GEAS: Understanding Superthreats

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GEAS: Understanding Superthreats
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One of the most common questions GEAS gets from the press is just how this particular set of problems (the ""superthreats"") could possibly pose an extinction risk to the human species. Of the five, only the Quarantine threat has a clear potential to reduce human population significantly, but even there, extinction seems highly unlikely. And the connection between Generation Exile or Power Struggle and extinction is, for many observers, elusive at best.I've found that the best response is with an analogy. Most of us have, at some time in our lives, played one of those tower games where you remove one piece from a stack of blocks, then the other player removes one, etc., until it collapses. Often, the final piece removed isn't in an obviously critical place -- players aren't trying to knock the tower over. As a result, the collapse of the tower doesn't come from the removal of a key piece, but by small vibrations of the table (or even motion of the air) overwhelming the remaining structural stability of the tower. But the only reason such a small vibration could bring the structure down is that enough individually sub-critical components have been removed. No one block caused the collapse; it was the combined loss that made it possible. So it is with the Superthreats. As a civilization, we have, for the past century at least, been pulling blocks out from our tower, even as we continue to pile bricks on the top. So far, although the stack of blocks has been occasionally shaky, it's remained standing. With the superthreats, however, the continued structural stability of this tower is imperiled by the simultaneous loss of individually non-critical pieces. The tower becomes vulnerable to the slightest motion.The slightest motion, in our case, is the emergence of a major shock, such as a multi-state war, a rapidly-spreading pandemic (on top of ReDS), a significant environmental disaster, a minor asteroid impact, a bioterror event, and so on. Shocks that, under other conditions, would stress the international community greatly (financially, politically, technologically, spiritually), but not fatally. Under the Superthreat conditions, however, the civil structures that would allow us to cope are so weakened that they collapse, and disease, starvation, broken social networks, broken infrastructure, and resource conflicts spiral out of control.Most WorldRun simulations show the human population going from 7 billion to 1.5 billion in the course of five years, once collapse sets in, then down to under 500 million in another ten years. The best-case scenarios, assuming that we do nothing to alleviate the superthreats, leave about 20 million people alive, worldwide, by 2070, and under a million by 2100.But those scenarios no longer apply. We have begun to act. The survival horizon is extending. I am convinced that we can -- we will -- prevail, and human civilization will continue.