Beyond infectious diseases, we have other catastrophic risks to fight
Post Covid-19, going forward we will have worldwide attention on infectious diseases. Great. Individuals, companies, countries, and even global organisations tend to fight the last war, which is an understandable but a short sighted strategy.
We as humanity should be taking a wider approach. The general learning from the Covid-19 pandemic should be that we need to balance short and long term needs and risks. We should consider all known possible catastrophic scenarios, assign a probability to them, and continuously dedicate a small amount of our resources preparing and fighting them proactively. The funding of this preparation would reduce our wellbeing a bit on the short term (unless the work leads to unexpected discoveries), but it would also reduce the chances of a future catastrophic events causing major disruptions. I’m talking about things like (not in order of importance): climate change (regardless if it’s anthropogenic or not), solar flares, supervolcanoes, global fiat hyperinflation, superhuman AI, alien invasion, meteorite strike, world war 3, infectious diseases, and many others. All possible things, with low probabilities that would possibly make us go extinct, or bring us back to the Stone Ages.
Most people are not good at math and don’t understand probability. We generally don’t have a good grasp on very large or very small numbers. If anyone doubts this, try asking your friends if they think the lottery number combination 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 has the same chance of winning as any other specific random five numbers. Hint: Yes, but it just feels like a definite No.
Thus, the biggest hurdle will be is finding public support for such a preventative program. Public agreement to start a preparation against an alien invasion (or any other event) that has a tiny chance is virtually non-existent, even though the possible extinction level risk would still warrant it. A very small amount of our resources should be dedicated to the preparation. It is our best bet on the long term, even when it is put against building a children’s hospital that could help kids right here and right now.
The public will also be reluctant to give money on such endeavours, because they can’t imagine how certain issues can be helped. Solar flares, pfff.. we can’t do anything about that, right? Wrong. Preparing for such crazy events is not easy, as it requires unconventional thinking. It needs new technologies. And most importantly a belief that it’s a fight worth fighting.
Different people have different risk tolerances and beliefs of what is a threat worth fighting. Countries should ask each taxpayers which of the dozen identified highest risks they want to defend against with a tiny portion of their taxes. If they decide none, the money would go to fighting current issues (like a children’s hospital). This way we would have resources allocated to solving these long term risks, and everybody will be happy.
The UN has a whole bunch of specialised agencies, but none of them cover the specific issue at hand:
- Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
- International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
- International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
- International Labour Organization (ILO)
- International Maritime Organization (IMO)
- International Monetary Fund (IMF)
- International Telecommunications Union (ITU)
- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
- United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
- Universal Postal Union (UPU)
- World Bank Group: IBRD: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, IDA: International Development Association, IFC: International Finance Corporation
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
- World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
- World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)
We should start a major new organisation, perhaps under the umbrella of the UN, which would welcome all countries, large organisations, wealthy individuals, and volunteers from around the world, to prevent the extinction of primarily human and also other lifeforms: Project Life.