Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters (ALLFED) Progress Report & Giving Tuesday Appeal

Summary

The Alli­ance to Feed the Earth in Disasters (ALLFED) is an EA-al­igned char­ity with po­ten­tial for high cost effec­tive­ness in the global poverty and ex­is­ten­tial risk spaces.

We have re­cently been awarded $70,000 by one of the EA Lot­ter­ies; how­ever, con­sid­er­able room ex­ists for more fund­ing. Should you con­sider donat­ing to ALLFED, you can dou­ble your dona­tion through the Face­book/​Pay­pal Giv­ing Tues­day match­ing event on Novem­ber 27th (please see here for in­struc­tions and here to donate).

This post is a 2018 progress re­port build­ing on the EA fo­rum post in­tro­duc­ing ALLFED in 2017.

I have also posted on the EA fo­rum be­fore about get­ting pre­pared for al­ter­nate foods (roughly those not de­pen­dent on sun­light that ex­ploit bio­mass or fos­sil fuels) for agri­cul­tural catas­tro­phes such as nu­clear win­ter. This could save ex­pected lives in the pre­sent gen­er­a­tion for $0.20 to $400. Th­ese catas­tro­phes have a num­ber of routes to far fu­ture im­pact in­clud­ing loss of civ­i­liza­tion and non-re­cov­ery, mak­ing other catas­tro­phes more likely (e.g. to­tal­i­tar­i­anism), or worse val­ues end­ing up in ar­tifi­cial gen­eral in­tel­li­gence (AGI). In a re­cent EA fo­rum post, I made the case that spend­ing $100 mil­lion on al­ter­nate foods would likely be bet­ter cost-effec­tive­ness than AI safety from a far fu­ture per­spec­tive.

ALLFED has an ex­pe­rienced team and board. With a small bud­get, it has achieved a sig­nifi­cant amount this year, in­clud­ing five peer re­viewed pa­pers, a catas­tro­phe plan­ning ses­sion, and a dozen pre­sen­ta­tions. It has plans to in­crease pre­pared­ness with tar­geted plan­ning and re­search. It has sev­eral vol­un­teers who could con­tribute more if paid and is in gen­eral fund­ing con­strained. I have donated half my in­come the last three years to ALLFED. ALLFED has tax-free sta­tus in the US, and in the UK through CEA. I out­line what could be achieved with differ­ent lev­els of fund­ing and other ways to help.

Dis­claimer/​Acknowledgements

We would like to ac­knowl­edge our donors in­clud­ing CEA for fund­ing the EA grant. Also thanks to Avi Norow­itz and William Kiely for co­or­di­nat­ing the EA Giv­ing Tues­day effort. So­nia Cas­sidy and Fi­nan Adam­son con­tributed to the post. Opinions are my own and this is not the offi­cial po­si­tion of ALLFED, CEA, Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject, nor the Global Catas­trophic Risk In­sti­tute.

Back­ground and cost effec­tive­ness of cause area

For more de­tails, see here. The quick sum­mary is that there is sig­nifi­cant risk of nu­clear war and other catas­tro­phes that could dim or block the sun and dra­mat­i­cally re­duce agri­cul­tural out­put. Pre­vi­ous work on stor­age or pre­vent­ing war has hit diminish­ing re­turns. Alter­nate foods is a ne­glected solu­tion that shows high cost effec­tive­ness both from the per­spec­tive of the pre­sent gen­er­a­tion and the long-term fu­ture. The Alli­ance to Feed the Earth in Disasters (ALLFED) ap­pears to be the only or­ga­ni­za­tion in this space. This post re­views the ac­com­plish­ments of ALLFED in the last 12 months and out­lines what ALLFED would do with ad­di­tional fund­ing.

ALLFED mis­sion/​vision

Mis­sion: In­crease the pre­pared­ness, readi­ness (knowl­edge, re­sources, tech­nol­ogy) of world bod­ies, gov­ern­ments, cor­po­ra­tions, NGOs/​peo­ple to be able to feed ev­ery­one in the event of a global catas­tro­phe.

Vi­sion: Form an al­li­ance of key peo­ple/​will­ing par­ti­ci­pants work­ing to de­velop ca­pa­bil­ity to en­able re­sponse to global dis­rup­tion of food sup­ply.

ALLFED team & board

Dr. Gorm Shack­elford has joined us as a new board mem­ber, bring­ing with him all-im­por­tant agri­cul­tural ex­per­tise. Dr. Shack­le­ford is a re­search af­fili­ate at the Cam­bridge Cen­tre for the Study of Ex­is­ten­tial Risk (CSER) and a post-doc­toral re­search as­so­ci­ate in Zool­ogy at Cam­bridge.

Fi­nan Adam­son (re­cent co­or­di­na­tor of EA Seat­tle) has also joined ALLFED as our first full time em­ployee, hav­ing pre­vi­ously vol­un­teered with us for a year un­der a grant from CEA.

Please see our web­site for the full cur­rent team and board.

Ac­com­plish­ments in the last 12 months

Re­search: We have given a dozen pre­sen­ta­tions at sev­eral con­fer­ences/​uni­ver­si­ties in­clud­ing EAG San Fran­cisco (poster and talk), In­for­ma­tion Science and Tech­nol­ogy (ISAT) /​ Defense Ad­vanced Re­search Pro­jects Agency (DARPA): Study About Tech­nol­ogy In Agri­cul­turally Trou­bled En­vi­ron­ments (SATIATE), EA Seat­tle, EA Oxford, FHI, CSER, So­ciety for Risk Anal­y­sis con­fer­ence, In­ter­na­tional Food Policy Re­search In­sti­tute, Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don In­sti­tute for Risk & Disaster Re­duc­tion, and twice at the Univer­sity of Alaska Fair­banks.

We also got five peer re­viewed jour­nal ar­ti­cles ac­cepted:

Food with­out sun: Price and life-sav­ing po­ten­tial goes over the cur­rent prices of var­i­ous al­ter­nate foods and how many more lives could be saved by al­ter­nate foods than stored food.

Micronu­tri­ent Availa­bil­ity in Alter­na­tive Foods Dur­ing Agri­cul­tural Catas­tro­phes dives into the ques­tion of get­ting micronu­tri­ents from al­ter­nate foods. Most of our past work has fo­cused on get­ting enough calories. In a dis­aster eat­ing a wide range of foods or sup­ple­ment­ing with es­sen­tial vi­tam­ins is im­por­tant to re­duce dis­ease and stay healthy.

A Na­tional Prag­matic Safety Limit for Nu­clear Weapon Quan­tities ar­gues that a coun­try should have no more than 100 nu­clear weapons. This is be­cause if a coun­try were to use them, even if there was no re­tal­i­a­tion, the nu­clear “au­tumn” that re­sults would cause un­ac­cept­able dam­age to the coun­try that launches the weapons.

Clas­sifi­ca­tion of Global Catas­trophic Risks Con­nected with Ar­tifi­cial In­tel­li­gence ar­gues that ar­tifi­cial in­tel­li­gence can cause global catas­tro­phes in sev­eral dozen differ­ent ways. One of them is by dis­rupt­ing elec­tric­ity, and there­fore in­dus­trial civ­i­liza­tion. This is one of the catas­tro­phes on which ALLFED works.

Global Catas­trophic and Ex­is­ten­tial Risks Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Scale pro­poses a color-coded scale for the pri­or­ity of differ­ent global catas­trophic risks based on im­pact and prob­a­bil­ity. Ar­tifi­cial in­tel­li­gence al­ign­ment was con­sid­ered red. Nu­clear war and ap­prox­i­mately 10% global agri­cul­tural short­falls, on which ALLFED fo­cuses, were rated or­ange. The scale did not cover ne­glect­ed­ness, but if it did, then agri­cul­tural catas­tro­phes would be on par with AI.

We co-au­thored with Alexey Turchin “Clas­sifi­ca­tion of Global Solu­tions for the AI Safety Prob­lem,” which won one of four global top prizes in GoodAI’s Gen­eral Ar­tifi­cial In­tel­li­gence Challenge.

Effec­tive Th­e­sis: We put sev­eral dozen ALLFED-re­lated effec­tive the­ses on the effec­tive the­sis web­site.

Plan­ning: We ran an­other catas­tro­phe plan­ning ex­er­cise, this time at EAG Lon­don. We also at­tended sev­eral other con­fer­ences, in­clud­ing Global Challenges Foun­da­tion in Stock­holm, Swe­den, and Vol­ca­noes on Cities in Naples, Italy. We also spent 3 months in In­dia and Sri Lanka de­vel­op­ing re­search col­lab­o­ra­tions and sub­con­ti­nen­tal pre­pared­ness; we met Prof. Swami­nathan (the father of the Green Revolu­tion in In­dia) and vis­ited the In­ter­na­tional Crops Re­search In­sti­tute for the Semi-Arid Trop­ics.

Mistakes

We brought on a fundraiser to fo­cus on main­stream fundrais­ing out­side of EA. This ar­range­ment did not work out. How­ever, it only lasted one month, limit­ing the loss.

Sup­port this year

I gave half of my in­come again for this year, but I was joined by a num­ber of other donors. Th­ese in­cluded Ja­cob Trefethen, Ben West, Greg Colbourn, and Adam Gleave. We ap­plied for fund­ing from half a dozen in­sti­tu­tions, and some are still pend­ing.

What differ­ent lev­els of ad­di­tional fund­ing could do in 2019

Our ba­sic plans for 2019 are to con­tinue re­search un­der the Cen­tre for Effec­tive Altru­ism grant, perform high-value ex­per­i­ments, and do high-value plan­ning.

The im­me­di­ate task for the EA grant is the cost-effec­tive­ness from a far fu­ture per­spec­tive of ame­lio­rat­ing a differ­ent class of catas­tro­phes. A num­ber of risks could cause wide­spread elec­tri­cal failure, in­clud­ing a se­ries of high-al­ti­tude elec­tro­mag­netic pulses (HEMPs) caused by nu­clear weapons, an ex­treme so­lar storm, and a co­or­di­nated cy­ber at­tack. Since mod­ern in­dus­try de­pends on elec­tric­ity, it is likely there would be a col­lapse of the func­tion­ing of in­dus­try and ma­chines in these sce­nar­ios. As our cur­rent high agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tivity de­pends on in­dus­try (for ex­am­ple, for fer­til­iz­ers) there would be mass star­va­tion in these sce­nar­ios with our cur­rent un­der­stand­ing. How­ever, there are solu­tions to our food and non­food prob­lems in these sce­nar­ios, and we plan to do a cost effec­tive­ness anal­y­sis of these in­ter­ven­tions.

Another pro­ject un­der­way re­lates to sin­gle cell pro­tein grown on nat­u­ral gas. Nat­u­ral gas is already be­ing used to grow sin­gle cell pro­tein for fish. Peo­ple already eat sin­gle cell pro­tein in the form of the sup­ple­ment spirulina. In a catas­tro­phe, peo­ple could eat the sin­gle cell pro­tein grown on nat­u­ral gas. We are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether this would work at the house­hold level. If it does, the waste heat would help heat the per­son’s house.

We have suc­cess­fully se­cured fund­ing to cover op­er­a­tion costs at the cur­rent level for 2019. How­ever, there are un­re­al­ized ac­cel­er­a­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties which ad­di­tional fund­ing would en­able, such as: con­vert­ing our database of con­tacts into a self up­dat­ing use­ful tool for col­lab­o­ra­tors, fur­ther build­ing the Alli­ance, and the re­search be­low. More ALLFED fund­ing sooner rather than later is valuable be­cause global agri­cul­tural catas­tro­phes could oc­cur at any time. Each day ac­cel­er­a­tion of full pre­pared­ness for al­ter­nate foods could save 100-40,000 ex­pected lives in the pre­sen­ta­tion gen­er­a­tion, and could in­crease the value of the far fu­ture by 0.000002%-0.002%.

The big pic­ture is that re­search, de­vel­op­ment, and plan­ning for al­ter­nate foods can be done by peo­ple with trans­fer­able skills. For in­stance, ex­perts in biofuels could figure out how to retrofit fac­to­ries quickly to food pro­duc­tion. There­fore, we have great ca­pac­ity to scale up im­pact very quickly.

In the next 12 months, we have de­tailed plans for uti­liz­ing $1.5 mil­lion, in­clud­ing com­mit­ments of peo­ple who will work with us if we se­cure fund­ing. Depend­ing on how the pend­ing pro­pos­als fare, the fund­ing gap is be­tween $0.5 mil­lion and $1.5 mil­lion. Below we out­line the pro­jects and the ap­prox­i­mate cost.

$20,000 level

Some al­ter­nate food tech­nolo­gies that have already been demon­strated, like get­ting food from wheat leaves. We’d like to pro­duce how-to videos for the tech­niques and tech­nolo­gies that would be most use­ful at the house­hold/​com­mu­nity scale.

OR

We’ve already be­gun build­ing a net­work of ex­is­ten­tial risk ex­perts. We’d like to con­tinue grow­ing that net­work, give them me­dia train­ing, and build re­la­tion­ships with the me­dia. Then in a catas­tro­phe, the me­dia would know to con­tact the panel, and the panel could work to pre­vent panic and con­flict by show­ing how we could feed ev­ery­one.

OR

We have calcu­lated that it is tech­ni­cally fea­si­ble to feed all peo­ple at least two times over. This means that al­ter­nate foods could keep all hu­mans al­ive and also pre­serve many other species. We’d like to quan­tify the cost per ex­pected species saved by al­ter­nate foods. Th­ese catas­tro­phes could cause ex­tinc­tions di­rectly, but also starv­ing hu­mans would likely eat other species to ex­tinc­tion. So al­ter­nate foods could be a highly effec­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal in­ter­ven­tion.

$50,000 level

There is a huge reser­voir of fish deep in the ocean. We would es­ti­mate po­ten­tial fish pro­duc­tion and cost of scal­ing up quickly in­clud­ing retrofitting ships into fish­ing ves­sels.

OR

Nu­clear win­ter is one of our top con­cerns. Work­ing with the nu­clear win­ter team funded by Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject to in­cor­po­rate al­ter­nate foods would help us and them get a bet­ter idea of the im­pacts of nu­clear war and how they could be miti­gated. This pro­ject is an­a­lyz­ing so­cietal im­pacts and re­cov­ery, so the pos­si­bil­ity of al­ter­nate foods could change the re­sult dra­mat­i­cally.

OR

Es­ti­mat­ing the cost and speed of retrofitting ex­ist­ing chem­i­cal plants for food pro­duc­tion would be valuable. This would likely be in con­sul­ta­tion with ex­perts. This could be com­pared to the op­tion of rapidly con­struct­ing ded­i­cated food pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ities.

OR

Ini­tial scop­ing anal­y­sis of new al­ter­nate food pos­si­bil­ities, such as sin­gle cel­led pro­tein pow­ered by elec­tric­ity, di­rect chem­i­cal syn­the­sis of food, sea­weed (if the sun is not com­pletely blocked), sin­gle cel­led pro­tein grow­ing on plas­tic, and mush­rooms/​Quorn grow­ing on coal/​oil/​peat.

$100,000 level

Most likely, not all the sun would be blocked by nu­clear win­ter, so it would be very use­ful to know if we could re­lo­cate crops to warmer places. $100,000 would pur­chase a plant growth cham­ber to simu­late the con­di­tions in the trop­ics in nu­clear win­ter and also cover the sup­plies and op­er­a­tor.

OR

Many lives could be saved by plan­ning out how in­fras­truc­ture could be re­pur­posed for al­ter­nate foods, but there is cur­rently lit­tle in­cen­tive for pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tions to do so. We’d like to cre­ate fi­nan­cial mechanisms to in­cen­tivise in­dus­try pre­pared­ness for a sig­nifi­cant crop shock, to en­sure rapid re­sponse in re­pur­pos­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing to en­sure a sus­tain­able food sup­ply.

Some fi­nan­cial mechanisms we could in­ves­ti­gate are catas­tro­phe bonds, para­met­ric in­surance and spe­cial pur­pose ve­hi­cles and go to in­dus­try/​gov­ern­ments to pi­lot fi­nan­cial prod­ucts that in­sure food sup­ply whilst cre­at­ing funds to pay man­u­fac­tur­ers to re­pur­pose fa­cil­ities in a catas­tro­phe. In­surance could be de­vel­oped that could be paid by gov­ern­ments to fund pre­pared­ness.

Or spec­u­la­tively, per­haps pri­vate donors would be in­ter­ested in fund­ing pre­pared­ness and mak­ing an agree­ment with the gov­ern­ment. Devel­oped coun­try gov­ern­ments would likely pay ex­or­bitant amounts to feed their cit­i­zens in a catas­tro­phe with only stored food. The agree­ment could be that if this pre­pared­ness saved the gov­ern­ment $1 trillion or so then the donors would be paid a pro­por­tion of sav­ings. If these donors were EAs, they could use that pay­out to put to­wards other effec­tive causes. The ex­pected re­turn on in­vest­ment could be quite high. For in­stance, from the US per­spec­tive, I es­ti­mated 800% to 40,000,000% if one were paid the full life-sav­ing benefits (the re­duced food ex­pen­di­ture benefits may be similar). We are par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in feed­back on this spec­u­la­tive idea.

$300,000 level

GIS anal­y­sis of the re­sources (bio­mass, in­dus­try, etc.) to pro­duce al­ter­nate food by coun­try would help with both in­di­vi­d­ual coun­try and co­op­er­a­tive plan­ning. Eco­nomic and trade anal­y­sis could es­ti­mate lev­els of co­op­er­a­tion at differ­ent in­ten­si­ties of food shocks and lev­els of prepa­ra­tion for al­ter­nate foods. This would in­volve bring­ing in sub­ject mat­ter ex­perts that we already have agree­ments with. We would also re­cruit a grad­u­ate stu­dent.

$1 mil­lion level

Flex­ible biore­fin­ery in­ves­ti­ga­tion: there are fac­to­ries now that turn crop leaves/​stalks into ethanol. They pro­duce sugar first so we could pro­duce hu­man food in a catas­tro­phe. We would perform ex­per­i­ments to pro­duce the leaf pro­tein con­cen­trate, sugar, and feed for chick­ens, cows, and mush­rooms. We have equip­ment to an­a­lyze the nu­tri­ents and tox­i­c­ity. Then we would work out how the pro­cess could be scaled up quickly in a catas­tro­phe. This would in­volve bring­ing in sub­ject mat­ter ex­perts that we already have agree­ments with. We would also re­cruit a sig­nifi­cant num­ber of grad­u­ate stu­dents (which Joshua Pearce at Michi­gan Tech­nolog­i­cal Univer­sity and I at Univer­sity of Alaska Fair­banks have the ca­pac­ity to man­age), so we can scale up quickly. This would be a multi-year pro­ject.

How to help

We are always open to feed­back and men­tor­ing.

We would ap­pre­ci­ate vol­un­teer help on num­ber of pro­jects, in­clud­ing draft­ing re­sponse plans for par­tic­u­lar coun­tries (maybe a hackathon?), mak­ing al­ter­nate foods and doc­u­ment­ing in­struc­tions and videos, so­cial me­dia (prepa­ra­tion for catas­tro­phe re­sponse), etc.

A tax-free dona­tion in the US is easy on our web­site if you are not donat­ing for the Face­book match.

For the Face­book/​Pay­pal Giv­ing Tues­day match­ing event on 27 Novem­ber 2018 for ALLFED, please see here for in­struc­tions and here to donate.

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