea what’s go­ing on is scary. But maybe know­ing that the en­tire Eastern seaboard has gone down is even scarier. But man­ag­ing the ini­tial stages might be quite im­por­tant, be­cause ac­tu­ally a lot of dam­age to in­fras­truc­ture and the or­der of so­ciety might hap­pen then. If that can be de­layed, then maybe you can avoid slip­ping into chaos, rather than just de­lay­ing it.

Group Three: We talked about mainly two things. The first was, so with 30 mil­lion pounds, the first ob­vi­ous ob­ser­va­tion, like if we talk about US pop­u­la­tion, we’ve got about ten pence per per­son, which is not very much. But the places where we kind of maybe best in­vest it is to maybe train farm­ers. If you can’t train ev­ery per­son, which you can’t re­al­is­ti­cally talk to ev­ery sin­gle cit­i­zen, then that’s prob­a­bly also not lead­ing any­where. Maybe go to hotspot places, or for in­stance, train farm­ers to train peo­ple, and also train peo­ple to es­tab­lish com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems. There’s prob­a­bly some ex­ter­nal aid, be­cause part of the US is still func­tion­ing. You would ex­pect prob­a­bly food sup­ply to be sta­ble, and you would ex­pect there would be fuel and ev­ery­thing. What may be the biggest prob­lem in this sce­nario, there­fore, is ac­tu­ally mak­ing sure that the peo­ple don’t freak out, that peo­ple are all right, and that no panic breaks out. That’s kind of the most cru­cial thing in this con­sid­er­a­tion.

The sec­ond thing we dis­cussed was to what ex­tent it’s sen­si­ble, de­sired, or likely that peo­ple will move from the East Coast to the West Coast, or some­where else. There would be ar­gu­ments in fa­vor of do­ing that, be­cause it’s maybe eas­ier to sup­ply them di­rectly in a place where there is work­ing in­fras­truc­ture. There are dis­ad­van­tages be­cause if you lose the hous­ing that you already have in the East Coast, maybe there are par­tic­u­lar is­sues with huge amounts of peo­ple mov­ing to the west, and to what ex­tent that is go­ing to ei­ther worsen is­sues or help is­sues. That’s the dis­cus­sion we had.

Group Four: We were talk­ing about ra­tioning su­per­mar­ket stocks in the short term, and then se­cur­ing grain silos, and maybe find­ing a way of pro­cess­ing them prop­erly to provide short term re­lief. Sup­plies from the Western United States and Canada, and maybe Mex­ico, would help. Then get­ting all the trans­form­ers and stuff back on­line might take a lot longer. But it’s go­ing to be high pri­or­ity. So maybe a global effort on that would be ex­pected.

Group Five: I think the only thing that we’ve re­ally got to add to that is how much less panic there is go­ing to be. But, there is go­ing to be a lot of time in­volved in get­ting peo­ple to a point where they ac­tu­ally get new food sources in. Get­ting peo­ple to sort out wa­ter sup­ply and get­ting peo­ple moved: who is go­ing to be pre­pared to let other peo­ple come onto their land, of the ini­tial land own­ers? Would they wel­come peo­ple with open arms? It seems quite un­likely.

Group Six: Our first ques­tion is, we do be­lieve the in­ter­ven­tions help to in­crease peo­ple’s chances? The mechanisms that make that hap­pen are that cen­tral­ized or­ga­ni­za­tion is bet­ter at solv­ing lo­cal prob­lems, and then com­mu­ni­ca­tion in gen­eral makes it eas­ier to solve cer­tain co­or­di­na­tion prob­lems, like avoid risk aver­sion by mak­ing peo­ple ac­tu­ally start do­ing some­thing as soon as they can. Our point that was touched here was that we be­lieve that wa­ter treat­ment at the lev­els that we do seems com­plex enough that it’s un­likely to sur­vive. We ex­pect or­ga­ni­za­tions and cities to be­come smaller. Fi­nally, we think that how de­layed sci­en­tific progress is might be an in­ter­est­ing proxy for loss to civ­i­liza­tion’s po­ten­tial.


1530 David Denkenberger (16)

Another way of think­ing about how cost effec­tive this might be is that pro­pos­als to harden the grid to so­lar storm and EMP are in the billions of dol­lars, like 100 billion dol­lars globally. So of course, that’s the ideal sce­nario, that we pre­vent the loss of in­dus­try.

1530 David Denkenberger (17)

But my think­ing is that if we can pro­tect against a large part of the loss of life and po­ten­tial far fu­ture im­pact for much less money, then that could be more cost effec­tive, and maybe the first thing we should do.

1530 David Denkenberger (18)

We’re go­ing to in­clude a PDF of this, on the web­site, so you’ll have the guessti­mate model if you’re in­ter­ested in do­ing cost effec­tive­ness. This is just some sum­mary. We haven’t talked so much about it, but if your pri­mary con­cern is the pre­sent gen­er­a­tion, I think there is po­ten­tial to save lives in the pre­sent gen­er­a­tion as well. You could also pro­tect bio­di­ver­sity. Then if you’re in­ter­ested in helping out, it would be great to raise more aware­ness about these is­sues.

1530 David Denkenberger (19)