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jerryking : apocalypses   17

How to save the human race from extinction
March 19, 2020 | Financial Times | by James Crabtree.

** The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity,  by Toby Ord
** Apocalypse How? Technology and the Threat of Disaster, by Oliver Letwin, 
** Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back, by Mark O’Connell,
How Everything Can Collapse, by Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens (translated by Andrew Brown)

If coronavirus doesn’t kill us, climate or AI could. Why we must get serious about saving the world.

Visions of post-apocalyptic collapse are familiar from disaster movies, or novels such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Ord’s concern is more with what he calls “existential” risk: an apocalypse in which there is no “post”; just the end of all of us. Hence his calculations of the chance of human life ending entirely during this century: one in six.......Ord's book tallies up various apocalyptic scenarios, from asteroid strikes to the one in 1,000m chance of a “stellar explosion” in space taking the Earth with it. More alarming are the man-made “anthropogenic” threats, specifically climate change, broader environmental collapse, nuclear war, biotechnology and artificial intelligence. These risks are new, coming together in the latter 20th century to create an era that Ord dubs “the precipice”, meaning one in which total human collapse remains alarmingly likely........Ord worries most of all about “unaligned artificial intelligence”, giving odds of one in 10 to the notion that future intelligent machines might wipe out their human underlings — a scenario that has also alarmed the likes of the late scientist Stephen Hawking and entrepreneur Elon Musk.....Pandemics are his second-biggest fear......The real risk here, however, is man-made, specifically a bioweapon or lab-mutated virus......Chaotic hospital scenes in Wuhan and Lombardy make such risks easier to imagine.......Oliver Letwin’s Apocalypse How? sketches out just one scenario, in which a fictional freak “space weather” magnetic pulse knocks out Britain’s internet, electricity and other vital networks on New Year’s Eve 2037, causing chaos and tens of thousands of deaths.......
Letwin's bigger argument concerns the rising vulnerability of sophisticated industrialised societies, given the complex interlocking technological networks that already underpin almost all of our social systems....“If the electricity grid and the internet go down in the late 2030s, and if we have not taken very particular precautions, it is likely that life as we know it will close down too,”.......Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens'  How Everything Can Collapse......focuses on "collapsology” which covers plenty of ground, from the risks of fossil fuel-dependent energy systems to instability in international finance.....their concern is primarily ecological, namely the overburdening of the Earth’s natural systems, from the climate crisis to the collapse in biodiversity.....Five mass extinctions have scarred our planet’s 4.5bn-year history, the most recent wiping out the dinosaurs 65m years ago........contemporary potential disasters share a common feature — they result at some level from the intersection of globalisation and technology......Globalisation has brought huge benefits, but also levels of human interconnection and environmental strain that make now truly global catastrophes much easier to imagine.......Today’s visions of collapse are more gradual, be that a spreading pandemic or the remorseless warming of our planet. “Today, climatic and environmental catastrophes are less spectacular, but they have actually started,” Servigne and Stevens suggest.........How should we prepare for such a possibility? Some take matters into their own hands, the subject of Mark O’Connell’s Notes from an Apocalypse, a delightful peek inside the world of “preppers” gearing up for imminent disruptions to our social or political order......begs the question of what sensible measures should be taken to prepare instead, especially when politicians find it so hard to focus on risks that are low-probability and complex, or those, such as climate change, whose full effects will not be felt for decades......Existential destruction would, by definition, be unprecedented. Yet our world is still littered with the ruins of once-thriving civilisations that did at some point come to an end, mostly for reasons that modern societies are in a position to prevent.
Apocalypses  artificial_intelligence  bioterrorism  book_reviews  books  catastrophes  COVID-19  disaster_preparedness  Elon_Musk  existential  extinction  globalization  H5N1  human_race  humanity  network_risk  pandemics  power_grid  risks  societal_collapse  Stephen_Hawking  threats  viruses  vulnerabilities 
12 days ago by jerryking
Store wars: short sellers expect more pain in US retail
February 26, 2019 | Financial Times | by Alistair Gray in New York.

Short sellers who made big bets against US retailers a couple of years ago had hoped for carnage across the board. No one could compete with the rise and rise of Amazon...which would make life hard for every mall tenant across America.

But after a period in which internet shopping seemed to hit almost every brick-and-mortar retailer, the industry seems to be dividing into winners and losers. Casualties are still piling up: bankruptcies since the turn of the year....Payless Shoes ....Sears, the once dominant department store chain, narrowly avoided outright liquidation.

However, some of the biggest companies e.g. Walmart & Best Buy are reporting their healthiest metrics in years......For short sellers trying to profit from falling share prices, it makes for a perilous environment.

“It’s a slow death by a thousand paper cuts, and not the kind of ‘mall-mageddon’ originally anticipated by that trade,”.....“Retail has been much more volatile than many would have expected. It hasn’t been decidedly one way down.”....an over-reaction in 2017 and that led to pretty nice opportunities [for longs] in 2018,”.....Investors who put money on the demise of retail that summer have lost out in many cases......It was almost as if they [shorts] were acting like no retail real estate space can work,” ....overcapacity doesn’t mean retail real estate is dead.”...Shares in the sector have been volatile in part because investors have had to consider a series of seemingly contradictory data points about the health of both the US consumer and the retail business.....Traditional chains are also trying to take on Amazon by improving their online offerings and making their stores more enticing. Both require hefty investment, although successful examples include Lululemon, which offers yoga lessons in its stores. Shares in the company have tripled since a 2017 low.

“Those who are innovating and investing in ecommerce, marketing and social media tend to be doing well...“The US is still over-stored,” ...Ecommerce meant “more of the store base is not economic. That’s going be a secular pressure for years to come. For those retailers that don’t have a digital strategy, it’s just a matter of time before they fall.”
Amazon  apocalypses  bankruptcies  barbell_effect  bear_markets  bricks-and-mortar  commercial_real_estate  death_by_a_thousand_cuts  department_stores  digital_strategies  e-commerce  innovation  investors  investment_thesis  Lululemon  pain_points  overcapacity  retailers  shopping_malls  short_selling  structural_decline  Wal-Mart 
february 2019 by jerryking
Engaging with the world’s ills beats hiding in a bunker
OCTOBER 18, 2018 | Financial Times | Stephen Foley.

those with real ambition are not planning for a life underground down under. They are building philanthropic ventures to tackle the world’s ills, or striving to effect change through the political process, or starting new mission-driven businesses.

The bunker mentality is the polar opposite of the optimism displayed by the likes of Jeff Bezos, who set out his philanthropic credo in September alongside his plan to build a network of Montessori-inspired preschools across the US. He talked of his “belief in the potential for hard work from anyone to serve others”, from “business innovators who invent products that empower, authors who write books that inspire, government officials who serve their communities, teachers, doctors, carpenters, entertainers who make us laugh and cry, parents who raise children who go on to live lives of courage and compassion”.

“It fills me with gratitude and optimism,” he said, “to be part of a species so bent on self-improvement.”

Bezos has decided to focus his charity on children, as many of his peers have done. From Mark Zuckerberg promising to fund a technological revolution in the way kids are taught, to the slew of east coast hedge fund managers promoting charter schools as a way to shake-up public education, philanthropists know instinctively that childhood is their point of maximum leverage.....engagement trumps disengagement. Public service matters, even if one is only stealing apocalyptic proclamations from a presidential desk. It beats burying one’s head in the New Zealand soil.

Many of the world’s richest individuals are working to avert the war, pestilence or revolution that would make a withdrawal from society seem attractive in the first place. Philanthropists who are funding human rights campaigns, or drug research, or novel approaches to tackling inequality — these are the real survivalists.
apocalypses  bolt-holes  catastrophes  charities  childhood  children  disasters  disaster_preparedness  engaged_citizenry  hard_work  high_net_worth  Jeff_Bezos  mission-driven  moguls  Montessori  New_Zealand  novel  off-grid  optimism  Peter_Thiel  self-improvement  philanthropy  public_service  survivalists 
october 2018 by jerryking
Shopping for the apocalypse
Aug. 26, 2017 | The Financial Times | by Esther Bintliff.

Apocalyptic thinking has always been with us, but its power waxes and wanes. "We live in an extremely unstable and insecure time," says Ash Amin, a Cambridge University geography professor who studies urban culture. "Risks are much bigger and globally integrated."

The psychology of prepping rests on this sense of chaos, of needing to assert some control - any control - over an unpredictable reality. There is solace in practical, orderly steps you can tick off a list. Buy a three-day supply of non-perishable food, a few gallons of water, a torch, a multi-tool. Identify your family meeting place, evacuation route, shelter. These are achievable aims.

Many everyday catastrophes, in contrast, are unwieldy and intractable. Rather than arriving with the sudden bloom of a mushroom cloud, they unfold slowly, in quiet, unobtrusive ways. Some 52,000 people died of drug overdoses in the US in 2015, more than from guns or cars, or from HIV/Aids in the year the epidemic reached its height. Mothers, fathers, teens collapsing in shopping aisles and sports pitches is its own kind of Armageddon; most of us feel helpless in its wake.

Of course, calamities do occur. One morning in September 1859, British astronomer Richard Carrington was in his observatory when he saw a white-light solar flare - a huge magnetic explosion on the sun. It was followed by the largest geomagnetic storm ever recorded on Earth. Telegraphs were disrupted across Europe and the US. My husband's fear is of a repeat Carrington event - a severe geomagnetic storm that this time would take down the electrical grid, GPS and satellites. In 2012, scientists suggested that the likelihood of such a storm within a decade was as high as 12 per cent. Worst-case scenario: millions of people, hospitals, businesses without power for months.

Perhaps it's worth preparing for this one-in-eight possibility of chaos. So when is prepping not paranoia - but planning? Tom Martin, founder of the American Preppers Network, which has 35,000 forum members and 230,000 fans on Facebook, tells me: "The definition of a prepper is quite simply 'one who prepares'. So if someone stores extra food and emergency supplies in case of a -disaster, then by definition they are a prepper... It's all varying degrees."..........Amin points out that the emphasis on individual prepping may be misplaced. "Where you find really resilient populations, they often share responsibility with their families and communities. And the history of managing for apocalypse is the history of governmental and infrastructure preparedness."

I take this to mean that instead of building up supplies, we should invite the neighbours round for cake and pressure the government to invest in things such as transport and back-up energy. That's the kind of prepping I can get behind. But I might buy a wind-up radio as well, just in case.
apocalypses  catastrophes  chaos  disasters  disaster_preparedness  emergencies  evacuations  imperceptible_threats  natural_calamities  power_grid  preparation  readiness  resilience  risks  slowly_moving  survivalists  unwieldy  worst-case 
november 2017 by jerryking
How to avert catastrophe
January 21, 2017 | FT | Simon Kuper.

an argument: people make bad judgments and terrible predictions. It’s a timely point. The risk of some kind of catastrophe — armed conflict, natural disaster, and/or democratic collapse — appears to have risen. The incoming US president has talked about first use of nuclear weapons, and seems happy to let Russia invade nearby countries. Most other big states are led by militant nationalists. Meanwhile, the polar ice caps are melting fast. How can we fallible humans avert catastrophe?

• You can’t know which catastrophe will happen, but expect that any day some catastrophe could. In Tversky’s words: “Surprises are expected.” Better to worry than die blasé. Mobilise politically to forestall catastrophe.
• Don’t presume that future catastrophes will repeat the forms of past catastrophes. However, we need to expand our imaginations. The next catastrophe may take an unprecedented form.
• Don’t follow the noise. Some catastrophes unfold silently: climate change, or people dying after they lose their jobs or their health insurance. (The financial crisis was associated with about 260,000 extra deaths from cancer in developed countries alone, estimated a study in The Lancet.)
• Ignore banalities. We now need to stretch and bore ourselves with important stuff.
• Strengthen democratic institutions.
• Strengthen the boring, neglected bits of the state that can either prevent or cause catastrophe. [See Why boring government matters November 1, 2018 | | Financial Times | Brooke Masters.
The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, by Michael Lewis, Allen Lane, RRP£20, 219 pages. pinboard tag " sovereign-risk" ]
• Listen to older people who have experienced catastrophes. [jk....wisdom]
• Be conservative. [jk...be conservative, be discerning, be picky, be selective, say "no"]
Amos_Tversky  apocalypses  black_swan  boring  catastrophes  conservatism  democratic_institutions  disasters  disaster_preparedness  disaster_myopia  elder_wisdom  emergencies  financial_crises  imagination  imperceptible_threats  Nassim_Taleb  natural_calamities  noise  silence  Simon_Kuper  slowly_moving  surprises  tips  threats  unglamorous 
january 2017 by jerryking
Op-Ed Contributor - Four Deformations of the Apocalypse - NYTimes.com
Four Deformations of the Apocalypse
By DAVID STOCKMAN
Published: July 31, 2010
David_Stockman  GOP  op-ed  Milton_Friedman  austerity  apocalypses 
may 2012 by jerryking
Op-Ed Columnist - Our Three Bombs - NYTimes.com
October 6, 2009 | New York Times | By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN. "As
we continue to build up carbon in the atmosphere to unprecedented
levels, we never know when the next emitted carbon molecule will tip
over some ecosystem and trigger a nonlinear climate event....people are
worried that our next dollar of debt — unbalanced by spending cuts or
new tax revenues — will trigger a nonlinear move out of the dollar and
torpedo the U.S. currency."

If people lose confidence in the dollar, we could enter a feedback loop,
as with the climate, whereby the sinking dollar forces up interest
rates, which raises the long-term cost of servicing our already massive
debt, which adds to the deficit projections, which further undermines
the dollar.
Tom_Friedman  climate_change  nonlinear_systems  debt  step_change  tipping_points  apocalypses  feedback_loops  interest_rates  discontinuities  think_threes 
october 2009 by jerryking

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