Society For Risk Analysis Annual Meeting 2017

Session Schedule & Abstracts

* Disclaimer: All presentations represent the views of the authors, and not the organizations that support their research. Please apply the standard disclaimer that any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations in abstracts, posters, and presentations at the meeting are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other organization or agency. Meeting attendees and authors should be aware that this disclaimer is intended to apply to all abstracts contained in this document. Authors who wish to emphasize this disclaimer should do so in their presentation or poster. In an effort to make the abstracts as concise as possible and easy for meeting participants to read, the abstracts have been formatted such that they exclude references to papers, affiliations, and/or funding sources. Authors who wish to provide attendees with this information should do so in their presentation or poster.

Common abbreviations

Symposium: Emerging Issues in Global Catastrophic Risks and Development

Room: Salon E   1:30 pm–3:00 pm

Chair(s): Dori Stiefel

Sponsored by Risk and Development and Security and Defense Specialty Groups

Global catastrophic risks (GCRs), risks of the highest magnitude, regardless of their probability, require multi-disciplinary approaches yet they are often studied by independent research communities. In contrast, this symposium’s presentations are integrated individually and collectively to consider anticipation of GCRs from the unintended consequences of science and technology; quantification of long-term severity of GCR’s overall; and consideration of agriculture risks in particular. Together, these presentations highlight the parallels between and among the GCRs themselves, the methodological and theoretical approaches, and the priorities for global actions.

W3-E.1  1:30 pm  Anticipating the Unintended Consequences of Science and Technology. Tonn BE, Stiefel D*; University of Tennessee

Abstract: Society’s technological choices generate unintended consequences that may include global catastrophic risks, within which the existential risks of human extinction are of most interest. This presentation investigates society’s opportunity to improve its ability to anticipate the unintended consequences of science and technology by applying a theoretical framework of unintended consequences to emerging technologies. Emerging technologies create unintended consequences such as invasive species from Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)-created species, or uncontrollable artificial intelligence from autonomous vehicles, or stressors on watersheds from environmental remediation technologies. This presentation applies Tonn and Stiefel’s (2015) theoretical framework of unintended consequences, which links causes (X) and effects (Y) via waypoint(s) (W). The causes are discoveries, products, and processes, and behaviors resulting from science and technology research and development. A series of waypoints such as events, trends, or forecasted patterns lead to the effects, the unintended consequences. The theoretical framework then explains (Y) as a function of (X) and (W), where (Y) is defined abstractly along these types of metrics: magnitude of the consequence (e.g., high, medium, low); direction of the consequences (e.g., positive, negative, both); timing of the consequences (e.g., near-term, mid-term, long-term); and general aspects of the consequences (economic, political, environmental, technological, social, human health). In the context of these findings, this presentation considers the psychological, practical (institutional), and worldly approaches to taking action or inaction. It concludes with the key limitations and opportunities for future research.

W3-E.2  3:50 pm  Quantifying Long-Term Severity. Baum SD*; Global Catastrophic Risk Institute

Abstract: In the study of global catastrophic risk, it is often assumed that global catastrophes have outsized long-term effects relative to smaller catastrophes and therefore warrant outsized policy attention. In the extreme case, a catastrophe resulting in human extinction allegedly has much larger long-term severity than a catastrophe killing “only” 99% of the world population. This presentation questions this assumption via analysis of the long-term severity of catastrophes large and small. For small catastrophes, including deaths of a single individual, long-term severity can be analyzed via counterfactual demography and population ecology, asking what line of descendants would have existed had the catastrophe not occurred. Larger catastrophes raise questions about the stability of modern civilization; this includes scenarios in which the catastrophe starts small and then cascades into something larger. Over longer time scales, issues of technological transformation, genetic evolution, and the structure of the astronomical vicinity factor in. While there may still be reason to pay outsized attention to the risk of global catastrophes, all catastrophes can have long-term effects worth accounting for. The long-term severity of catastrophes raises several policy issues, including the question of how to account for large but ambiguous potential consequences and the question of whether there exist any thresholds of event severity below which potential consequences need not be considered.

W3-E.3  4:10 pm  Recent Advances in Feeding the Earth in Global Catastrophes. Denkenberger DC*, Taylor AR, Black R, Pearce JM; Tennessee State University

Abstract: Several catastrophes could block the sun, including asteroid/comet impact, super volcanic eruption, and nuclear war causing the burning of cities (nuclear winter). This represents roughly a 10% probability this century that agriculture would be nearly obliterated. Previous work has shown that it is feasible given cooperation to feed everyone in these scenarios by producing “alternate” food that is not dependent on sunlight, but instead on stored biomass and fossil fuels. Previous work has also shown that preparation for these alternate foods would be a very small cost, so it would be very cost-effective and there is great urgency for this preparation. Continuing work includes estimating the cost of producing the alternate foods during a catastrophe. Additional work has been writing response plans at different levels. Several “war games” have been performed, with revealing results. An organization, Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters, has been started to coordinate research and planning work. Since this work demonstrates that people have much to gain from cooperation during a catastrophe, this should promote peace.

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