Preparing for Catastrophic Risk

Julian Cribb FRSA FTSE

Humans are facing our greatest existential emergency since we first appeared as a distinct species a million or more years ago.

Ours is the era of global catastrophic risk, a beyond-perilous time in which ten great, interwoven threats combine to confront us, as individuals and as a species, with the most profound challenge we have ever faced.

Humans are nothing if not survivors. For a million years we have faced and successfully surmounted threats to our own lives, our family groups and our existence as a species: famine, disease, predation, fire, flood and tempest. The question yet to be answered is whether we can vanquish our greatest adversary of all. Ourselves.  

The ten catastrophic risks [1] which combine to make up the Anthropocene existential emergency are:

  • Resource loss and depletion
  • Extinction of species and decline of the Earth’s life support systems
  • Weapons of mass destruction
  • Climate change
  • Famine and food scarcity
  • Global poisoning by anthropogenic chemical emissions
  • Release of uncontrolled and dangerous new technologies
  • Uncontrolled population growth and the rise of vulnerable megacities
  • New pandemic diseases arising from ecological destruction, population growth and transport
  • Mass delusion. [2]

Each of these risks is serious enough on its own and constitutes a real and present danger to the future of our civilization. Each of them is an artefact of our own behaviour and use of technology. However, it is their interconnectedness, the complex of these challenges to our very existence that presently confounds us, that blinds us to the true danger, that paralyses our governments, leaders and businesses.

As simple beings we like to prioritise, to solve our problems one at a time. In the Anthropocene this will not work, because our problems are interwoven. We cannot solve one problem if it makes others worse. We cannot manage our total risk by ignoring some risks while we attend to others. That will not place humans any closer to safety.

Each of these problems derives in some sense from the overgrowth in human numbers and material demands, from the abuse and overuse of certain technologies. That is the mainspring of the challenge we face. How do we, as a species – not as nations or individuals – combine to manage both our numbers and our demands safely back to where they stood in 1950, when 2.5 billion humans living far more modestly were – perhaps – capable of enduring sustainably upon the Earth?

Extinction: an inconvenient threat

It is now widely agreed among scientists and those who have studied these risks that, without effective preventative action, collapse of the global economy and modern civilization are possible, if not likely, and human extinction caused by runaway climate, ecological collapse or nuclear war is the worst-case scenario.

There have been ample warnings by researchers extrapolating from present trends. German climate scientist Hans Schellnhuber told the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference of “estimates for the carrying capacity of the planet, namely below 1 billion people”.[3] British Astronomer Royal Martin Rees warned in 2005 that “humanity had only a 50:50 chance of surviving the 21st Century”. [4] As far back as 1996, John Leslie advanced the so-called ‘doomsday argument’ in his book The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction. [5] In 2010, Canadian writer Gwynne Dyer distilled international strategic thinking to predict climate-driven conflict that, combining with nuclear escalation, could leave only a few hundred thousand survivors crammed in the Arctic. [6] Unlike the mystical Book of Revelation, these apocalyptic predictions share a common basis in scientifically-validated trends in climate, environment, armaments and human behaviour. They are not prophecies, but extrapolations from verifiable data about the Earth system and human affairs.

Yet, in spite of all these cogent warnings, no government on the Planet yet has a policy for human survival. They do not regard it as a pressing issue and, consequently are wholly unprepared to deal with the nexus of global catastrophic risks. As the case of Australia illustrates, governments are continually and easily taken by surprise by a rapid shock-cycle of severe drought, followed by a bushfire crisis followed by a viral pandemic in a matter of months. Yet this cycle is exactly what the compounding hammer-blows of various catastrophic risks will deliver as they grow in scale, impact, frequency and severity by the mid C21st.

Figure 1. Humans presently consume 1.8 Earth’s worth of resources a year, a trend that cannot be maintained, warns the Global Footprint Network.

All of these crises derive, at root, from the exponential increase in human numbers and our overdemands on the Earth system. The lift in population (which will have quadrupled in barely a century) combined with a tenfold increase in our use of critical resources like water, soil, minerals, nutrients, energy and a stable climate has pushed human demands beyond the capacity of the Planet to sustain over the longer-term, as the Global Footprint Network (above) cogently demonstrates: [7]

No known species has ever undergone such a population spike without also incurring a proportionate ‘crash’ after exhausting its resources. Humans are not exempt from either biology or physics. Indeed, they are part of both. To every population boom, there comes a reciprocal bust.

Figure 2. The above graph, displayed in the mirror, gives some impression of what might happen naturally with human numbers in the absence of urgent, concerted global action.

That human population must come down is not an issue disputed by any informed observer. The question is how it comes down: in a steady, managed and planned fashion? In a jagged, chaotic and painful manner decreed by famines, wars, sickness and energy crises? Or in a catastrophic collapse precipitated chiefly by doing nothing to forestall its drivers, whether through indecision, delusion or disagreement over what action to take.

Allied to this is the question of how far should the population come down? Since publishing his controversial book, The Population Bomb, in 1969 US demographer Paul Ehrlich has projected an optimal figure for the Earth of fewer than 2 billion people enjoying US living standards. [8] While critics point out that Ehrlich’s dire famine forecasts failed to materialise in the 1970s, his warnings also inspired the Green Revolution, which in turn proved humanity’s capacity to act together to head off catastrophic risk. Other projections for optimal human population include Pimentel 2010 (2 billion) [9] and Lianos 2016 (3 billion at European living standards, which is equivalent to 2 billion at US standards) [10].

The good news on population is that the world’s women, regardless of men, have already taken the matter under some control. Global female fertility has more than halved, from 5 babies per woman in 1965 to 2.4 babies in 2020. At current rates of decline the peak in the human population will occur in the mid-to-late 2060s, and thereafter commence a slow decline. Some countries, like China, are already into rapid population contraction, with fertility rates falling to around 1.7 babies per woman. The outliers against the global trend are the Middle East, where population is expected to double (to 600m in 2050), and Africa which, if nothing else changes, will reach 4 billion inhabitants in the latter years of the century.

The bad news is that, even with effective family planning (and barring disaster), it will take decades for world population to approach sustainable levels, especially since many people are now living longer lives, which is causing the population to swell at the aged end. Thus, an optimal managed population such as that envisaged by Ehrlich et al. is unlikely to be achieved until the mid-2100s (barring catastrophes). The UN’s world projections point to 11.2 billion inhabitants of Earth in 2100:

Figure 3. The UN’s spread of population predictions illustrates the problem in bringing human numbers and demands back into balance with the Earth system.

Every year that the population spike, and its accompanying resource consumption spike, persist in their meteoric ascent increases the potential for global catastrophe, triggered by several of the big risks acting in combination. Put simply, we have maxed the world’s credit card and are now into global resource debt. We have to find ways to service that debt until we can bring population back to a sustainable level.

Since the topic of human extinction is so frequently swept under the carpet by people who lack the fortitude to consider it, it is worthwhile explaining the various pathways for its occurrence envisaged by science, in order that they be avoided:

  • Severe climate change (+3–6 °C), collapsing world food supplies and ecosystems leading to mass migration, resource wars (Dyer 2009) disease pandemics (McMichael 2012) and famines (Cribb 2010, 2019).
  • Uncontrollable or ‘runaway’ climate change (+7–30 °C) driven mainly by uncontrolled release of natural methane from the tundra, deep ocean and tropical forests and other feedbacks. This could heat the Earth to the point where it becomes physically uninhabitable by humans or other large animals (Hansen et al. 2013).
  • Nuclear wars, arising out of religious, resources, ethnic or political disputes, followed by a ‘nuclear winter’ of collapsing social order, widespread famine and disease.
  • Developments in information technology and artificial intelligence reaching a point where human intelligence is exceeded and then supplanted by machine intelligence, a theory popularised by physicist Stephen Hawking (Cellan-Jones 2014)
  • Chain consequences flowing from research into synthetic biology, nanotechnology or quantum physics, such as the unintentional creation of destructive self-replicating organisms, machines or substances, or the breaching of unknown physical boundaries.
  • A global pandemic caused by a newly-evolved or man-made infectious virus, such as an especially lethal strain of influenza which attacks the brain and spine. Such viruses already exist in birds and could cross into humans from domestic poultry.
  • Ecosystem collapse; or a more subtle and protracted process in which the progressive decline of climatic, biological and environmental services and scarcity of key resources interacts with loss of human intelligence and health as a result of pandemic self-poisoning with man-made chemicals and novel diseases.
  • Belief risk – a process in which delusion becomes so paramount in politics, business, economics, religion, popular narratives and the behaviour of society that it paralyses our ability either to understand or take effective, unified action to save ourselves.
  • More optimistically, that our species successfully evolves from our present form into a wiser type of human with the pan-species ability to communicate, co-operate, nurture, conserve and share wisdom universally—rather than one that prefers competition, exploitation, killing, pollution and destruction.
  • An unavoidable Earth system catastrophe such as an asteroid impact or large-scale outbreak of volcanism such as may have caused the Permian and/or KT extinctions, or a gamma ray burst from a nearby exploding star.

The first eight of these extinction scenarios share a common feature: they are all preventable. This underlines the point that human extinction is optional. It will happen only if we want it to – or are too weak-willed to stop it.

Big risks, corrupt practices

Because they are interlocked with one another, the ten global catastrophic risks cannot be dealt with singly or one after another. They require integrated solutions which cross-cut all known risks, implemented concurrently and which make none of the other individual risks worse.

For example, the easy way to solve the risk of global food insecurity might be to use more fossil fuels to ‘modernise’ agriculture, using more machinery, fertilisers and chemicals. However this approach (in fact, the current one) will have disastrous consequences for the climate (carbon emissions), the Earth system (nitrogen pollution, forest loss, desertification), human health (pandemic disease, noncommunicable disease), extinction and eco-collapse (land clearing), resource scarcity (soil erosion, water pollution, forest loss, nutrient loss) food security itself, mass migration and warfare. It can thus be seen that the present ‘solution’ to food insecurity is no solution at all – but rather, will exacerbate other risks all round.

A rational approach to managing humanity’s catastrophic risks requires that all risks be accorded equal priority for solution, because they all derive from the same basic causes and are inseparable from one another.

Secondly, it requires that the proposed solutions to each risk be tested against all the other risks, to ensure there are no unforeseen downsides. In other words that they solve the overall risk, not make matters worse. Simple reflection on our recent history shows that many things which were deemed a great benefit to humanity became great dangers to it when human numbers and use exploded in the late 20th Century. Coal is the classic example: the fuel of the industrial revolution has become the high explosive for climate disaster and global poisoning in the 21st, mainly through excessive use and inadequate effort to curb its dangers, despite their being well known and long foreseen. Chemical use, land clearing and motor vehicles are other examples.

The important point is that all our known catastrophic risks are capable of solution, given wise precaution, the application of appropriate technologies and universal behavioural change by humans. Nothing, at this stage, is beyond us.

However, no problem can be solved unless it is first (a) known and (b) understood. At this point the world’s governments do not acknowledge the fact of an existential emergency – and, since none of them have any policies for dealing with it, neither can they solve it. While some of them acknowledge some major risks, such as climate, weapons of mass destruction, pandemics or food insecurity, there are no plans for addressing the risk complex generated by human activity as a whole. Indeed, even official acknowledgement of particular risks such as climate change is woefully inadequate for resolving it, as Swedish student Greta Thunberg frequently points out. [12]

Furthermore, some nations are actively working to hinder, delay or disrupt global efforts to bring catastrophic risks under control. These prize short-term wealth and power over human survival. This dilemma, that concerted global action to make the world a safer place can be sabotaged by a handful of malignant, selfish or ill-governed states underlines the fundamental unsuitability of the nation state as an institution for human self-determination into the future. It is a construct whose use-by date is fast approaching. Given its warlike tendencies and nuclear arsenals, the nation state’s eventual disappearance is arguably important to human survival. [13]

However, it is not just governments who are to blame. As the climate crisis illustrates, 100 giant carbon corporations are working in concert to influence the global political agenda. These companies are responsible for the lion’s share (71%) of global greenhouse emissions [14] and have knowingly disrupted attempts by governments, citizens, non-government bodies and green energy companies to save humanity from catastrophe.[15] According to UK-based analysts InfluenceMap, in the three years following the Paris Agreement, the five largest publicly-traded oil and gas majors (ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP and Total) invested over $1Bn of shareholder funds in climate misinformation and counterlobbying.  [16]    

Figure 4. Annual political spending by oil majors on lobbying governments to overturn climate laws. Source: InfluenceMap 2019

The extent of corporate influence over government goes far beyond the area of climate risk. It includes lobbying by the military-industrial complex to protect the $1.8 trillion worldwide weapons spend. It includes efforts by the petrochemical industry to influence both developed and developing country governments to permit continued poisoning of air, water, food and people. It includes lobbying by the corporate food industry to continue marketing of foods linked to the diet-related deaths of three people in every four in the developed world. It includes efforts by developers of artificial intelligence, killer robots, biotechnology products and global mass surveillance equipment to escape public scrutiny. It includes lobbying by the global mining industry to evade responsibility for <75 billion tonnes of pollution it releases into the Earth system annually. It includes lobbying by the electronics sector to avoid responsibility for 50 million tonnes of e-waste a year. It includes pressure by forestry companies, agribusiness and water corporations for the freedom to continue pillaging their resources. And the list goes on. In short, most industries, at some level, seek to purchase influence to escape responsibility for the global catastrophic risks they are contributing to, and to hinder their mitigation.

For the safety of all, selfish industries and their puppet governments can no longer be permitted to sacrifice humanity and the Planet to their own narrow interests. They must be brought under control by people power, by informed consumers (economic power) and voters (political power), by regulation and law (legal power) – or else global society will disintegrate. How this can be done is explained later.

On the more positive side of the ledger, the world ‘green economy’ is currently estimated at more than $4 trillion, or 6%, out of a total world economy worth $80 trillion. [17] Consisting mainly of renewable energy and environmental services, the sector’s market value is thus twice that of the oil industry ($1.7tr). It is expected to reach 7% of global economic activity by 2030. 

However, the longer it takes governments, industry and society to appreciate and act on catastrophic risks, the greater will be the resulting toll in death and acute suffering, eventually encompassing the majority of humanity.

Taking personal responsibility for catastrophic risks

Dealing with catastrophic risks is not just the concern of governments, corporations and other large-scale actors. It also involves the willing participation of every individual on the Planet in changing their personal behaviour – especially the amount of material resources they consume, waste and throw away. It is this colossal wastage and release of toxic compounds which is poisoning the Planet, destroying its wildlife and life support systems and killing around 9 million people a year directly through ‘environmental poisons’ (that is, toxins generated by humans in their living environment.) [18]

It is the sum of our personal behaviours which is wrecking the stable climate humans have enjoyed for the past nine thousand years. It is our combined consumption habits which are wiping other animals from the face of the Earth, clearfelling forests, emptying oceans, spreading deserts, unleashing pandemics.

The willing, enthusiastic participation of individuals in changing the way we live is therefore key to human survival and to a safe, sustainable Earth. Every attempt must be made to engage the entire human population in this mission.

The good news is that it is already happening. Social media, besides  being awash with spite, prejudice and trivia, is also abundant with shared ideas, creative solutions, inspiring things people can do at the personal level about their diet, their consumer choices, their vote, their lifestyle, their health. Personal-level solutions to catastrophic risks are flying round the planet at light speed.

In writing Surviving the 21st Century, I made damn sure that not only did I identify the essential global level solutions to our shared risks, but also included, with every risk, a list of things individuals can do in their own lives to ameliorate it. In her empowering book The Future We Choose, former UN climate leader Christiana Figueres accentuates the role of personal responsibility for the climate, arguing we must evolve from ‘consumers’ into ‘global citizens’; she provides numerous practical tools for personal action in the climate space especially. [19] Such advice is rapidly becoming universally available – for example, Wikipedia sums up a host of personal and collective actions people can take to mitigate their own climate impact – and at the same time influence the behaviour of corporates. [20]

One example of grassroots, individual-level, action to mitigate a catastrophic risk is 350.org, the worldwide organisation founded by climate campaigners Bill McKibben and Blair Palese, which proclaims: “We’re an international movement of ordinary people working to end the age of fossil fuels and build a world of community-led renewable energy for all.” [21] In conjunction with others, like GoFossilFree, the movement has had notable success in shifting mum-and-dad investors, superannuation funds, corporate and institutional investors away from fossil fuels: by 2019, it was claiming over 1,200 institutions and 58,000 individuals had divested from coal, oil and gas firms. [22]

A roadmap for solving catastrophic risk

Lest it be thought this article has dwelt too much on the problems humans face, it is important here to set forth the main, high-level solutions for them.

The following solutions have been widely canvassed in the scientific literature, in the world media and social media, or are proposed in my four books on existential risk. They are summarised (without detailed explanation) here:

Risk                                                                                   Solution

Climate change                                                              Cut fossil carbon emissions to zero by 2050; green energy; reafforestation and rewilding. [23]

Global poisoning                                                           End fossil fuels use. Educate consumers. Test all new chemicals. New Human Right.

Resource scarcity                                                          Build a circular economy; recycle all materials; reverse population growth; educate consumers.

Food insecurity                                                              Build a renewable world food system, recycle water & nutrients; rewild 40% of planet. [24]

Weapons of Mass Destruction                                   Global ban and phase-out.[25]

Extinction                                                                        Develop renewable food system and rewild 40% of the Planet. Ban ecotoxics and trade in wildlife.

Population                                                                      Women as world leaders. Universal family planning

Pandemic disease                                                         Improve early warning systems. Ban certain experiments. Reverse deforestation globally.

Dangerous new technologies                                    Establish public oversight and regulation of new technologies in advance. Ethical requirements.

Human mass delusion                                                  Refocus politics, religion and the human narrative on human survival first and foremost. Create an Earth Standard Currency.

These, it must be stressed, are just the bare bones of the solutions which humanity needs to adopt in order to alleviate the threats that are building up to our civilization and existence. The intention is to show (a) that solutions to all our problems exist (b) it is possible to integrate them in ways that cause no further harm and (c) they can be implemented simultaneously. There are many lesser actions that are urgently needed to overcome risks, which there is not space to deal with here.

However, from these high-level actions it is possible to construct a pathway towards a far safer human future and a more viable Earth, as I attempted to do in Surviving the 21st Century. This puts a little more flesh on the bones listed above.

Fig 5. A roadmap for reducing catastrophic risk at the human species level. CribbJ and DayP

These two figures are by no means a prescription – but illustrate how various actions at both global and personal level can combine to reduce, individually and collectively, the risks that overshadow out common future.

Fig. 6. A roadmap for reducing catastrophic risk at the individual level. CribbJ and DayP

They show that there is indeed a clear pathway to a safer human future in the Anthropocene. One we must set foot on as soon as possible.

In addition to these practical approaches to dealing with catastrophic and existential risks, there are four further over-arching developments which can also help to secure the human future.

Thinking as a species

Humanity is in the early stages of the most significant evolution in its history: learning to think as a species. This is the linking of human minds, values, information and solutions at lightspeed and in real time around the planet, via the internet and social media.

Thanks to the spread of the internet and social media, people are for the first time communicating across the barriers of language, race, nationality, religion, region and gender that have long divided us. While the internet contains much rubbish and malignity, it also contains huge amounts of goodwill, trustworthy science-based advice, practical solutions to problems – and people joining hands in good causes. As internet consumers, we just have to learn to choose wisely between the good stuff and the bad.

There is a parallel. In the second trimester of a baby’s gestation a marvellous thing happens: the nerve cells in the embryonic brain begin to connect – and a mind is born. An inanimate mass of cells is transformed into a sentient being, capable of thought, imagination, memory, logic, feelings and dreams.

Today individual humans are connecting, at lightspeed, around a planet – just like the neurons in the foetal brain. We are now in the process of forming a universal, Earth-sized ‘mind’. A higher understanding and potentially, a higher intellect, [26] is in genesis – capable of thought, reason and resolute action to counter the existential threats that are building up around us. Humans are learning to think at supra-human level by applying millions of minds simultaneously to the challenges, in real time, by sharing our knowledge freely and by generating faster global consensus on what needs to be done to secure our future.

The rapid worldwide spread of renewable energy and its technologies, the sharing of knowledge about unsafe or toxic foods, the dissemination of health advice for diet or pandemics, the global call to action over extinction and environmental decline, the youth climate protests are all examples of how the internet has spread awareness and forged common actions to deal with catastrophic threats.

In 2020 there were 4.1 billion internet users – over half the human population. By 2030, it is forecast, everyone will be online. For the first time in history a conversation among the whole of humanity becomes possible – and what more urgent and appropriate topic than the survival of the human species?

Through the internet young people and elders alike are reaching out to one another in real time, across the divides of race, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, generation, gender, socioeconomic status and prejudice. They are learning how similar we all are. How many things we share. How we can ‘like’, help, support and depend on each other.

By 2020 there were 4.1 billion internet users – over half the population. By 2030, it is forecast, everyone will be online. For the first time in history a conversation among the whole of humanity is possible – and what more urgent and appropriate topic than the survival of the human species?

Through the internet young people and elders alike are reaching out to one another in real time, across the divides of race, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, generation, gender, socioeconomic status and prejudice. They are learning how similar we all are. How many things we share. How we can ‘like’, help, support and depend on each other to save our species.

Women as world leaders

Key to the survival of humanity and civilization is that women become leaders in every sphere of human activity – in government, business, religion, communities and social institutions around the world.

As a rule, women don’t start wars, dig coal, destroy landscapes and forests, pollute air and oceans or poison their children. Men do all these things with insufficient regard for the future. Women tend to consider the longer-term needs needs of their children and grandchildren. They tend to seek peaceful and constructive answers to problems rather than violent solutions to differences over values, beliefs or resources. Pragmatic masculine thinking has driven humanity’s remarkable ascent, and our great technological successes. But excess success is now the very thing that imperils our future. In a hot, overcrowded, resource-depleted world it is our potential downfall.

Women have already taken the decision to halve the human birth rate. This was a decision taken at species level, because women instinctually understand the dangers inherent in uncontrolled family or population growth. It is the decision that marks them out as the natural leaders in the century of our greatest peril as we seek to guide humanity back to a sustainable population and way of living.

Female leadership is not mainly about gender equity or politics, as many seem to think. It is about something far more important: the basic rules for human survival. It is a matter of choosing the kind of leadership which can best get us safely through the most dangerous era in all of human history. There is already ample testament that women, worldwide, are taking up the challenge. [27]

Female thinking can save the planet, and humanity. This means female thinking by men as well as by women. But we need a majority of wise women in positions of power if we are escape the fate which aggression, overconsumption, delusion and overpollution are creating for us.

Awareness of risk

Also essential to human survival is universal awareness of the peril in which we exist. The failure of governments and societies to act on global catastrophic risk is due chiefly to lack of awareness. For this reason I have proposed a Human Survival Index (HSI) to let everyone know just where we stand.

This is a universal indicator displaying the scale of threat to humanity from the combined existential risks we now face. It is an easily-understood tool, a single number, for spreading global awareness of the need for common, resolute, planet-wide action to mitigate them.

The Human Survival Index is a regular report card on the human future – and if it is becoming safer or more dangerous. It will be broadcast universally on the daily news, just like the weather report, money markets or the stock market index. It will combine ten subordinate indices each of which expresses the threat level from one of the ten global catastrophic risks. Put simply, it is a science-based measure of whether we are likely or unlikely to survive. A detailed proposal for the HSI is being considered by international bodies concerned with the human future. [28]

An Earth Standard Currency

In the Anthropocene, when the future of humanity depends on how successfully we manage to overcome the ten global threats that face us, it is important to share a common currency for dealing with them. That is, not simply a common understanding, but also a common means of monetary exchange which enables us to rebuild, repair and regenerate our damaged world.

The problem with our present money is that it is a figment of the human imagination. It exists only in the human mind, not the real world. Yet it is used to develop, produce, exploit, damage and destroy things that are real. Money is also infinite in supply, in that banks and central banks can, as a rule, create as much of it as they choose, mostly out of thin air.

However, the Planet on which we live is finite. Its oceans, atmosphere, landmass, forests, soils, fresh water, minerals and biota are all limited in extent and in terms of what they can yield for the survival of humans and other life on Earth.

If you use an infinite commodity, money, to exploit a finite Planet, you will run out of planet long before you run out of money.

The great flaw in the present global monetary system is that it looks only to the present needs and makes no investment in our long-term existence. It treats life itself as ‘an externality’. It is a haven for gamblers and speculators who treat our future as their plaything. In other words, modern humanity prizes conceptual ‘wealth’ above its own survival.

Instead we need a real currency with a trustworthy, reliable value, which people can use in their daily lives and businesses and which reflects the real Planet and its many real assets which underpin life itself. This is the proposed Earth Standard Currency.

The value of the Earth Standard Currency is set by scientifically measuring all the main ecological systems and physical resources that sustain life on earth, including human life. In other words – unlike modern money – it is based on real, tangible assets, not on artificial ones. Thus, it directly links human wealth to human survival and planetary renewal. It is described in detail here: https://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/need-earth-standard-currency/

Conclusion

The ten catastrophic risks that face humanity are all capable of being solved. Humans are wise enough, skilled enough and have sufficient technologies to deal with them all.

What we most lack are the awareness, leadership and common purpose to overcome them.

The Anthropocene will test whether or not Homo sapiens is truly fit to survive. [29] 

Australia, hitherto a laggard in both appreciating and acting on catastrophic risk, has received its wake-up call in the form of drought, followed by a bushfire crisis, followed by the coronavirus pandemic, followed by an economic crisis.

It is time Australia ceased to be part of the problem and became a leader in finding solutions in the Age of Catastrophic Risk.


[1] A global catastrophic risk is an event which can damage human well-being on a global scale, even endangering or destroying modern civilization. An event that causes human extinction is known as an existential risk.

[2] For a detailed discussion of the risks, their causes and solutions see Cribb JHJ, 2017, Surviving the 21st Century, Springer. https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783319412696

[3] https://www.churchmilitant.com/news/article/alarming-lay-involvement-in-upcoming-amazon-synod

[4] Rees, M, 2003. Our Final Century? Will the Human Race Survive the Twenty-First Century? Heinemann. https://www.ted.com/talks/martin_rees_is_this_our_final_century

[5] Leslie J., 1996, The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction, Routledge. https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9780203007723

[6] Dyer G., 2009, Climate Wars. Scribe https://scribepublications.com.au/books-authors/books/climate-wars

[7] Global Footprint Network. https://www.footprintnetwork.org/resources/data/

[8] Carrington D, Paul Ehrlich: ‘Collapse of civilisation is a near certainty within decades’, The Guardian, March 22, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/mar/22/collapse-civilisation-near-certain-decades-population-bomb-paul-ehrlich

[9] Pimentel, D. et al. Will Limited Land, Water, and Energy Control Human Population Numbers in the Future? Hum. Ecol. 38, 599–611 (2010).

[10] Lianos, T. P. & Pseiridis, A. Sustainable welfare and optimum population size. Environ. Dev. Sustain. 18, 1679–1699 (2016).

[11] Flannery, T., The Future Eaters, Grove Press, 2002.

[12] Greta Thunberg hits out at governments for avoiding ambitious climate action. Carbon Brief, December 22, 2019. https://www.carbonbrief.org/daily-brief/greta-thunberg-hits-out-at-governments-for-avoiding-ambitious-climate-action

[13] See Cribb JHJ, The Nation State is on the Skids, MAHB, 2015. https://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/nation-state-on-the-skids/

[14] Griffin P, Carbon Majors Report 2017, Climate Accountability Institute, 2017. https://b8f65cb373b1b7b15feb-c70d8ead6ced550b4d987d7c03fcdd1d.ssl.cf3.rackcdn.com/cms/reports/documents/000/002/327/original/Carbon-Majors-Report-2017.pdf?1499691240

[15] Franta B., Shell and Exxon’s Secret Climate Change Warnings, The Guardian, September 19, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/sep/19/shell-and-exxons-secret-1980s-climate-change-warnings

[16] Big Oil’s Real Agenda on Climate Change, InfluenceMap, March 2019. https://influencemap.org/report/How-Big-Oil-Continues-to-Oppose-the-Paris-Agreement-38212275958aa21196dae3b76220bddc

[17] Tilley C., Green economy now worth as much as fossil fuel sector, Climate Change News, June 5 2018. https://www.climatechangenews.com/2018/06/05/green-economy-now-worth-much-fossil-fuel-sector/

[18] The Lancet Commission on pollution and health. October 2017. https://www.thelancet.com/commissions/pollution-and-health

[19] Figueres C., The Future we Choose, Global Optimism 2020. https://globaloptimism.com/the-future-we-choose-book/

[20] Individual Action on Climate Change, Wikipedia 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individual_action_on_climate_change

[21] https://350.org/

[22] https://gofossilfree.org/major-milestone-1000-divestment-commitments/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossil_fuel_divestment

[23] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, 2019. https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/2/2019/06/SR15_Headline-statements.pdf

[24] The details of this are provided in Cribb JHJ., Food or War, Cambridge, 2019.

[25] Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, United Nations, 2017. https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/tpnw/

[26] De Chardin T., Cosmogenesis, 1922. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noosphere

[27] See 17 inspiring female leaders, StartUp Daily, https://www.startupdaily.net/2020/03/17-inspiring-female-leaders-on-the-progress-made-from-45-years-of-international-womens-day/ and Seeds and Chips, 20 stories of women changing the world of agrifood innovation, https://www.seedsandchips.com/newsandpress/20%20Stories%20of%20Women%20Changing%20the%20World%20of%20AgriFood%20Innovation?id=5e62345a01bc9e4e0f15fd5e

[28] Cribb J. Averting Ecocide: We need a Human Survival Index, MAHB, November 21, 2017. https://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/human-survival-index/

[29] Cribb JHJ., Why Homo sapiens needs a new name. Dec 26, 2016. https://juliancribb.blog/2016/12/12/why-homo-sapiens-needs-a-new-name/

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