September 2013 Newsletter

Dear friends,

Seth Baum is out of the office now, so I am sending the newsletter in his absence. This month, I would like to talk a bit about geoengineering. Geoengineering is the large-scale manipulation of the climate, particularly to alleviate the effects of climate change (also called “climate engineering”). Geoengineering epitomizes how many distinct global catastrophic risks have a dynamic relationship. For example, in one possible scenario, society decides to lower the planet’s temperature by engaging in stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI)—a technology that essentially blankets the planet in an aerosol to limit the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface. But then a global catastrophe like nuclear war occurs, interfering with our ability to continue SAI, which, in turn, results in rapid onset climate change as the temperature increases to normal levels (termed a “double catastrophe”). In another scenario, we engage in widespread iron fertilization of the ocean, which spurs the growth of phytoplankton that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, thus helping to mitigate climate change—a global catastrophic risk that poses massive threats to human and environmental health. Mitigating climate change in turn affects other risks: for example, climate change seemingly increases the risk of a pandemic, such as by affecting migration patterns so that new bird flu viruses emerge when new combinations of birds intermingle. On the other hand, countries could rely too much on ocean fertilization and forgo emission cuts they otherwise would have made. These sorts of considerations are exactly why GCRI emphasizes the importance of looking at all global catastrophic risks rather than individual risks in isolation.

This month, I will give an online lecture on geoengineering (see “Upcoming Online Lectures,” below), with an emphasis on ocean fertilization in the context of international law. I also released a draft paper on the same topic titled ‘Murky Waters: Ambiguous International Law for Ocean Fertilization and Other Geoengineering’. Both the talk and paper analyze the 2012 iron fertilization conducted by the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation in British Columbia as part of a broader discussion of the risks, rewards, and laws pertaining to ocean fertilization and other types of geoengineering, including their global catastrophic risk implications. I also make recommendations on how to move forward with international governance schemes like the London Convention and London Protocol. I welcome any feedback via email at

As always, thank you for your interest in our work. We welcome any comments, questions, and criticisms you may have.

Grant Wilson, Deputy Director

August GCR News Summary

Robert de Neufville presents our sixth monthly news summary. This month covers smart microgrids; US and Russian nuclear weapons; autonomous robots; potentially hazardous asteroids; the MERS virus; the H7N9 bird flu; ocean acidification; climate change; and more. For the full summary, please see GCR News Summary August 2013.

As always, if you know of something that may be worth including in the next news summary, please post it in the comment thread of the current summary, or send it via email to Grant Wilson (

New GCRI Associate

GCRI welcomes Dave Denkenberger as our newest Research Associate. Dave works as an efficiency engineer at Ecova and also conducts GCR research. On 22 August 2013, Dave gave an online lecture on how to solve the food crisis in the wake of a catastrophe. Dave will contribute research on integrated assessment and response options.

Past Online Lectures

On 22 August, Dave Denkenberger of Ecova presented on how to satisfy the caloric requirements of all humans in the wake of a catastrophe. The talk was titled ‘Feeding Everyone: Solving the Food Crisis in Event of Global Catastrophes that Kill the Sun or Crops’. The talk was private, so no summary is available.

On 15 August, Nick Beckstead of the Oxford University Future of Humanity Institute presented on how under concept of effective altruism, society should shape the far future for the benefit of future generations. Beckstead also gave a reprise lecture on 28 August due to popular demand. The talk was titled ‘On The Overwhelming Importance Of Shaping The Far Future’. A full summary is available here.

Upcoming Online Lectures

To be held via Skype or equivalent. RSVP required via email to Seth Baum ( For assistance with time zones, please see GCRI’s time zones resource.

18 September 17:00 GMT (13:00 New York):
Topic: Geoengineering & International Law
Speaker: Grant Wilson, Deputy Director of GCRI
Title: Murky Waters: Ambiguous International Law for Ocean Fertilization and Other Geoengineering
Abstract: See the Pre-Lecture Announcement

25 September 17:00 GMT (13:00 New York):
Topic: Ethics & Space Colonization
Speaker: Tony Milligan
Title: Virtue, Risk and Space Colonization
Abstract: See the Pre-Lecture Announcement


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