Which Existential Threats Are The Greatest?

April 6, 2012 4 Comments

Over the past couple of blog entries I have once again discussed the potential of AGW to negatively affect our future on this planet. As a blog topic, it is the gift that keeps on giving because of its controversial and all-encompassing nature. One of the all-encompassing themes is that the entire biosphere will be nearly destroyed by 2100 (according to some environmental forecasters). While this sounds dramatic, it is not a threat that I rank very high on my list of “existential threats”. Long before we are significantly threatened as a species by more extreme temperature fluctuations, more extreme weather, or just plain steadily increasing temperatures, we will face much greater threats from biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and advanced weapons.

Nick Bostrom

Nick Bostrom of Oxford does a good job (very in depth as well) explaining the risks we are facing in this recent article and AGW is not high on the list. He even downplays the risk of the earth getting hit by a killer asteroid (which I have written about before). Perhaps he is right as a recent analysis indicates we would be able too deflect or destroy and asteroid with nuclear bombs.

In any case, human-originated technological threats are a reality in the short term. AGW could be a threat in the medium term. It is incumbent upon us – the current generations living on the earth –  to make sure we harness our technology for the benefit of all humans (and life in general). I routinely update you on how we are inventing a new alternative energy future and I have mentioned often how we could leverage our technology to “fix” any potential future problems caused by AGW. It has always been and is our future destiny to manipulate the weather and climate to enough a degree to sustain our life on this planet. Embrace it. Keep the future safe for all that will come after us.

Have a good weekend! Meteorologist Justin Loew.

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  1. DiogenesNJ says:

    “…the entire biosphere will be nearly destroyed by 2010…”, which is really tricky, since it’s 2012 now. So we’re safe! (I’m going to assume that was a typo and you meant 2100, but it’s still funny.)

    Actually, I use AGW shamelessly as a club to beat anti-nuclear activists. My view is that modern nuclear power can be justified on public health grounds in terms of air quality, completely ignoring the CO2 advantage. You’re lucky — you’re upwind of the coal plants in Ohio, Kentucky and western PA. I’m in NJ. For a look at the reason I’m pro-nuclear, see Figure 2, page 4 here:


    That’s not a picture of an accident. That’s normal, all the time. Cough, cough.

    Fukushima has no bearing on this, except to say that it’s pretty amazing that its sister plant only 7 miles south survived the quake and tsunami — because it was built 10 years later, with 10 years of safety improvements. Comparing Fukushima Daiichi to an AP1000 is like comparing the Wright Flyer to a 767.

    A year ago for Earth Day, I gave a talk at my kids’ elementary school titled “A Rational Environmentalist’s Guide to Nuclear Power”. A greatly expanded version of that talk can be seen here:


    Happy (almost) Earth Day!

  2. jloew says:

    Thanks so much for the informative reply (and for pointing out the typo!).

    We are lucky here in Wisconsin to not have as high of pollution as the eastern and southern U.S., although levels have been going up in recent years.

    I am a big fan of solar power development but I don’t mind nuclear either. The newer reactors are much more safe. I was glad to hear 2 new modular reactors have been approved in the U.S. but they probably will not go online until 2020 (if then). It would be interesting to see the thorium design tested more as well.

  3. Bruce VA says:

    Regarding nuclear: I believe improving nuclear plants can be made safer with good engineering. But nobody has yet explained to me what we do with the waste. I oppose nukes because I don’t believe they are economically viable. Proper accounting regulations would require that you set aside a fund to shelter and protect the radioactive waste for 10,000 years (or whatever it takes to get it down to a safe level). That makes the economics an instant non-starter. Don’t tell me you’ll fund with future revenues, because that’s just a ponzi scheme.

    Regarding existential threats: I think we need to think about computer malware. Yes, I know its just an annoying nuisance now, but what happens when it starts improving itself? Are there any limits? (More here: http://technologydimensions.blogspot.com/2012/04/looking-for-danger-in-all-wrong-places.html)

  4. jloew says:

    Great post on the malware problem Bruce. Thanks for sharing. It is one of the areas from which I think self-aware AI could arise as well.

    As for the nuclear energy situation. I have discussed the EROI with a few different people. Some say it is well over one. Others say it barely reaches 1 under the most favorable conditions. I don’t have enough information from industry folks to know for sure. It does take a lot of energy to dig up, transport, and process the uranium (or various other radioactive elements) and the storage question is non-trivial while costing extra money.

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