The Dangerous Ideas of "Longtermism" and "Existential Risk" - 2021-07-28

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F0.png The Dangerous Ideas of "Longtermism" and "Existential Risk" July 28, 2021, Émile P. Torres, Current Affairs

In a late-2020 interview with CNBC, Skype cofounder Jaan Tallinn made a perplexing statement. "Climate change," he said, "is not going to be an existential risk unless there's a runaway scenario." A "runaway scenario" would occur if crossing one or more critical thresholds in the climate system causes Earth's thermostat to rise uncontrollably. The hotter it has become, the hotter it will become, via self-amplifying processes. This is probably what happened a few billion years ago on our planetary neighbor Venus, a hellish cauldron whose average surface temperature is high enough to melt lead and zinc.

Fortunately, the best science today suggests that a runaway scenario is unlikely, although not impossible. Yet even without a runaway scenario, the best science also frighteningly affirms that climate change will have devastating consequences. It will precipitate lethal heatwaves, megadroughts, catastrophic wildfires (like those seen recently in the Western U.S.), desertification, sea-level rise, mass migrations, widespread political instability, food-supply disruptions/famines, extreme weather events (more dangerous hurricanes and flash floods), infectious disease outbreaks, biodiversity loss, mass extinctions, ecological collapse, socioeconomic upheaval, terrorism and wars, etc. To quote an ominous 2020 paper co-signed by more than 11,000 scientists from around the world, "planet Earth is facing a climate emergency" that, unless immediate and drastic action is taken, will bring about "untold suffering."

So why does Tallinn think that climate change isn't an existential risk? Intuitively, if anything should count as an existential risk it's climate change, right?

Wikipedia cite:
{{cite news | first = Émile P. | last = Torres | title = The Dangerous Ideas of "Longtermism" and "Existential Risk" | url = | work = Current Affairs | date = July 28, 2021 | accessdate = April 27, 2023 }}