Mike Cassidy

Volcano scientist at the University of Oxford and interested in EA and longtermism

Wiki Contributions


On the assessment of volcanic eruptions as global catastrophic or existential risks

Hi Marc, 

Clive Oppenheimer's, 'Eruptions that shook the world' is a great introduction to volcanoes and their role on society. Cheers!

On the assessment of volcanic eruptions as global catastrophic or existential risks

Hi David, yes totally agree and meant to add this to my answer above. In fact, I think our post only strengthens the case for looking into resilient foods.

On the assessment of volcanic eruptions as global catastrophic or existential risks

Hi Gordon, I think by reading the 'challenging assumptions and why we think the current risk may be underappreciated' and 'Conclusions and the future' sections, you'll get a summary of most of the main points. 

On the assessment of volcanic eruptions as global catastrophic or existential risks


As the authors put it in that paper: 

"Interventions that delay the eruption have the risk of making the future eruption more intense"

I think this is right, and until we can competently model how a magma will respond to any interventions that we might do, it's perhaps too risky to do at the moment. Nevertheless volcanologists have gone the other way and completely dismissed this whole concept of intervention. Personally, I think it be very worthwhile to investigate this concept in the lab and with numerical models, as after all, humans have  drilled directly into magma reservoirs by mistake (while looking for geothermal energy) (~4 times in fact!) with limited negative consequences. So the knowledge we can find out by drilling  magmas (one of the links I shared in the conclusions) would be highly informative for the coming decades of volcano science.

At the moment, there are far less risky options that could do to mitigate the risk in the short term, for instance we haven't even identified all the volcanoes capable of climate-altering eruptions, and how we can best to monitor them (many of these will not even be monitored, especially in resource-poor, volcano-rich countries like Indonesia and the Philippines).

On the assessment of volcanic eruptions as global catastrophic or existential risks

Thanks for your input! 

My main question is: How tractable are the current solutions to all of this? Are there specific next steps one could take? Organizations that could accept funding or incoming talent? Particular laws or regulations we ought to be advocating for? Those are all tough questions, but it would be helpful to have even a very vague sense of how far a unit of money/time could go towards this cause.

Yes we think there are tractable solutions to reduce the impact from these large eruptions, and we're currently planning these behind the scenes. The reason for this in part is that there has been little done to model & understand consequences of such eruptions, most of the work in the disaster risk focuses on the more frequent volcanic risks. There's no organisation that's currently looking at these extreme hazards in a global sense, so work to coordinate and focus the volcano community (in a similar way to the asteroid community some decades back), could be really effective  (again something we're starting to think about). We'll do some fuller cost-benefit analysis, but very little (if any) funds and time are being put into extreme volcanic risk reduction, yet the financial losses may be substantial (~trillions). Sorry if that's a bit vague-we're just starting to think about this.

The only thing that jumps to mind is Luisa Rodriguez's work on famines during a civilizational collapse or nuclear winter: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/GsjmufaebreiaivF7/what-is-the-likelihood-that-civilizational-collapse-would

Not quite the same, but as you mention, "the closest analogy is nuclear war scenarios". They feel similar in that the worst case scenarios seem to be various hard to predict follow-on effects, e.g. there's a resource shortage, people panic and chaos ensues.

Thanks for this- we'll read this post with interest. 

Minor nit: As I understand the term's usage, the events you describe would probably not entirely qualify. One org describes "s-risk" as "risks of cosmically significant amounts of suffering". A few other things I've read focuses on really astronomically large (in terms of population or timescale) almost science-fiction-esque scenarios, for example, colonizing the galaxy, producing 10^50 humans, and then torturing them all for a trillion years. But I'm not 100% confident that's the canonical definition, so your usage might be totally fine.

I think you're right here (I was struggling with some of the definitions), so I've removed the bit about 's-risks'. 

Thanks again!