By Julian Cribb
Humanity’s capacity to inflict mass harm on itself has been accelerating exponentially since the mid-20th Century. It is rapidly approaching the point where it can bring down civilization and, quite possibly, eliminate our species.
This is the greatest existential emergency of human history. In the coming decades it will determine whether we survive or fail. The gravity of the coming together of the ten megarisks is not understood, either by governments in general, corporates or societies at large. This general ignorance of the ten threats and their deeply interconnected nature is a major barrier to our solving any of them.
However, all of the ten threats are capable of being solved. Humans have the brains, organisational skills and technology to escape the trap we have dug for ourselves. But we lack the institutions, the understanding and the will to act.
There are two underlying principles for human survival. First, each of the ten megarisks must be solved in ways that make none of the other risks worse.
Second, we cannot solve these risks one at a time, or according to some arbitrary priority, as they are all connected to one another and must therefore be solved together.
If human civilization, or even humans, are to survive, here are the ten most critical actions to be taken:
1. Outlaw all nuclear weapons, eliminate their stockpiles and safely recycle their materials. There is no point in solving other risks if we destroy the planet. (Nuclear war)
2. End all extraction and use of fossil fuels and their byproducts, including pesticides, plastics and toxic petrochemicals by 2030. Replace with renewable, natural-based substances. Reforest half the Earth’s land area. (Climate change)
3. Convert the entire global economy to a circular model in which every resource is recycled and re-used and nothing is lost, discarded or wasted. (Resource scarcity)
4. Develop a 3-pillar global food system consisting of:
- Regenerative agriculture which repairs its environment
- Urban food systems to recycle water and nutrients to feed megacities, and
- Deep ocean aquaculture of aquatic plants, fish and marine animals using recycled nutrients. (Food security)
5. Return half of the world’s current farmed and grazed lands to forest or wilderness to end the 6th Extinction. Create a Stewards of the Earth program to implement it. (Extinction)
6. Create a Right Not to Be Poisoned and a Clean Up the Earth Alliance (see Earth Detox), to eliminate all forms of toxic pollution in air, food, water and consumer products. Introduce universal safety testing of all manufactured chemicals.
7. Introduce a global plan to progressively and voluntarily reduce the human population by 75 per cent by 2120. Ie Return it to where it was in the mid-20th Century. Note: the world’s women are already doing this. The issue is whether the fall happens voluntarily or involuntarily.
8. Prevent future pandemics by ending environmental destruction (5), banning dangerous scientific experiments, restricting global travel, creating global early warning systems and reducing world population (7).
9. Reform the world economic system by (a) creating an Earth Standard Currency, based on the planet’s natural assets for sustaining life and (b) creating a global circular economy.
10. Introduce global science-based awareness and education about the megarisks, their consequences and solutions to educate those of the human population willing to learn. (Delusion)
These are just the ‘top ten’ headline solutions. There are many other connected, more detailed solutions and policies that must be adopted to secure our future. Some of these are discussed in Surviving the 21st Century. Others are detailed in books by other writers.
If humans were intelligent, then education and awareness would be sufficient to catalyse global, local and individual action everywhere to save ourselves from ourselves. Alas, the species collectively is not intelligent, although some individuals may be.
However, since a large part of humanity is either ignorant of, or opposed to, any action to save itself – or else finds it more profitable to ruin the Planet and the human future – then the most likely outcome of the present trajectory will be a large-scale collapse in civilization causing the deaths of a significant part of the human population (scientific estimates range from 50 to 90 per cent) mainly from famine, disease, mass refugeeism and (nuclear) war.
If that is not a sufficient wake-up call for everyone to act, then extinction is pretty much assured. It happens to all species eventually.
Optimistically, early actions to end pandemics, climate change and food insecurity and restore the earth’s life support systems can generate the resolution and confidence for the other necessary solutions to be adopted collaboratively and universally.
However, this is not yet happening on a level large enough to make a difference. No government on Earth yet has a policy for human survival. Until they all do, our collective chances are grim.
– Julian Cribb is a science author and co-founder of the Council for the Human Future
 For example: you cannot solve food insecurity by burning more fossil fuels and making the climate worse for food production.
 The world’s women are already implementing a reduction in the birthrate. The issue is whether the decline in population happens voluntarily or involuntarily.
3 thoughts on “Solving the mega-risks”
Thanks for this. I agree
Perhaps the impact of another Carrington Event (last one in 1859);
Caldera explosions; Taupo, Yellowstone and perhaps another Krakatoa explosion;
or an Asteroid impact could also be considered.
I imagine that if there is another significant Carrinton event then urban and semi society would find it difficult to survive as electonic devices etc would be destroyed – no transport, no banking, no electronic communication etc
The film The Road gave a pretty dramatic indication of how humans would behave if the sun was blanketed by huge events like a caldera explosion. Canberra has (I understand) only 3-4 days food in storage so anything that disrupts transport would be nasty.
It would also be interesting to risk assess each of the risks and a combined risk of all the risks you mention – I am not sure whether that has been done in any definitive way that makes sense to the public and to Government.
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Thanks, Digby. The ten megarisks I refer to are all self-inflicted by humans. There isn’t a lot we can do about asteroids, super volcanoes
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… However, in answer to your question, no I don’t believe anybody has risk assessed the megarisks. It is another example of their not be taken seriously yet. cheers, Julian
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