Research Coordinator @ ALLFED - Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters
246Madrid, EspañaJoined Oct 2018


Actual bio here

"The essential thing was to save the greatest possible number of persons from dying and being doomed to unending separation. And to do this there was only one resource: to fight the plague. There was nothing admirable about this attitude; it was merely logical." - Albert Camus, The Plague

Altruism is the rational response to an irrational world.


Topic Contributions

I like the idea of being more intersectional in our thinking on how to approach the assessment of specific interventions.

On the topic of food, some ALLFED colleagues and I recently gave a workshop on the intersections between different EA cause areas:

On the topic of interventions improving various cause areas simultaneously, some of my colleagues have published scientific articles arguing that the type of work we're doing appears to be highly cost-effective for improving both the long-term future and saving lives in the short term / current generation. Obviously consider a conflict of interest as I work for ALLFED, but this seems very pertinent to the topic of the post.

I'd be happy to help explain how building capacity for responding to abrupt food catastrophes (nuclear winter, volcanic winter, collapse of electricity/industry, etc.) by rapidly increasing food production could help save lives and reduce the chance of civilizational collapse (see ALLFED - Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters)

Thanks so much for this effort. I just wanted to say again that EA engineers, including physical engineers, are always very welcome to apply for volunteering, internship and/or open positions at ALLFED - Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters.

Thanks for the reply Noah. Are you working on this field or a related one?

It's worth mentioning that the new Charity Entrepreneuship book How to Launch a High-Impact Nonprofit does go into some of the "concrete issues" questions you're asking. Particularly, the one on legal structure receives very good treatment (though somewhat lacking for non-US/UK orgs). They also go in some depth into media/website/aesthetics.

I've seen a few people wondering how this relates to our work at ALLFED (@JoelMcGuire , @George Vii , @Brian Lui). 

Bivalves can be grown in sinergy with seaweed in what is know as integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA) systems, which promise a consistent feedstock, in situ, with the co-benefit of recycling aquaculture waste (ref). They are also resilient to food trade restriction and the pests that affect land crops. They look like they could be significantly more resilient to changes in climate than land crops, thus being useful to counter falling agricultural yields in two ways like most resilient foods: 1) resilience - the higher the production of this food  is prior to an abrupt food production shock, the smaller the overall fall in food production capacity, 2) response - the fall in agricultural yields could be countered by rapidly scaling production of this food post-catastrophe. 

These are the things that we have yet to ascertain though. Uncertainty remains, but there definitely seems to be potential for bivalves and IMTA to compete in price and speed with other resilient food options, indeed contributing to a resilient food portfolio. It mostly depends on how growth rates would be  affected by changes in climactic conditions. Because bivalve cultivation is not very complex technologically it looks like it could not only contribute to resilience and response against global catastrophic food shocks involving an agricultural collapse, but also those originating from a  loss of critical infrastructures.

In short, I agree with the post and believe there could be significant potential for bivalves to increase food security overall and as a resilient food for extreme scenarios and would like to see more work on this. I proposed a project to look into this but we haven't yet got around to working on it (so many important projects to do, so little time... We could use a little help). Below I paste the rationale for working in this topic I wrote for my bivalve project proposal:

Ramping up bivalves could have significant potential food for GCR, seeing as to how they’re somewhat similar to seaweed (which is very promising as such),

  • Depending on how fast production can ramp up, they could be an excellent alternative food for both sun-blocking and loss of industry scenarios
  • they are similar to seaweed but very rich in protein and nutritious
    • Similar cultivation in longline systems, mussels are cultured on ropes that remain suspended in the water from a long line composed of buoys
    • 1/4 protein (wet weight), containing all essential amino acids
    • excellent source of iron, zinc, selenium, and B12.
  • feed on phytoplankton
  • are as plant-like as possible
  • do not require fish feed
  • do not require conversion of habitat
  • do not contribute to pollution
  • not likely to experience pain and suffering

General info here

Technical info here

Production and price info here

Clams cost approx 6 USD retail/person/day (on the medium side of cost). Of these calories 50-70% is protein

How do you think the push to replace humans with AI systems in nuclear warfare decision making will affect the chance of accidental nuclear war going forward? I hear some countries have been considering it.

While you are correct that vegetable oil would be the most compact way of storing edible calories, we wouldn't be able to rely only on it as it misses several key nutrients, and it would still not solve the prohibitive cost of storing enough food to last for a multi-year catastrophe. We think strategic micronutrient supplement stocks could be cost-effective but haven't looked into it in depth yet.

Any type of food stock would be very useful on the onset of a catastrophe, but the cost-effectiveness of large-scale long-term food storage interventions is not great.

I agree the benefits of closed environments system that you bring up are considerable, in fact there are even more benefits than those mentioned (see this paper). I wanted to bring in some other considerations to enrich the discussion around this:

  • If the closed environment system depends significantly on sunlight-based renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, then it is not resilient to abrupt sunlight reduction scenarios such as nuclear winter.

  • There are many other possibilities outside of vertical farming for closed environment food production, many of which are significantly more efficient in their energy usage. I ran a simple estimation based on a yield of between 5-40 kg lettuce/m2/y and a calorie content of 150 kcal/kg, resulting on and energy efficiency in terms of electricity to calories of 0.1-0.9%. Compare to other systems with efficiencies around 20% such as single cell protein from CO2 (From one of my papers on closed environment food production methods for space/bunkers).

  • While transitioning to food production systems like these minimizes or even removes many risks (climate variability/change, including sunlight dependence as long as the energy system can be operated independently from sunlight as well, environmental pollution, pests, pathogens, trade restrictions etc), it could also maximize or introduce other vulnerabilities such as those that could cause a loss of electrical/industrial infrastructure. In other words, The interdependence between fuel extraction, energy production and industrial infrastructure could result in a multi-region or even global collapse of industry, and in a world in which we depend entirely on industrial infrastructure for food this could also destroy the entire global food system. You can find more info here. See this diagram from my colleague's presentation on this topic.

Thank you, very useful. Happy to see CSER expanding to domains where ALLFED is working such as food shocks, critical infrastructure, volcano engineering, etc. Looking forward to collaborate more!

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