All of Simon_Beard's Comments + Replies

Climate Change Is, In General, Not An Existential Risk

Of course it will be smaller, however that does mean that tackelling climate change will not make a sizeable contribution towards reducing the risk of nuclear winter. The question for me is whether nuclear winters that relate to climate change are more or less tractable than nuclear winter as a whole. My view would be that trying to reduce the risk of nuclear winter by tackelling climate change and its consequences may be a more tractable problem then doing so by trying to get nuclear weapons states to disarm or otherwise making nuclear war less likely in ... (read more)

7John G. Halstead3y
I don't agree that working on climate change is plausibly a better way to reduce the risk of nuclear war than working directly on nuclear war. Firstly, climate change is a very intractable problem in the first place for philanthropists and for national governments, given that action is opposed by entrenched interests across all society and requires cooperation pretty much of all nations. Nuclear peace is opposed by some entrenched interested in the military industrial complex, but these do not reach anywhere near as far into society as a whole. Major results could be achieved just by getting cooperation between Russia and US, which is not true of climate change. Secondly, climate change is much less neglected than reducing the risk of nuclear war. Thirdly, there have been lots of apparently successful treaties that have e.g. limited the size of US and Russian arsenals. It just seems much easier to make progress on things that foster peace and reduce arsenals than on nuclear war caused by climate change. The path for the latter is extremely indirect.
Climate Change Is, In General, Not An Existential Risk

I think we might disagree about what constitutes a near miss or precipitating event. I certainly think that we should worry about such events even if their probability of leading to a nuclear exchange are pretty low (0.001 lets say) and that it would not be merely a matter of luck to have had 60 such events and no nuclear conflict, it is just that given the damage such a conflict would do they still reprasent an unaceptable threat.

The precise role played by climate change in increasing our vulnerability to such threats depends on the nature of the event. I

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4John G. Halstead3y
What do you make to the argument that the probability of nuclear winter caused by climate change is considerably lower than the probability of nuclear winter, so focusing more directly on nuclear winter looks a better bet?
Climate Change Is, In General, Not An Existential Risk

We are indeed writing something on this (sorry it is taking so long!). I would dispute your characterization of the principle contributor of climate change to nuclear war though. Working on Barrett and Baum’s recent model of how nuclear war’s might occure I would argue that the greatest threat from climate change is that it creates conditions under which a prec[ititating event such as a regional war might escalate into a nuclear conflict are more likely - i.e. it increases our vulnerability to such threats. This is probably more significant than its direct

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2John G. Halstead3y
What would be the mechanism whereby it increases the risk of nuclear war? The main one I can think of is mass migration, but I'm not sure what the proposed mechanism is. Are there analogues in the past for comparably large mass migrations causing wars or increased nuclear tensions? We've had quite large refugee flows recently, but this seems to have had basically no impact on nuclear tensions. Given that the main worry for nuclear winter is US-Russia conflict, how could climate change exacerbate tensions there? I also think it would be surprising if there had been 60 genuine near misses in the past, but that is another debate. That suggests surprising levels of luck. The Tertrais et al paper questions some claims about nuclear near misses
Pandemic Risk: How Large are the Expected Losses? Fan, Jamison, & Summers (2018)

I hope that this is now fixed at last, although I stress that this is very much a work in progress

You might be interested in my recent paper, "Questioning EStimates of Natural Pandemic Risk" -
Pandemic Risk: How Large are the Expected Losses? Fan, Jamison, & Summers (2018)

Ha, your right! Millet and Snyder Beattie use two seperate methods to make two similar claims, however whilst I have listed both methods here I have accidently linked them to the same claim. I’ll correct this tomorrow.

I hope that this is now fixed at last, although I stress that this is very much a work in progress
Pandemic Risk: How Large are the Expected Losses? Fan, Jamison, & Summers (2018)

Below I paste a really brief summary of some papers you might find interesting. This is taken from a draft literature review I have been working on with others, into methods for quantifying existential risk, hence its particular format. I hope you find it useful and would be grateful to heard if anyone knows of any good papers we have missed.

My personal takeaway from this exercise with regard to the risk from pandemics is that many GCR scholars may be overstating the risks from a major pandemic at the 'spanish flu' level (and one thing I should h... (read more)

Thanks for posting this! A quick note: Millett & Snyder-Beatie (2017) is repeated here (it's both no. 7 and no. 8). I look forward to reading/hearing about your lit review!
EA Funds: Long-Term Future fund is open to applications until November 24th (this Saturday)

I am a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. Given the short time frame here I thought it worth saying that if anyone is interested in applying for this and would like to work on a project that may be assised by partnershing with a more established X-risk org then I would be happy to hear from you and will make sure to turn around any e-mails in as little time as possible. You can reach me at

Pandemic Risk: How Large are the Expected Losses? Fan, Jamison, & Summers (2018)

This paper very much builds upon a more detailed working paper published by the authors in 2016 ( That seemed to receive a reasonable amount of discussion at the time whilst I was working at FHI and it has certainly been one of my go to resources for pandemic influenza since, but there are definately some problems with it.

The first thing that you need to know is that when the authors talk about ‘extreme events’ this may not quite mean what you think. They basically divide all possible influenza pandemics into two cla

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Thanks for the detailed reply! Is there a better or alternative paper you would recommend for this topic?
What is the Most Helpful Categorical Breakdown of Normative Ethics?

Can I ask why you actually want to catagorize ethics like this at all? I know that it is traditional and it can be very helpful when teaching ethics to set things out like this as if you don’t then students often miss the profound difference between different ethical theories. However a lot of exciting work has never fallen into these catagories, which in any case are basically post hoc classifications of the work of Aristotle, Plato and Mill. Hume’s work for instance is pretty clearly ‘none of the above’ and a lot of good creative work has been done over ... (read more)

Current Estimates for Likelihood of X-Risk?

Hey Rhys

Thanks for prompting me on this. I was hoping to find time for a fuller reply to your but this will have to do, you only asked for the texture after all. My concerns are somewhat nebulous so please don't take this as any cast iron reason not to seek out estimates for the probability of different existential risks. However, I think they are important.

The first relates to the degree of uncertainty that surrounds any estimate of this kind and how it should be handled. There are actually several sources of this.

The first of these relates to the thresho... (read more)

Perfect, thanks! I agree with most of your points (and just writing them here for my own understanding/others): * Uncertainty hard (long time scale, humans adaptable, risks systemically interdependent so we get zero or double counting) * Probabilities have incentives (e.g. Stern's discounting incentive) * Probabilities get simplified (0-10% can turn into 5% or 0% or 10%) I'll ping you as I get closer to a editable draft of my book, so we can ensure I'm painting an appropriate picture. Thanks again!
Current Estimates for Likelihood of X-Risk?

We are indeed keen to get comments and feedback. Also note that the final 1/3rd or so of the paper is an extensive catalogue of assessments of the probability of different risks in which we try to incorporate all the sources we could find (though we are very happy if others know of more of these).

I will say however that the overwhelming sense I got in doing this study is that it is sometimes best not to put this kind of number on risks.

Hey Simon! Thanks writing up this paper. The final 1/3 is exactly what I was looking for! Could you give us a bit more texture on why you think it's "best not to put this kind of number on risks"?

The public beurocracy that I am most familiar with is that in the UK. Here, the government’s approach to risk, including Catastrophic risk, takes place within the Cabinet Office, and in particular their civil contingency secretariat. From what little I know of the US beurocracy I think it is the same in that risk management is the responsibility, at least in part, of the white house.

Risks fall under the authority of different government departments as you put it, in two different ways. Firstly, for the purpose of the Annual National Risk Assessment departm... (read more)

This was very informative. Thank you for taking the time to share it.