GCR Community Project

PROJECT LEADS: Seth Baum, Robert de Neufville, and Grant Wilson

Who works on global catastrophic risk? What work are they doing? How can that work be advanced? As leaders of the GCR community, GCRI has done a lot of work mapping the community and creating opportunities for people to get more involved. Our community leadership is ongoing. Our mapping work was a core focus during our first two years, 2012-2013. The mapping project was successful in many ways, above all by showing how much excellent work is being done on GCR by a wide range of groups.

Leading the GCR Community

From Day One, GCRI has brought talented people together to advance the field of global catastrophic risk. It was Day One quite literally. GCRI co-founders Tony Barrett and Seth Baum met at a pair of GCR sessions Baum organized for the 2010 Society for Risk Analysis Annual Meeting. GCRI has hosted SRA GCR sessions every year since.

During 2012-2013, GCRI hosted a series of online lectures and discussion groups. These events brought together leading scholars and other people for some lively discussions of GCR topics.

More recently, GCRI has been leading the GCR community in other ways. Seth Baum is working with distinguished GCR scholar Bruce Tonn of the University of Tennessee to co-edit a special issue of the journal Futures titled “Confronting Future Catastrophic Threats To Humanity”. In addition, many of GCRI’s publications raise awareness of GCR and help interested people learn more.

Mapping the GCR Community

One motivation for our GCR community project is the remarkably widespread misperception that GCR is a fringe topic. Posner dedicated a whole chapter of his book Catastrophe to “Why so little is being done about the catastrophic risks” [1]. Similar claims have been made by Jason Matheny [2] and Nick Bostrom, the latter claiming that more work has been done on dung beetles than on GCR [3].

GCRI’s project on GCR community shows that, to the contrary, GCR is a well-studied topic with broad support. Our project confirms what Robert Wuthnow found in his recent book Be Very Afraid, that people have done quite a lot of work on catastrophic threats [4]. We have compiled and published a variety of resources mapping the GCR community:

The GCR Bibliography is a fairly comprehensive bibliography of academic and popular literature on GCR. It contains 115 entries, focusing on ethical, methodological, or other trans-GCR issues, as well as integrative, cross-GCR assessments. We excluded most works analyzing specific GCRs because there are far too many to list them all. The bibliography was published in July 2011.

The Blogs & Newsfeeds resource is a collection of 36 blogs and 18 newsfeeds covering GCR topics. It was published in October 2012.

The Conferences Directory is a directory of conferences that relate to some aspect of GCR. The Conferences Directory contains 80 conferences. It was published October 2013.

The News Summaries are monthly summaries of major world news related to a wide range of GCRs.

The Organization Directory lists 131 organizations active on GCR topics. It was published July 2013.

Of course, it is a matter of opinion whether the size of the GCR community rates as “small” or “large”. And one thing that everyone in the debate seems to agree on is that more—and better—work on GCR would be highly beneficial. Looking at the body of existing GCR work, GCRI sees a strong need for original research that ties it all together to find the best ways to reduce the risk. That is exactly what GCR seeks to do with our flagship Integrated Assessment project.

References

[1] Richard Posner, 2004. Catastrophe: Risk and Response. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[2] Jason G. Matheny, 2007. Reducing the risk of human extinction. Risk Analysis 27(5), 1335-1344.

[3] Nick Bostrom, 2002. Existential risks: Analyzing human extinction scenarios and
related hazards
. Journal of Evolution and Technology 9. Nick Bostrom, 2013. Existential risk prevention as a global priority. Global Policy 4(1), 15-31. Note that Bostrom uses the related term “existential risk”, which he defines more narrowly than GCR. Bostrom’s use of existential risk is similar to other uses of GCR. For more on these terms, see GCRI’s project on the GCR concept.

[4] Robert Wuthnow, 2010. Be Very Afraid: The Cultural Response to Terror, Pandemics, Environmental Devastation, Nuclear Annihilation, and Other Threats. Oxford: Oxford University Press.