Advice Wanted on Expanding an EA Project

As I have written about before, I think getting prepared for agricultural catastrophes is a way to save expected lives cheaper than global poverty interventions (the paper with the numbers is under review). This would also reduce the chance of the collapse of civilization, from which we may not recover. This preparation would cost near the order of tens of millions of dollars. Though this is extremely cost effective, what would likely be even more cost-effective is accelerating the time at which we actually get prepared. Every day delay on getting prepared costs expected lives per day near the order of 1000. With this urgency, I am extremely dedicated to this project. Here I seek feedback on the best way to accomplish this acceleration.

So far, I have volunteered several thousand hours for the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute researching and publicizing alternate foods. I have funded this essay contest to raise awareness and hopefully get people to do more research and to help coalesce a team of researchers. I am also funding a person with UN-related experience part-time to help with networking (I got meetings with a couple high-profile people), run the essay contest, and start writing a draft response plan for the UN/planet.

Some possibilities for future acceleration projects include:

1. Me announcing a donation of ~half of my income in connection with the very low cost per life saved (published or endorsed) and asking for additional funding (hopefully significant media story). Even if the funding did not come in, the more people who are aware of the solutions, the more likely that they will actually get implemented, even without government preparation. If the funding did come in, we would need to decide the best way to use it (some options below).
2.  A wargame like this one but with a more serious agricultural catastrophe. This could attract high profile people to attend, and media attention.
3.  Me quitting my day job as a professor (I am moonlighting as a consultant) so I can be full time on this (this could be in association with the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute or some other institute). My greatest skills are conceiving of and doing the initial research on GCR solutions. So I would probably focus more on food without industry: if there were an extreme solar storm, multiple high-altitude electromagnetic pulses, or a super computer virus (Stuxnet on steroids), this could disable electricity globally and thus industry. Once we do the initial research, we could be in position to advocate for getting prepared for these catastrophes as well. I still anticipate significant donation because of consulting and because the investment I shared with this forum has done so well.
4.  Try to get a paid position where I could do alternate food work (challenging).
5. A media led strategy - maybe with scenario training (war gaming) for journalists from CNN or BBC or National Geographic and several big countries role-playing the hot seat positions - and then taking it up as a cause celebre in their own media.
6. Focus in on the response plan: once a draft exists, it allows others to react and do a better one, or do a complimentary one for their own country and continent.
7. Philanthropist hunt
8. There is also the argument that most people would be most excited about object level interventions (e.g. actually doing the detailed research on solutions to food without the sun), versus meta (advocating for other people to do the object level interventions). So another option would be starting to fund (or do) this direct work, and hoping the result will be acceleration of overall preparation. Also we could try to find and influence the people (e.g. USA, UK, China) who can commission research in this area.
9. Getting someone on site where a lot of action is happening, like Washington, DC or Rome (UN affiliates).

I am conflating my personal career decisions and the acceleration of the project. But this is because I am the primary person doing/funding this project.

I am also very open to other suggestions.

Edit: here is the cost per life saved paper now that it is published.

Comments (3)

Comment author: RyanCarey 24 April 2016 10:01:35AM *  1 point [-]

My thoughts on career options based on admittedly basic knowledge of your career situation, but having discussed similar questions re how to best support gcr reduction research.

1/ Me announcing a donation: yet to be convinced that money is what you as a demonstrably useful GCR researcher can best offer. 2/.  A wargame like this one but with a more serious agricultural catastrophe: I would rather at least start by producing the simple policy papers that we guess would move relevant policymakers. 3/4.  Me quitting my day job as a professor/to work maybe for GCRI: Sounds good. Look at CSER and FHI postdocs, and consider gradually pivoting through academia as an alternative. 5/ A media led strategy: how will you pitch this to media? 6/ Draft the response plan: seems to be a research project best done from a paid position 7/. Philanthropist hunt: seems best done to fund a research agenda for a new or existing org 8/. starting to fund (or do) resilience work. Also we could try to find and influence the people (e.g. USA, UK, China) who can commission research in this area: Sounds great. Many people should be working on this kind of thing through GCRI/FHI/CSER. Wonder whether IARPA would fund anything about disasters overlapping with intelligence too. 9/ Getting someone on site where a lot of action is happening, like Washington, DC or Rome (UN affiliates): sounds worth trying, perhaps this expense could be split with FHI etc. This should maybe attract EA funding so one could ask EA ventures to be hooked up too.

Comment author: MichaelDello 01 May 2016 10:02:47AM 0 points [-]

I wanted to take part in the essay competition and categorise the space related risks and solutions to food (related to my PhD in space science) though unfortunately didn't have time. Will this competition be recurring? If not, it's something I'd like to write about anyway.

Comment author: Denkenberger 23 June 2016 03:00:16PM 0 points [-]

We are not planning another essay contest at this point, but I would be happy to hear your thoughts. Related to space and food, you might want to check this out.