It has been a big year for The Alliance To Feed The Earth In Disasters (ALLFED), with a significant uptick in support, especially from the EA community, which has enabled us to do more to increase global preparedness and readiness to feed the world in the event of a global catastrophe.
We also attended a number of events and conferences, presenting ~20 talks, posters and workshops. We published one paper, with five more under review, and two about to be submitted. We collaborated with more partners and organizations, including submitting two papers co-authored with Anders Sandberg at the Future of Humanity Institute, and working with the nuclear winter team that was funded by the Open Philanthropy Project. We expanded our table on the current price of alternative foods (see chapter 1.1), which facilitates a better understanding of how foods should be prioritized.
Mushrooms may no longer be a priority due to their high price, but we’re excited that the team is mushrooming! Our core team grew this year, and we welcomed new Board members, including Prof. Martin Hellman (a recipient of the ACM Turing Award) and Prof. Prosenjit Ghosh (our first Board member from Asia). We’ve also had a significant increase in volunteers, many of whom came to us following the 80,000 Hours podcast on ALLFED.
But for all we’ve accomplished, there are many more high impact projects we could pursue with more funding. Particularly promising are interventions for catastrophes that could disrupt electricity and therefore industrial civilization, such as an extreme solar storm, a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse, a narrow AI computer virus, and an extreme pandemic. We submitted a paper with Anders Sandberg building on an artificial general intelligence model that was posted on this forum, which compares different preparations for losing industry. It indicates ~99% confidence that marginal work on industrial loss interventions now is more cost-effective than marginal AGI safety work beyond $3 billion. Another paper we’ve submitted with him indicates similar confidence that marginal funding for alternative foods research and planning for agricultural catastrophes such as nuclear winter is also justified (see abstract below).
We have $300,000 pending for the upcoming year, so our room for more funding is $1.2-1.5 million to address the high priority projects detailed below. With the alliances we have already built, we have the team and infrastructure in place to begin work as soon as we have sufficient funds.
As a gesture of our gratitude to the EA community, as well as to ensure our own accountability and best practices, we have taken it upon ourselves to produce Annual Reports on our work (you can read last year's here). We are now pleased to present the 2019 ALLFED Annual Report, which many of the ALLFED team contributed to, and which Aron Mill coordinated.
Message from David Denkenberger, President and Co-Founder of ALLFED:
It’s been five years since the book I wrote with Joshua Pearce, “Feeding Everyone No Matter What,” was published. In that time, it’s made its way into more than 500 libraries and into the hands of an increasing number of decision makers. I’ve also written extensively on issues within the existential and global catastrophic risks field, and I’m honored that I’ve become the third most prolific GCR/X-risk researcher by one measure* and my GCR work has been cited 237 times with 4500 downloads from just one of the papers.
I take this as a sign that people are increasingly worried about the threat of global and existential catastrophes, and they want to ensure we have a back-up plan. Personally, I hope we never have to use any of the plans that ALLFED works on. As Joshua and I state in the dedication of our book:
“This book is dedicated to our children: Emily, Jerome, Vincent, Audrianna, and Julia -- may they never need to use it.”
But as with any insurance policy, we hope for the best and plan for the worst. At ALLFED, we want to ensure that if the worst happens, humanity will not only survive, but that civilization will have the chance to fully recover and thrive long into the future.
I continue to believe that this work is the highest expected value at the margin for improving the longterm future and saving expected lives in the present generation. Consequently, I have donated half my salary to this effort for the past 4 years and will again participate in the Facebook Giving Tuesday counterfactual match, an important element of our annual fundraising (and a good way to double the impact of one’s donation).
Like last year, I invite you to join me in this fundraising appeal. If you think our efforts are worthwhile and would consider supporting our work in this way, please see below for the instructions on how to donate on Giving Tuesday. We will also be sending a newsletter about this, and any further updates, please feel free to sign up here.
I thank the EA Community, and all our donors, partners and collaborators for their ongoing support and welcome questions and comments.
*We analyzed this database for frequency of X-risk authors.
1. Research Output
The following chapter showcases our research progress. Thanks to our increasing capacities we were able to advance our alternative food catalogue, do in depth cost-effectiveness analysis and investigate new options.
1.1 Current Alternative Food Retail Prices and Income Required to afford these Foods
We have updated a key figure from this paper we wrote, estimating the current price of alternative foods. Though the prices could be very different in a catastrophe, we have found this to be a useful screening tool. Generally we are focusing on the low-cost foods (marked green), or tier 1 alternative foods, since these are more likely to be affordable by everyone and therefore would play a bigger role in preventing global famine. From the tier 2 alternative foods (marked yellow) we want to highlight potatoes because they are the cheapest cold tolerant crop by calories.
1.2 Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of ALLFED’s Work
To help prioritize, we have done two cost-effectiveness analyses. The first one covers interventions for loss of industry scenarios and the second one looks at alternative foods for agricultural catastrophes such as nuclear winter.
1.2.1 Long Term Cost-Effectiveness of Interventions for Loss of Electricity/Industry Compared to Artificial General Intelligence Safety
David Denkenberger 1,2, Anders Sandberg 3, Ross Tieman *1, and Joshua M. Pearce 4,5
[Affiliations are listed in the end]
Status: submitted for peer-review [more detailed EA forum post]
Extreme solar storms, high-altitude electromagnetic pulses, and coordinated cyber attacks could disrupt regional/global electricity. Since electricity basically drives industry, industrial civilization could collapse without it. This could cause anthropological civilization (cities) to collapse, from which humanity might not recover, having long-term consequences. Previous work analyzed technical solutions to save nearly everyone despite industrial loss globally, including transition to animals powering farming and transportation. The present work estimates cost-effectiveness for the long-term future with a Monte Carlo (probabilistic) model. Model 1, partly based on a poll of Effective Altruism conference participants, finds a confidence that industrial loss preparation is more cost effective than artificial general intelligence safety of ~88% and ~99+% for the 30 millionth dollar spent on industrial loss interventions and the margin now, respectively. Model 2 populated by one of the authors produces ~50% and ~99% confidence, respectively. These confidences are likely to be reduced by model and theory uncertainty, but the conclusion of industrial loss interventions being more cost effective was robust to changing the most important 4-7 variables simultaneously to their pessimistic ends. Both cause areas save expected lives cheaply in the present generation and funding to preparation for industrial loss is particularly urgent.
1.2.2 Long Term Cost-Effectiveness of Alternative Foods for Global Catastrophes Compared to Artificial General Intelligence Safety
David Denkenberger *1,2, Anders Sandberg 3, Ross Tieman 1, and Joshua M. Pearce 4,5
Status: submitted for peer-review (updated version of this EA Forum post)
Global agricultural catastrophes include nuclear winter and abrupt climate change, which could have long-term consequences, including the collapse and nonrecovery of civilization. We analyze cost-effectiveness for the long-term future of preparedness for alternative foods (roughly those independent of sunlight such as mushrooms) with Monte Carlo (probabilistic) models.
One version of the model populated partly by a survey of global catastrophic risk researchers finds the confidence that alternative foods research is more cost effective than artificial general intelligence safety is ~86% and ~99% for the 100 millionth dollar spent on alternative foods and the margin now, respectively. Another version of the model based on one of the authors produced ~95% and ~99% confidence, respectively. Model and theory uncertainties are likely to reduce these confidences, but it required changing to the pessimistic ends the 3-5 most important variables simultaneously to reverse the conclusion of alternate foods being more cost-effective, thus demonstrating robustness. Because the agricultural catastrophes could happen immediately and because existing expertise relevant to alternative foods could be co-opted by charitable giving, it is likely optimal to spend most of this money in the next few years. Both cause areas generally save expected current lives inexpensively and should attract greater investment.
1.3 Updates on Alternative Food Research for Loss of Sun Scenarios
Humanity is prone to various extreme scenarios such as asteroid impacts, super-volcanic eruptions, or full-scale nuclear war. Even though the initial death toll could total hundreds of millions, the majority of the danger lies with indirect consequences. The resulting fires/eruptions would launch soot into the atmosphere where it could block most of the sun's radiation for up to a decade. These nuclear or volcanic winters would render conventional agriculture ineffective. The ensuing famine could cost billions of lives and cascading effects could cause irreparable damage to the long-term future. Current food storage provides only a few months’ leeway to solve this problem and would be expensive to expand.
Over the last year, the ALLFED team expanded the work on alternative food solutions for these catastrophes. Five abstracts covering four alternative food sources are depicted below, where the first paper covering low-tech greenhouses is undergoing minor revisions at the moment. The next two solutions, scaling of aquaculture and retrofitting industries for sugar production were showcased at this year’s EAG in London, with the latter one already being submitted for peer-review. The last two research projects examine the potential role of leaf concentrate for tackling global malnutrition (current or catastrophe).
1.3.1 Scaling of Greenhouse Crop Production in Low Sunlight Environments
Kyle A. Alvarado *1,2, Aron Mill 1, Joshua M. Pearce 4,5, Alexander Vocaet 6, David Denkenberger 1,2
Status: submitted for peer-review and undergoing minor revisions
During a global catastrophe such as a nuclear winter, in which sunlight and temperatures are reduced across every latitude, to maintain global agricultural output it is necessary to grow some crops under structures. Although the greenhouse industry has developed many appropriate structures, they do not fabricate them on the scale necessary to provide a significant fraction of human food. This study designs a method for scaling up crop production in low-tech greenhouses to contribute to global food sustainability during global catastrophic conditions. Constructing low-tech greenhouses would obviate growing crops using more expensive and energy intensive artificial light. The greenhouse structures are designed to utilize global markets of timber, polymer film, construction aggregates, and steel nails. The limiting market is found that determines the growth rate of the greenhouses as a whole. The limiting market that determines the growth rate of the greenhouses is the rate at which polymer film and sheet are currently extruded. The analysis shows that the added cost of low-tech greenhouses is almost two orders of magnitude lower than the added cost of artificial light growth. The retail cost of food from these low-tech greenhouses will be ~2.10 USD/kg dry food higher than current prices. According to the proposed scaling method, the greenhouses will provide 40% of food requirements for everyone by the end of the first year, and feed everyone after 27 months.
1.3.2 Preventing Global Famine in Case of sun-blocking Scenarios: Seaweed as an Alternative Food Source
Aron Mill *,1, Kyle A. Alvarado 1,2, Cheryl S. Harrison 7, Scott James 8, Tim Fist 1, James Throup 1, Sahil Shah 1, David Denkenberger 1,2
Status: to be submitted
Seaweed, which is a part of the daily diet in many Asian regions, can flourish in low light environments. This research examines the challenges of scaling up seaweed to feed the global population in a short time.
To approach this problem, daily growth rates of a major seaweed species were estimated. Data were used from a global ocean model simulating sea surface temperatures, irradiation, nutrient levels, and salinities in a nuclear winter. A second model took these inputs and calculated the seaweed production rate while considering self-shading and frequency of harvests. From production rates, the required area was calculated. Through a geographic information system analysis, it is shown that sufficient space near coasts and ports is available. Then the material requirements of hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of seaweed farms were determined and compared to today's industrial production. These farms primarily require rope, where the twisting of synthetic fibers would be the limiting factor for expansion.
Preliminary results show that seaweed can be scaled up to provide all of global food demands in just 3-6 months at less than 2 $/dry kg retail, which could be an extremely promising and affordable contribution to global food security.
1.3.3 Nuclear Winter’s Candy Cane: Scaling Sugar without the Sun
James Throup *,1, Jacob Cates 1,2 , Bryan Bals 9 , Aron Mill 1 , Joshua M. Pearce 4,5 , David Denkenberger 1,2
Status: submitted for peer-review
This study examines how much sugar from fibre, an alternative food production method that does not require the sun, could be produced and how quickly it could be scaled. Two routes to industrial production are considered: construction of new facilities or retrofitting of existing industrial plants. Constructing new is more capital intensive per plant, meaning construction time per plant is longer than retrofitting. New construction has location flexibility, while retrofitting has a cap of the number of plants that there are to retrofit. Assuming current population and infrastructure and budget for constructing relevant facilities, the results show that globally retrofitting three industries to produce cellulosic sugar could provide approximately 20% of the global food requirement after 1 year at a retail cost of <$2/dry kg.
1.3.4 Preliminary Automated Determination of Edibility of Alternative Foods: Non-Targeted Screening for Toxins in Red Maple Leaf Concentrate
David Denkenberger 1,2 and Joshua M. Pearce 4,5
Alternative food supplies could maintain humanity despite sun-blocking global catastrophic risks (GCRs) that eliminate conventional agriculture. A promising alternative food is making leaf concentrate. However, the edibility of tree leaves is largely uncertain. To overcome this challenge, this study provides the methods for obtaining rapid toxics screening of common leaf concentrates. The investigation begins with a non-targeted approach using an ultra-high-resolution hybrid ion trap orbitrap mass spectrometer with electrospray ionization (ESI) coupled to an ultra-high pressure two-dimensional liquid chromatograph system on the most common North American leaf: the red maple. Identified chemicals from this non-targeted approach are then cross-referenced with the OpenFoodTox database to identify toxic chemicals. Identified toxins are then screened for formula validation and evaluated for risk as a food. The results after screening show that red maple leaf concentrate contains at least eight toxic chemicals, which upon analysis do not present substantial risks unless consumed in abundance. This indicates that red maple leaf is still a potential alternative food. The results are discussed in the context of expanding the analysis with open science and using leaf extract from other plants that are not traditionally used as foods to offset current global hunger challenges, and move to a more sustainable food system while also preparing for GCRs.
1.3.5 Global Distribution of Forest Classes and Leaf Biomass for Use as Alternative Foods to Minimize Malnutrition
Tim Fist 1, Adewale A. Adesanya 10, David Denkenberger 1,2, Joshua M. Pearce *,4,5
Status: submitted for peer-review
Nearly a billion people are undernourished and face chronic food deprivation. Due to the ready availability of tree leaves in many geographies, the alternative food of leaf concentrate currently has the potential to alleviate hunger in over 800 million people. It is therefore potentially highly impactful to determine the edibility of leaf concentrates which are in the same regions as the world’s most undernourished populations. Unfortunately, the toxicity of leaf concentrate for most common tree leaf types has not been screened and the cost of doing so demands a prioritization. This preliminary study seeks to solve that problem by finding the forest classes most likely to offer proximate access to the world’s hungry, thus providing the basis for a prioritized list of leaf types to screen for toxicity. Specifically, this study describes a methodology for mapping available green leaf biomass and corresponding forest classes (e.g. tropical moist deciduous forest), and their spatial relationship to the global distribution of people who are underweight. The results find that the forest types that should be closely evaluated to help end acute hunger with leaf concentrate are moist deciduous tropical forests, dry tropical forests and tropical rainforests. These results will be useful for developing a targeted list of tree species to conduct leaf toxicity analysis on, in the interest of developing leaves as an alternative food source for both current malnutrition problems and global catastrophic scenarios.
2. Preparedness & Alliance-Building
To help advance preparedness in the event of a global catastrophe, ALLFED is building an international alliance to facilitate a response to global disruption of food supply. We are happy to share our progress in forming key connections to individuals and institutions.
2.1 India / South Asia
India is a region of special interest for ALLFED due to both its challenges and its advantages. It is a nation of 1.3 billion people, spanning several climatic zones - feeding everyone can be difficult even at the best of times. The country also has a booming university sector with high quality research (see, for example, their space programmes 1, 2), which has allowed us to pursue outreach to India, as well as to neighboring South Asian countries. As part of this work, we are hoping to help establish a GCR institute in Ahmedabad, which will focus on global shocks impacting India. The foundation for this work was established at a workshop at the Indian Institute of Science (IISC) in Bangalore by ALLFED’s Co-Founder Ray Taylor, who will also present a lecture on GCR in the second week of December.
Ray heads ALLFED’s alliance-building work in South Asia, and he spent a significant part of 2019 in India and Sri Lanka. He held a number of high-level meetings, and developed a number of key collaborations at India’s National Institute of Disaster Management and Indian Institute of Science. He also presented at the Climate Change Impacts Management / CCIM 2019 conference (5-6 August 2019, Gujarat) where his ALLFED presentation on Climate Change Adaptation and Disasters Risk Reduction was well-received.
Together with Aparna Narayanan, Ray is also looking into a potential GCR directory project (and we would welcome thoughts and collaborations on this).
2.2 Outreach to Academics, Multilaterals and Global Players
ALLFED also continued to build alliances with European academics and other stakeholders. For example, we participated in a multi-discipline workshop at UCL (University College London) in 2018, where we met amongst others a volcanologist and through that contact ALLFED participated at the Northumbria Combined Dealing with Disasters conference. Here we hosted a session on global risks where we connected with UNDRR’s Ricardo Mena, Chief of Support and Monitoring Sendai Framework (UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction).
Ray was also invited to be an associate of Northumbria’s Disaster Institute and to be part of the GCRF planning day (Global Challenges Research Fund). Here we suggested and advocated for a special category for funding of GCR related research. This category would allow urgent long-term research to be considered without the need to compete with the problems of today.
With Brexit on top of the UK’s agenda, food security has been a hot topic. Our UK team have been busy networking at all levels, from Chatham House (The Future of Food Post-Brexit) to key policy makers.
This year we also initiated discussions with KEW gardens, a botanical institute in London, on whether they could identify edible feed and foods that could survive nuclear winter (especially in the tropics).
At the World Food Security Week (14-18 Oct 2019, Rome), we connected with Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN staticians, who were interested to hear about the role of retrofitting industries to produce food in catastrophic scenarios.
2.3 ALLFED’s Global Presence
2019 has been a busy year for us with conferences and presentations in North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania. Key ones are listed below:
- Climate Change Impacts Management (18-19 February 2019, Gujarat India);
- Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (13-17 May 2019, Geneva Switzerland);
- EAG San Francisco (21-23 June 2019, SF, USA);
- Northumbria Combined Dealing with Disasters (17-19 July 2019, Newcastle, UK);
- International Strategy Symposium, National Institute of Disaster Management, (26-27 September, New Delhi, India);
- EA Global X Sydney (27-29 September 2019, Sydney, Australia);
- Doing Good Better (5 October 2019, Singapore);
- Building Bridges (7-11 October 2019, Geneva, Switzerland);
- World Food Security Week (14-18 October 2019, Rome, Italy);
- EAG London (18-20 October 2019, London, UK).
David Denkenberger’s presentations included:
- “Feeding the Earth in Global Catastrophes,” Pennsylvania State University, August 20, 2019, University Park, PA, USA;
- “Feeding Everyone After Agricultural Collapse,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, August 12, 2019, Cambridge, MA, USA;
- “Loss of Civilization: Scenarios and Interventions,” Harvard University, August 12, 2019, Cambridge, MA, USA;
- “Civilizational Collapse Interventions,” Foresight Institute, June 24, 2019, San Francisco, CA;
- “Feeding Everyone Even if the Sun is Blocked?” B. John Garrick Institute for the Risk Sciences, University of California Los Angeles, February 4, 2019, Los Angeles, CA;
- “Global Agricultural Catastrophes,” online presentation to the Indian Institute of Science, February 1, 2019, Bangalore, India.
There are more conferences still upcoming this year, in just a couple of weeks we are heading to The InsuResilience Global Partnership Forum 2019 (9 December, Madrid).
Wherever we go, we are happy to meet our collaborators, donors, prospective partners and volunteers, so please do feel free to reach out.
3. ALLFED Team
The ALLFED team grew significantly in 2019, with more core staff, volunteers and board members alike.
We are pleased to welcome Stanford Emeritus professor of Electrical Engineering, Martin Hellman, to the Board. Martin is a recipient of the ACM Turing Award (widely considered computer science's equivalent to the Nobel Prize) for his contribution to the field of cryptography. Public key encryption, developed by Hellman, Diffie and Merkle, enables secure transactions over the internet, which protect the trillions of dollars of transactions every day. Hellman is also the adjunct senior fellow for nuclear risk analysis at the Federation of Amercian Scientists.
We are also happy to welcome our first board member from Asia (given the region’s importance for food security), Prosenjit Ghosh, an Associate Professor at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. His research is regularly published in International journals (52 publications) and covered by the national press and news channel; he is also an editorial board member of Quaternary Science Reviews (QSR) (a journal dedicated to Quaternary climate research).
Sonia Cassidy, ALLFED’s Director of Operations, has been instrumental in managing our organizational growth and involved in almost all aspects of it. Thanks to her, despite being a largely remote team, we do feel like a team, which in turn enables us to not only attract but also keep talented and passionate people from all around the world. We were pleased to see her recognised by the Future of Life Institute in their “Women For The Future” feature.
Sahil Shah, who previously volunteered for ALLFED, has now become a core part of the team as Specialist Advisor. He received his MA in Economics with Management from the University of Cambridge in 2015. Sahil currently works on financial instruments that involve capital/reinsurance, government and industry sectors to prepare for global food shocks. In addition he runs an Agritech company, looking at aquaculture to mitigate climate change and contribute to food sustainability.
We were also pleased to extend a warm welcome to both Aron Mill and James Throup who joined the core team part-time as Research Associates (both also started with ALLFED as volunteers).
Aron finished his B.Sc in Mechanical Engineering earlier this year and is eager to sustain civilization. He is writing up the seaweed paper (see chapter 1.3.2) and is coordinating our Geographical Information Systems (GIS) team, which is enabling ALLFED to map resource locations.
James received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Bristol, where he won the RAE’s Agricultural Engineering Douglas Bomford Award. James coordinates the ALLFED industry research group which focuses on technologies such as cellulosic biomass (sugar from trees/agricultural residues) or single-celled protein (protein from methane or hydrogen). His research showcases the promising aspect of retrofitting Pulp & Paper facilities to produce food, where previously only food adjacent industries (e.g. breweries) were considered. James’ contributions to the ALLFED repertoire were immediately useful this year in meetings with the FAO.
Joseph Egbejimba, a third-year student in mechanical engineering being advised by David Denkenberger, was recently awarded a $5,000 Alaska Space Grant, funded by NASA. The project will investigate using hydrogen-eating single-cell protein as a food source in catastrophes. The hydrogen would be obtained by electricity splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen, or by gasifying (heating without oxygen) solid fuels such as wood, coal, or peat.
(left: Joseph Egbejimba, right: David Denkenberger)
Dr. Denkenberger’s other Alaska students have contributed to ALLFED-related projects, notably Kyle Alvarado, Jacob Cates, Conall Birkholz and Travis Oen.
In 2019 we developed a robust volunteer management programme and are pleased to be an EA organisation that is accessible to potential volunteers from many paths of life and with different levels of expertise. Often, our volunteers end up joining our team in paid positions, and for some we turn out to be a stepping stone into careers in GCR or/and EA organisations. Finan Adamson, for example, was a volunteer to start with and then a core team member back in 2018, and he’s now at MIRI, though still keeping in touch.
A number of capable and passionate people have volunteered their talents and time to all areas of ALLFED’s work, most notably to research and operations, throughout the year. We would like to, in particular, acknowledge significant contributions by Adewale Adesanya, Emma Abele, Jeremy Nagel, Niall O'Leary, Ratheka Stormborne, Ross Tieman, Sean Kucer, Tim Fist and Will O'Leary and promising recent inputs from Aaron Stupple, Florian Jehn and Tom Voltz. We are excited to have Juan García Martínez, a much-needed chemical engineer, recently join our volunteer team.
We would also like to thank John Williams and team at Latham & Watkins (who have volunteered their legal services to assist with our 501(c)3 registration) and also Christine Troy at Troy Law for her pro-bono legal advice.
The ALLFED Team section would not be complete without expressing our gratitude to other long-term ALLFED team members whose contributions we continued to enjoy in 2019: Ariel Conn, Allen Hundley, and Gareth Jones. We would also like to thank other Board Members who contributed throughout last year: Anders Sandberg, Robin D. Hanson, Karin Kuhlemann and Gorm Shackelford.
ALLFED team attending Northumbria’s Disaster conference (left to right, James, Aron, Sonia (front), Ray (back) and Amanda)
4. Current Projects
ALLFED is currently engaging in a wide variety of projects that will further examine alternative foods, potentially adding new foods. We also continually seek to increase our understanding of global resources and industry losses caused by catastrophes. We do not expect all of these projects to be finalized into publications, given that new information could render some projects to be less promising or not our comparative advantage. We frequently review and reprioritize research questions to maximize impact.
Nutrition of alternative foods - examine how alternative foods need to be combined for a healthy diet. Potential outcome: find a micronutrient (e.g. vitamin) that is not covered by low cost alternative foods and devise workarounds such as growing bacteria rich in that vitamin (our collaborator at NASA has an experiment on the International Space Station doing just that now).
Single Cell Protein from methane - with the help of single cell organisms, natural gas can be turned into protein. This project maps resources and industries to see how quickly and how inexpensively food could be produced this way.
Single Cell Protein from hydrogen - some bacteria can produce protein from hydrogen. This NASA-funded research examines the costs and scalability of this alternative food.
Agricultural residues to ruminants - this research examines how many people could be fed in a catastrophe through feeding the leaves and stalks to ruminants.
Seaweed paper #2 - With seaweed looking very promising at the moment, this project is taking the next step after the holistic approach of the first paper (see chapter 1.3.2). This research will take results from the Open Philanthropy funded global earth model simulations of a nuclear winter to perform GIS mapping and transportation analysis to optimize where aquaculture farms should be placed.
Ground freezing in nuclear winter - The Open Philanthropy funded nuclear winter project, as a part of the climate model, has calculated ground freezing before and after nuclear war. This project seeks to leverage these data to scope out whether nuclear winter causing damage to infrastructure (freezing water pipes, heaving buildings, etc) is a significant problem. It also seeks to estimate the cost of preventing the damage, e.g. through piling soil over pipes and next to buildings (to keep them from freezing).
5. Projects in Need of Funding
With the alliances we have been building, we are in a position to use $1.5 million effectively in the next 12 months. $300,000 is pending, giving room for more funding of $1.2 to $1.5 million. Below are specific projects in need of funding.
Previously we thought that experiments on producing sugar from leaves were high priority, but now we have discovered that two companies, Comet Bio and Renmatix, have commercialized this technology. We are working with them to enable rapid scale up of this food source in a catastrophe.
5.1 Nuclear Winter Projects
Modelling crop relocation in nuclear winter & General Equilibrium Model of alternative foods - The Open Philanthropy Project funded nuclear winter project is modeling the climate, crop, and economic impacts of nuclear winter assuming the crops are not relocated and no alternative foods. The Aleutian Islands in Alaska have low precipitation, are very cloudy, and are so cool in the summer that trees cannot grow there - similar conditions to nuclear winter in the tropics. And yet potatoes can grow in the Aleutians. Funding would allow the modification of a global crop model to include potatoes and allow relocation of crops to estimate how many people this could feed. Additional funding would enable the running of a general equilibrium model (GEM) to estimate interactions between relocated crops and alternative foods and the corresponding lower impact on society than without these interventions.
Additional leaf toxicity screening - Leaf concentrate has the potential to tackle global malnutrition (see chapter 1.3.5). We have done preliminary toxicity screening for red maple leaf concentrate (chapter 1.3.4) and want to expand to other leaf types, particularly agricultural residues.
5.2 Financial Instruments with Governments
The aims of the financial mechanisms work are:
1. Prompt governments to better fund planning/preparedness for ensuring food security in global crop shocks through increasing awareness of the likelihood and severity of impact of such scenarios. This involves holistic risk assessments, including the following:
Assessing Hazards: What level of exposure is there to different hazards, what is the likelihood of these hazards and what is the initial impact (vulnerability) of the hazard?
Interlinkages: How does the initial impact of the hazard impact food systems, food prices, distribution, production, subsidies and nutritional outcomes?
Expected Cost: Based on exposure, likelihood and protracted impact, what is the annual/longer term human, economic & environmental costs of the hazard and food system shock?
2. Scope/create financial product (e.g. type of catastrophe bond/parametric insurance policy/exotic option) that funds the planning/preparedness to recover food supply in a GCR. This involves the following:
Product Selection - Based on the size of hazard, what will it cost to insure the event or what size bond needs to be issued? What types of bonds/insurance are best value to transfer the risk?
Route to market - The institution finds the right buyers of potential bonds and re-insurers for insurance products.
A holistic solution - The institution work with agro companies to ensure food payouts in tail-end scenarios when price/currencies unpredictable to ensure product fits sovereign’s needs.
3. Work with finance industry either to create a new entity who will be able to sell the financial product or find an institution who can.
Overall, this would involve contracting with experts. The goal is to spend a relatively modest amount of money now that would motivate large mainstream funding of research, development, and planning.
5.3 Loss of Industry Research & Interventions
We have sketched out the basic interventions to save most lives and preserve civilization given a loss of electricity/industry here, here, and here. We have also estimated that interventions for loss of industry scenarios could be very cost-effective.
Communications backup network project - With additional funding we could map out existing radio transmitter and receiver resources and start a demonstration project.
Relocation of people for loss of industry - People would likely choose highly suboptimal evacuation destinations from areas that have insufficient shelter, water, and/or food. This work would use GIS to map out where populations should optimally be relocated.
Agricultural productivity without industry - In our initial assessment of agricultural productivity, we conservatively assumed pre industrial levels. There are a number of reasons why there may be higher agricultural productivity without industry, using knowledge acquired in the last two centuries. Therefore, we would investigate the continued use of improved crop varieties and the efficacy of pest control despite loss of industry.
Hand farming tools - work with Open Source Ecology to test out creating tools quickly without electricity.
6. Lessons Learned
Although we are reasonably pleased with the progress and developments of 2019, there have naturally been things that we could have done better, and things that did not quite work out. Key among those have been:
- A delay with our own 501(c)3 registration. We are at a point where we are ready to grow beyond the umbrella of our fiscal sponsor (Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs, or SEE). However, the preparation for this and our independence has taken longer than we envisaged and we are still working on this.
- Likewise, we are now at a stage when we need to be looking at creating other ALLFED entities outside the USA. There is a particular need for a UK/EU branch of ALLFED, which we should have started on already (though UK donors are able to donate in a tax-efficient way, and we are able to benefit from Gift Aid, via the Centre for Effective Altruism).
- We realized this year that we were getting caught up in the excitement of research projects, conferences, operations etc. and were not doing enough strategic planning (i.e. once a year is not enough!). We now set aside time every month to do some “Big Picture” thinking and planning, and ringfence it to make sure it happens.
- Half way through the year, our team outgrew existing ALLFED systems. There was a period of transition that could have been managed in a smoother, better coordinated manner (apologies for any delays in communications/responding to prospective volunteers etc. that occurred then). Gaps in this have informed new systems that have since been put in place or are in the process of being implemented.
- While working on the above, and reviewing and strengthening ALLFED’s internal systems, our external communications got deprioritized. We are very aware that our website ALLFED.info, our social media, marketing etc. need attention, and scheduled for updates and a revamp early next year (please bear with us in the meantime).
- There are still skill gaps in ALLFED that need filling. We have recently had a chemical-engineer join our team; however, would welcome more. We likewise need more agricultural specialists and more board members. Attracting the right people and talent is something that we need to continue to work on, and we would very much like more diversity within our team.
7. Giving Tuesday Instructions
Thanks to EA Giving Tuesday , we now have instructions on how to most effectively get your donations matched. If this Annual Report was of value to you, and you would like to support our work, then please read these instructions and go through the preparation steps as soon as possible -- by December 2nd at the latest. Match funding runs out in seconds so donating fast is necessary, on December 3rd at 08:00:00am EST (05:00:00am PST).
We will be updating this section as needed next week, if more information becomes available.
1. Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters (ALLFED), Fairbanks, AK 99775, USA;
2. University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK 99775, USA;
3. Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK;
4. Department of Material Science and Engineering and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI 49931, USA;
5. Department of Electronics and Nanoengineering, School of Electrical Engineering, Aalto University, FI-00076 Espoo, Finland,
6. Department of Geography, Research Group Climatology and Landscape Ecology, University of Bonn, Germany,
7. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Port Isabel Lab;
8. Baylor University, Departments of Geosciences and Mechanical Engineering, Center for Reservoir & Aquatic Systems Research, The Institute of Ecological, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Group, One Bear Place #97354, Waco, TX 76798-7354,
9. Michigan Biotechnology Institute,
10. Environmental and Energy Program, Social Science Department, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI 49931, USA;
* corresponding author