Global Catastrophic Risks Conference (17-20 July, 2008)
In July the Future of Humanity Institute will play host to a number of leading experts on a range of different global catastrophic risks. The conference in Oxford is intended to advance knowledge and increase academic interest in this neglected area and provide a forum to discuss the common problems and methodologies which affect the study of global catastrophic risks.
Global Catastrophic Risks
This collection of essays, edited by Nick Bostrom and Milan Cirkovic, with a forward by Sir Martin Rees, is now available to buy.
Many methodological, conceptual, and cultural issues crop up across the range of global catastrophic risks. Moreover, some general insights – for example, into the biases of human risk cognition – can be applied to many different risks and used to improve our assessments across the board.
For many types of destructive events, much of the damage results from second-order impacts on social order; therefore the risks of social disruption and collapse are related to the risks of nuclear terrorism or pandemic disease.
Apparently dissimilar events such as large asteroid impacts, volcanic super-eruptions, and nuclear war would all eject massive amounts of soot and aerosols into the atmosphere, with significant effects on global climate. The existence of these causal linkages is one reason why it is sensible to study multiple risks together.
There are also pragmatic reasons for addressing global catastrophic risks as a single field. Attention is scarce. Mitigation is costly. To decide how to allocate effort and resources, we must make comparative judgments.
What counts as a global catastrophic risk? The damage must be serious, and the scale global. Given this, a catastrophe that caused 10,000 fatalities or 10 billion dollars worth of economic damage (e.g., a major earthquake) would not qualify as a global catastrophe. A catastrophe that caused 10 million fatalities or 10 trillion dollars worth of economic loss (e.g. an influenza pandemic) would count as a global catastrophe, even if some region of the world escaped unscathed. We feel that stipulating a precise cut-off falling between these two points is not necessary at this stage.