SRA 2013 Annual Meeting

Global Catastrophic Risk Sessions
Society for Risk Analysis 2013 Annual Meeting
8-11 December, Baltimore.

Part of GCRI’s ongoing SRA presence.

Symposium 1: Global Risk Governance
Time: Wednesday 11 December, 13:30-15:00
Chair: Seth Baum

Title: Global risk governance of genome editing technologies
Author: Jennifer Kuzma, North Carolina State University

Title: Minimizing global catastrophic and existential risks from emerging technologies through international law
Author: Grant S. Wilson, Global Catastrophic Risk Institute

Title: Past the threshold for existential risks: Balancing existential risk uncertainty and governance
Authors: Bruce Tonn, David Feldman, and Dori Stiefel, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Title: Global risks, catastrophes, crises, regulation and liability
Author: Jonathan Wiener, Duke University School of Law

Title: Globally networked risks and the decentralization of biomanufacturing
Author: Megan Palmer, Stanford & University of California, Berkeley
 

Symposium 2: Global Catastrophic Risk
Time: Wednesday 11 December, 15:30-17:00
Chair: Anthony Barrett

Title: Risk communication and information needs for anticipated catastrophic threats by NEOs (Near Earth Objects)
Author: Margaret S. Race, SETI Institute

Title: Analyzing and reducing the risks of inadvertent nuclear war between the United States and Russia
Authors: Anthony M. Barrett (presenter), Seth D. Baum, and Kelly R. Hostetler, Global Catastrophic Risk Institute

Title: Assessing the consequences of nuclear weapons use: The challenge of incomplete knowledge
Authors: Michael J. Frankel, James Scouras (presenter), and George W. Ullrich, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

Title: The resilience of human civilization in the face of global catastrophes
Author: Seth Baum, Global Catastrophic Risk Institute

Title: Christian apocalyptic literature in theology scholarship and the preppers movement
Author: Mark Fusco, Global Catastrophic Risk Institute
 

Symposium 1: Global Risk Governance
Chair: Seth Baum
Abstract: It is often suggested that global problems require global solutions. So too for many global risks, including global catastrophic risks. This symposium discusses the challenges of global risk governance, including the possible roles of global institutions. Specific risks covered include emerging technologies, asteroids, and terrorism, including historical, contemporary, and possible future risks. The talks discuss moral, legal, and policy dimensions. The talks provide important guidance on how to proceed with ongoing global risk governance initiatives.

Title: Global risk governance of genome editing technologies
Author: Jennifer Kuzma, North Carolina State University
Abstract: Recently the field of biotechnology has been revolutionized with the introduction of promising new technologies, which can be collectively called “targeted genetic modification techniques” (TagMo). Unlike traditional genetic engineering technologies, which introduced changes in genomes randomly, these new methods allow scientists to modify DNA sequences at precise locations. These new technologies are revolutionizing biotechnology by making the engineering process for plants, animals, mammals, and bacteria faster and allowing multiple site-directed modifications to organisms in a short period of time. These TagMo methods have collectively been referred to as “genome-scale engineering”, “genome editing,” or “genomic rewriting.” They represent a transition between old recombinant DNA (rDNA) genetic engineering and synthetic biology. In turn, they present significant governance challenges, including ambiguity in what the potential risk analysis issues are and whether existing regulatory definitions and systems can accommodate the rapid changes in these technologies. In this paper, first the landscape of the genome editing field will be explored by using “tech mining” techniques based on bibliometric analysis of a key set of articles from the Web of Science. This analysis will help to lay the groundwork for discussions of particular sub-fields of TagMo and associated risk assessment issues including gene flow, gene stability & migration, and their off-target impacts. A subset of the literature on the stability and specificity of genomic insertions, deletions, or edits using TagMo will be reviewed. Then, select models for risk analysis of the first generation of products of genetic modification will be evaluated for their appropriateness for emerging products of TagMo based on findings from an expert-stakeholder interview process, workshop, and existing literature. Finally, the state of risk governance for genome editing in three key regions of development—the U.S., EU, and Japan—will be examined in a comparative policy analysis approach.

Title: Minimizing global catastrophic and existential risks from emerging technologies through international law
Author: Grant S. Wilson, Global Catastrophic Risk Institute
Abstract: Mankind is rapidly developing “emerging technologies” in the fields of bioengineering, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence that have the potential to solve humanity’s biggest problems, such as by curing all disease, extending human life, or mitigating massive environmental problems like climate change. However, if these emerging technologies are misused or have an unintended negative effect, the consequences could be enormous, potentially resulting in serious, global damage to humans (known as “global catastrophic harm”) or severe, permanent damage to the Earth—including, possibly, human extinction (known as “existential harm”). The chances of a global catastrophic risk or existential risk actually materializing are relatively low, but mankind should be careful when a losing gamble means massive human death and irreversible harm to our planet. While international law has become an important source of global regulation for other global risks like climate change and biodiversity loss, emerging technologies do not fall neatly within existing international regimes, and thus any country is more or less free to develop these potentially dangerous technologies without practical safeguards that would curtail the risk of a catastrophic event. In light of these problems, this paper serves to discuss the risks associated with bioengineering, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence; review the potential of existing international law to regulate these emerging technologies; and propose an international regulatory regime that would put the international world in charge of ensuring that low-probability, high-risk catastrophes never materialize.

Title: Past the threshold for existential risks: Balancing existential risk uncertainty and governance
Authors: Bruce Tonn, David Feldman, and Dori Stiefel, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Abstract: Concerns about the potential extinction of the human race are growing. We address those concerns, and build on previous research in that area, by presenting research into the conditions under which society ought to implement actions to reduce existential risk. We answer the question: “How do types of governance help or hinder society’s response to existential risks?” Specifically, we explore the balance between uncertainty; actions to reduce existential risk; philosophical perspectives about existential risk; and types of governance, with special attention for the role of complex adaptive systems. We present two Frameworks for addressing those concerns. The first framework, the Framework for Implementing Actions to Reduce Existential Risk, answers the question, “Under what conditions ought society implement actions to reduce existential risk?” The second framework, the Framework for Governance Responses to Reduce Existential Risk, is based on types of governance and extends the first framework from the perspectives of fragile, rigid, robust, and flexible governance structures with special attention for the role of complex adaptive systems. Specifically, the second framework provides the foundational perspectives from which to identify the ways in which society’s actions might be helped or hindered by actual or perceived complications of governance. Support for different categories of actions to reduce existential risk are different across these governance types, as are the rates at which they help or hinder the societal response. To conclude, we offer an assessment of the overall challenges and opportunities revealed by these frameworks. We also provide recommendations for reducing existential risk given governance types and the role of complex adaptive systems.

Title: Global risks, catastrophes, crises, regulation and liability
Author: Jonathan Wiener, Duke University School of Law
Abstract: Global catastrophic risks pose several challenges for governance. This presentation takes a comparative institutional approach to different legal/policy measures for such risks, notably the classic alternatives of regulation and liability. Ex ante regulation may be precautionary, but faces challenges including priority-setting, benefit-cost judgments, risk-risk tradeoffs, and the political psychology of mobilizing regulatory action to address a future catastrophic risk. As to mobilizing action, collective action problems pose serious hurdles for global regulation; and although crisis events can spur demand for regulation, global catastrophes may lack antecedent crises as a basis for institutional learning, and not all types of crises may spur effective types of regulatory responses. Ex post liability may be compensatory and deterrent, but faces challenges including foreseeability, proving causation, multiple plaintiffs and defendants, sovereign immunity, defendants not subject to national or international courts’ jurisdictions, damages valuation, damages exceeding tortfeasors’ assets, and the catastrophe itself disabling the institutions of liability. These alternatives and their challenges will be illustrated with examples such as “back contamination” from outer space, climate change, and geoengineering. The presentation draws on the author’s involvement in research projects on “The Tragedy of the Uncommons” and on “Recalibrating Risk: Crises, Perceptions and Regulatory Responses.”

Title: Globally networked risks and the decentralization of biomanufacturing
Author: Megan Palmer, Stanford & University of California, Berkeley
Globally networked risks and the decentralization of biomanufacturing
Abstract: Advances in bioengineering technologies are catalyzing an expansion of research and development models. Horizontal technology platforms are emerging alongside more traditional vertically integrated activities (e.g. in medicine, industrial processing, agriculture, etc.). These horizontal technology platforms – sometimes referred to as bio-manufacturing capacities – include tools such as lower cost DNA synthesis, sequencing and assembly. These capacities have also expanded across a new set of actors, leveraging information sharing tools and employing novel models to organize communities (e.g. the internet; social networking; crowd-sourced funding; DIY bio labs). This potential “decentralization of capacity” presents key challenges for the governance of biotechnology. These developments have been heralded as fueling an industrial revolution in the life sciences with significant economic potential. Yet biotechnology can both pose and mitigate key safety and security concerns (e.g. bioweapons development versus deterrence and preparedness; environmental release). This presentation will discuss organizational and institutional challenges in building bio-manufacturing capacities internationally. It will examine examine strategies in the US and abroad to foster distributed or centralized technology deployment and propose key factors essential to building resilient governance strategies.
 

Symposium 2: Global Catastrophic Risk
Chair: Anthony Barrett
Abstract: Global catastrophic risk (GCR) is risk of events that could significantly harm human civilization at the global scale. GCR is thus risk of the highest magnitude, regardless of probability. GCR has been a growing topic in risk analysis for several years. This symposium presents recent advances in GCR from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Specific GCRs covered include asteroids, global environmental change, and nuclear war. The talks discuss probabilities and magnitudes of global catastrophes, as well as issues of communication, perceptions, policy, governance, and recovery. The talks synthesize recent developments in GCR and chart new directions for the future of the field.

Title: Risk communication and information needs for anticipated catastrophic threats by NEOs (Near Earth Objects)
Author: Margaret S. Race, SETI Institute
Abstract: Research on Near Earth Objects (NEO’s) has intensified in recent decades following the recognition that certain categories of objects have the potential to cause extensive or even global catastrophic impacts on life, environments, infrastructure, and perhaps even civilization as we know it. Over the past couple decades, a small sector of the space science community has been systematically surveying and tracking asteroids and comets in an attempt to detect potentially hazardous objects (PHOs) in advance, determine their probability of Earth impact, and subsequently send missions to deflect those that might be catastrophic. At a recent international meeting, conference presentations and deliberations after a conference-wide simulation exercise focused on the many scientific, technological, risk assessment, geopolitical, infrastructural and communication issues that will be would be involved in planning and developing an international Planetary Defense system. This presentation dissects the anticipated process for developing international planning and response preparedness for PHO threats and compares it with patterns experienced with general disaster cycles and threat levels for other familiar natural hazards. Just as with planning for preparedness and response to extreme threats like bioterrorism, WMDs, massive tsunamis or global pandemics, there is need to incorporate the fast-evolving science information with new technologies and traditional disaster management infrastructures that require coordination with officials and organizations at the international, national, state/regional and local levels. In addition to the risk communication needs of expert audiences, there are also many unusual issues associated with the information needs of the diverse publics at risk. The operational and implementation challenges are unprecedented, and the associated risk communication and information needs are likewise complex for both expert audiences and the general public. In addition to assessing the full spectrum of communication needs for potentially hazardous NEOs, the paper identifies a number of possible complications which will likely need special research and technology attention in the coming years.

Title: Analyzing and reducing the risks of inadvertent nuclear war between the United States and Russia
Authors: Anthony M. Barrett (presenter), Seth D. Baum, and Kelly R. Hostetler, Global Catastrophic Risk Institute
Abstract: Despite the fall of the Soviet Union, a number of analysts argue that inadvertent nuclear war between the US and Russia still presents a significant risk. A wide range of events have been mistakenly interpreted as possible indicators of nuclear attack (including weather phenomena, wild animal activity, and control-room training tapes loaded at the wrong time) and such a conclusion could lead the US or Russia to respond in kind. Although many such failure modes have been identified and addressed in some way, additional research could be valuable in identifying both long-standing and new hazards, quantifying their relative risks, and informing policies. Potential risk-reduction strategies could then be considered in various ways by U.S. and Russian authorities, such as in the Nuclear Posture Reviews and revisions of strategy details periodically performed by the U.S. Department of Defense. We develop a mathematical modeling framework using fault trees and Poisson stochastic processes for analyzing the risks of inadvertent nuclear war from U.S. or Russian misinterpretation of false alarms in early warning systems, and for assessing the potential value of inadvertence risk reduction options. The model also uses publicly available information on early-warning systems, near-miss incidents, and other factors to estimate probabilities of a U.S.-Russia crisis, the rates of false alarms, and the probabilities that leaders will launch missiles in response to a false alarm. We discuss results, uncertainties, limitations, and policy implications.

Title: Assessing the consequences of nuclear weapons use: The challenge of incomplete knowledge
Authors: Michael J. Frankel, James Scouras (presenter), and George W. Ullrich, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
Abstract: The considerable body of knowledge on the consequences of nuclear weapons employment—accumulated through an extensive, sustained, and costly national investment in both testing and analysis over two-thirds of a century—underlies all operational and policy decisions related to U.S. nuclear planning. We find that even when consideration is restricted to the physical consequences of nuclear weapon employment, where our knowledge base on effects of primary importance to military planners is substantial, there remain very large uncertainties, in no small part because many questions, such as the impacts on the infrastructures that sustain society, were never previously asked or investigated. Other significant uncertainties in physical consequences exist because important phenomena were uncovered late in the test program, have been inadequately studied, are inherently difficult to model, or are the result of new weapon developments. Even more difficult to quantify non-physical consequences such as social, psychological, political, and full economic impacts were never on any funding agency’s radar screen. As a result, the physical consequences of a nuclear conflict tend to have been underestimated and a full spectrum all-effects assessment is not within anyone’s grasp now or in the foreseeable future. The continuing brain drain of nuclear scientists and the general failure to recognize the post-Cold War importance of accurate and comprehensive nuclear consequence assessments, especially for scenarios of increasing concern at the lower end of the scale of catastrophe, do not bode well for improving this situation.

Title: The resilience of human civilization in the face of global catastrophes
Author: Seth Baum, Global Catastrophic Risk Institute
Abstract: Resilience can be defined as the ability of a system to withstand disruptions and return to its initial state. Resilience concepts have contributed much to risk analysis. This presentation applies resilience concepts to risks to the global human system, including global catastrophes that threaten human extinction. Research on global catastrophic risk has focused on the possibility of catastrophes and how to prevent them. But if human civilization is sufficiently resilient, then survivors may be able to maintain or rebuild civilization. This possibility has important implications for global catastrophic risk policy now, i.e. prior to catastrophes.

Title: Christian apocalyptic literature in theology scholarship and the preppers movement
Author: Mark Fusco, Global Catastrophic Risk Institute
Abstract: There has been an increase in the number and variety of movements in the United States that are preparing for a global catastrophic event. The motivation inspiring these ‘preppers’ is as varied as their understanding of how future scenarios will necessarily lead to devastation on the global level given changes in the political, social, environmental, extraterrestrial, technological, biological, etc. levels. Each of these approaches provides data points given its unique methods and interpretative frameworks. Preppers often take their interpretation and projection of hard scientific data as being commensurate with their religious presuppositions. In the following, we will outline how the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) understands the scriptural account of the last days as recorded in the book of Revelation. It will be shown that popular understandings of the apocalypse have little more than a common theme with the RCC’s own understanding. For the RCC the final global catastrophe is a question less a of manipulating quantifiable data as a qualitative reading of how the apocalypse is narrated through: (1) a specific literary genre, (2) the author’s socio-political context, (3) evangelical intent and (4) a dualistic view of history that is more conversant with a quantum centered theory of the temporal than one of hard causal determinism.