Loss of Industrial Civilization and Recovery (Workshop)

Loss of Industrial Civilization and Recovery (Workshop)

I’ll talk for… give some intro, and then
we’ll break into small groups. What we’ve done here is taken out some of
the chairs so you can have like a group of eight of you or so, eight, eight, eight, eight,
eight, something like that. You’ll discuss the scenario that I give you. Then I’ll give some more intro of how it might
be different if we actually prepare for these catastrophes, and then you’ll again, break
into the small groups, and discuss what you think would happen. Then we’ll come back together and discuss
results. So you’ll have to… we’ll keep you on time. So just a little background on Alliance to
Feed the Earth in Disasters, many people on our team are actually in the UK, other people
are in the US. Mentioned the book Feeding Everyone No Matter
What, and ALLFED is 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 that happened in 2007, 2008. So we don’t focus on that. We do focus on scenarios that could cause
a roughly 10% reduction in food production, so these are things like volcanic eruption,
like that caused the year without a summer in 1816, where there was famine in parts of
Europe. Number of other disasters, like super weed. Then we also look at disasters that could
completely block the sun, like nuclear winter. But then the focus of today, is these scenarios
that could disrupt electricity, and since pretty much everything else is dependent on
electricity, like pulling fossil fuels out of the ground, then possibly a collapse of
industrial civilization. So some background, the emphasis within EA
has been on existential risks, which many times people associate with outright extinction. Now these agricultural catastrophes are unlikely
to cause outright extinction. However, there are… the original definition
of existential risk from Nick Bostrom was not just extinction, but 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, 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 go poorly, then the trauma
from the catastrophe could make us nastier, and maybe we’re more likely to have future
catastrophes, or maybe those worse values end up in AI, and are locked in. So it’s another way of having far future impact. All right. So that’s background on GCR and ALLFED. Now I’ll quickly go over the scenario. So we’ve mentioned solar storms. What happened in 1859, the Carrington event,
we basically only had telegraphs at the time. Didn’t have much electricity. But it did disrupt telegraphs. In order to disrupt electricity globally,
it would have 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. So that could… and a solar storm will burn
out transformers connected to long electric lines. Now, the next scenario is the high altitude
electromagnetic pulse, which means a nuclear weapon detonated at high altitude, creates
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. But actually, for today, we’re going to focus
on what we call the approximately 10% loss of electricity and industry. So here, then we are talking, perhaps, something
like the size of the Carrington event. The 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, but 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, the 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. So here are some pretty pictures of the five
scenarios. That’s solar storm down there. That’s an EMP. Okay. So now for your small group work, we’re going
to focus on just one particular scenario. So let’s say we have EMP over Eastern United
States, electrical grid is destroyed, 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. The large vehicles, so they’ve actually done
some testing to simulate EMP, and they found that larger vehicles tend to be destroyed
by this, 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. 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, there is more people. Would it harm people also? What’s that? The electric impulse could affect the human
body also? So generally, the question was does the pulse
actually hurt people directly? Generally not. So it doesn’t kill people directly. But it affects the infrastructure. So now we’re going to break up into groups
soon. 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. Then we’re… this scenario is, we’re trying
to think what might happen if we don’t do any preparations. So if you are familiar with offense work on
industry, then maybe don’t talk about it so much, if you think it would give it away. But try to be honest in what you think would
happen now, with current preparedness. So we’re only going to have about five minutes
in the subgroup, because then we want to talk as a group with results. Try to have someone record, think about someone
who will speak about what the group came up with. Some questions to think about is 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 conquest, 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 you think might happen. This can be what we call cascading failures,
like, the initial scenario, if it then goes poorly, then that could have long term impacts. Okay. So let’s form into small groups. Okay, so in this group, we have more questions. So we tried to outline our ignorance. The kind of topics that we discussed immediately
were, well, would other industrialized nations jump up to help? A lot of questions revolved around can they
do it? Other examples, how fast can you put food
in the US if you really were short by let’s say half of the production 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. That’s it. So I think we’ll move to the next group. Unfortunately, we probably only have a minute
each, because we have six groups. So 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. Thanks. So, is this okay? Yeah. 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. The what system is still running? The Western US. Like the Western seaboard. So we don’t … 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 ruts would drop into them. But like 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. Okay. Let us know if you do have any quantitative
estimates of what your estimate of the far future loss impact would be. 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? Especially the question is kind of, is the
military going to be able to keep control of the East Coast? Or is that kind of the ratio of… so 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. Yeah. That’s it from us. Thanks. Can you clarify briefly by what’s meant by
far future potential loss percent? Yeah. So the question is the far future potential
loss percent, the idea is if… one example would be if you thought we would have a loss
of civilization, what percent chance would you say we would not recover civilization? Because then we would basically lose nearly
all the value of the far future, if we never recovered. So if you think there is a 50% chance of losing
civilization, and if we lose it, a 10% chance of not recovering, then you would say that’s
a 5% loss of civilization permanently. So that’s like a 5% loss of our total potential. So that’s one example, and I gave other examples
of that impact. 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, people trying to get out of the East Coast areas,
towards the West Coast, and any sort of logistics impacts that the West Coast might be impacted
by due to the fact that the things in the East Coast will no longer be working. If there is like a logistics system that is
based out of the East Coast. 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, because they would be the least concerned, 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 is spoilage issues and
whatnot. Thanks. Last group. Okay. So 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 works 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 to send messages. Yeah, the Fire Chat app is… so, it was created
for stationed and Government of the cell service. But 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 just to comment,
people to have Fire Chat app on their phones. Also, we need to charge phones, and maybe
mechanical chargers, something like this. In that case, people could have communication. But does that also require the wifi routers? To be working? No, you don’t need the routers. It comes back directly, one phone to another. It’s created so you don’t need any other hardware. So if you have just two phones, they could…
they work as routers, for each other. Okay, how far can you transmit? Basically, the distance of work of by far
of the twos, so a few tens of meters. But if you have many people, you can send
message through the net, or it can wait until it meets the needed person. Or you could just yell. No, no. It works through the net to do long distance. Then we had one more technical idea, that
nuclear powered submarines wouldn’t be effected by the EMP. They could come up, and they have a reactor
that could power. That’s a good idea. The cities, and or at least some crucial infrastructure. We didn’t get that far. I feel like we… in those five minutes. But that’s… Thank you. All right, did you have a… Direct to your answer to you… One second. We also thought about 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? If they were defect, then they don’t… Yeah, it would depend on the voltage in the
generation, like on the ships. But that’s a really good question. I should look into that. Well, great. Sorry you didn’t have too much time to discuss,
and too much time to report back. But 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 we’ve been thinking about
preparing for a scenario like this. Now, first I’ll talk about if there were a
global scenario, like we didn’t have any industry at all. Some things for getting more food out of the
same land, at least now we understand how fertilizer works, 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 continue to use improved
seed varieties that don’t rely on continued genetic engineering. We could potentially use farm animals that
we currently raise for food, for draft animals farming, and for transportation. I’ll talk about that more later. Also, we would shift the, ideally, shift the
type of crops to crops that produce more calories per hectare. Then the alternate foods from 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, and things like that. So we might want to do that. 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 can’t get as much food from the amount of land that we currently have in production,
we actually could feed everyone several times over. So a note on 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, 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. This one didn’t work. 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. But just the fact that 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 need to do sanitation, we can even do some
birth control. We need to keep warm, so you can make wood
burning stoves fairly easily. Then for communication, there is a short wave
radio, sometimes called ham radio, that can be done without large infrastructure system
and transmit large distances. Here is an example of a transmitter. Now, many of these solutions that we just
talked about, could be relevant even in a 10% loss of industry scenario. But I think even if there were massive aid
from outside, it’s still going to take time to restore these services. So we would need to do some of these things. That 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. 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, 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, did it run any better? How much better? Then again, think about the focus… you can
answer in both ways, how many lives we would save, or how much we might reduce the far
future impact. So same groups. 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, and 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 thought because we have a lot of labors
in, because normal jobs in cities are falling away in such catastrophic situations, that
at least that problem is totally manageable. It felt like that. 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 maybe not as much, because
it’s maybe only stalling the development, and not routing the… what you would say,
the growth, the potential. Yeah, potential is a good word. So you’re saying, and we can switch to the
next group, that both scenarios would just be a temporary setback and we would recover? No, we didn’t say that. I hope you understand me without the microphone. Oh, sorry. In this scenario, where we have the tutorials
prepared, and the seeds, and some… okay, and in addition to that, some food. So we think if food and survival is prepared,
to be… so it’s not a problem for a few years, probably, then we could recover from that. Okay. But are you concerned about not recovering
if you were not prepared? I’m definitely would be. I would give it a very, very low probability,
but I don’t know how low, and that really makes a difference, right? Is it one millions? One billions? But it’s really hard to just intuitively guess. 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 it works 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. So we started out, I guess, discussing how
effective it would actually be to have distributed this information. So 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. But that’s… 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 kind of 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
a 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. Thanks. So we talked about mainly two things, the
first was, so with 30 million, 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 maybe train farmers, so if you can’t train every person, you can’t realistically
talk to every single citizen, then that’s probably also not leading anywhere. Maybe go to like kind of hotspot places, or
for instance, train farmers to train people who would be important, also establish communication
systems, because there is different questions. What may be the biggest problem in this scenario,
probably with external aid, because part of the US is still functioning, you would expect
probably food supply to be stable, you would expect there would be fuel and everything. So actually making sure that the people don’t
freak out, that people are all right, and no panic breaks out is 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 is disadvantages because if you lose
the housing that you already have in the East Coast, maybe there is particular issues with
huge amounts of people moving to the west, to what extent that is going to either worsen
issues or help issues. That’s the discussion we had. Thanks. 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. Thanks. I think the only thing that we’ve really got
to add to that is around 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
then around people being moved, who is going to be prepared to let other people come onto
their land, initial land owners. Would they welcome people with open arms? It seems quite unlikely. Thanks. Here we discuss a couple of ideas after we
came up with this. So the first is we do believe it helps to
increase their chances, and the mechanisms that make that happen is that the centralized
organization is better at solving local problems, 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, I should think. We somehow expect organizations and cities
to become smaller. Finally, we believe that how delayed scientific
progress as a proxy for thinking about potential loss of civilization may be a good discussion. But we ran out of time. Thanks. Yeah, unfortunately we don’t have a lot of
time for discussion. But wanted to wrap up quickly and then talk
about financial mechanisms. So 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. 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 can be more cost effective, and maybe the first thing we should do. So 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. If you’re interested in supporting ALLFED
either with time or money. And a bunch of papers we did. Then at the end, if you’re interested in eating
some insects, we have some.

One thought on “Loss of Industrial Civilization and Recovery (Workshop)

  1. It seems likely to me that governments around the world already have contingency plans in place for the scenarios ALLFED is discussing. How likely is it that they're duplicating the efforts of governments?

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