Jan
13
2008

It's the end of the world as we know it...

So fragile, so vulnerable -- so what do you do?: How would you allocate funds to protect the Earth from disaster?
So fragile, so vulnerable -- so what do you do?: How would you allocate funds to protect the Earth from disaster?Courtesy NASA

The Lifeboat Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding solutions to global challenges, has an interesting poll on its blog. Let’s say you had an extra $100 million lying around, and you could spend it to protect the Earth and all its people from the following threats:

  • Deadly diseases
  • Global warming
  • Invasion from outer space
  • Abusive governments
  • Nanotechnology run amok
  • Nuclear holocaust
  • Asteroid collision
  • Intelligent computers run amok
  • Simulation shut down
  • Other

How would you distribute the $100 million? You might think all of these issues are important, but you’ve only got so much money. How would you spend it? (You can go to the Lifeboat blog and cast your vote, and see how other people have voted.)

Actually, a similar survey has already been run by Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg. He runs the Copenhagen Consensus, a program which invites world leaders to prioritize their efforts based on what actions would produce the greatest benefits. They found that every dollar spent on health issues, such as AIDS, malnutrition and malaria, produced up to $40 worth of benefits, while money spent on other worthy causes often generated much less.

As for me, I’d also put most of my money on deadly diseases – this is something we know is real. I’d probably also put a chunk on “other” for environmental protection – pollution, deforestation, species loss.

This is not to dismiss all of the other threats. I certainly worry about some crackpot getting a hold of nuclear weapons. But full-scale nuclear holocaust seems a lot less likely now than it did back during the Cold War. Abusive governments? A local problem, to be sure, but not one likely to threaten the planet and all life on it.

The others seem rather far-fetched to me. Global warming? My skepticism over the threat this poses is well-documented elsewhere on this blog, though certainly others disagree with me. Asteroid collision? Happens once every 100 million years or so; killer germs emerge once a generation. Invasion from outer space? Get real – if interstellar travel were possible, wouldn’t the space men be here by now? Nanotechnology turning everything into gray goo? A casual familiarity with nano shows that such fears are vastly overrated. Artificial intelligence ruling the world? They’ve been promising AI since the early ‘60s – I’m still waiting.

My favorite, though, is “Simulation shut down.” Basically, this means that nothing in this world is real – you, I, and everything on Earth are just part of a massive virtual game run on a gigantic computer operated by some intelligent being in another dimension, and we need to prevent him/her/it from turning the computer off. While this would certainly explain a few anomalies I’ve noticed in the Universe (I mean, come on, penguins?), epistemologically, there is no way we could possibly know whether or not this was true. And even if it was, how could our $100 million virtual dollars have any effect on the being running the program?

What about you? How would you spend a theoretical $100 million to save the Earth? Leave a note in the comments.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Simulation shut down. That would be awesome.
I love the idea that a mega-meta-being dreaming up our existence could be bribed with a hundred million dollars.
It would take a billion, at least.

So let's see... I think I would spend the $100 million on an Ewok village, ala Return of the Jedi. It wouldn't save the world directly, but everyone would want to live there, and if the world got destroyed they obviously couldn't, so that would probably motivate people in to behaving a little more responsibly.

That or I'd invest the money in a giant, earth-based laser for shooting down asteroids. And while we're waiting for the next big asteroid, we could use it to take potshots at the moon. 35 million years would just fly by.

posted on Sun, 01/13/2008 - 3:29pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Next time I play The Sims, I'll see if I can't shake down the avatars. Pay me $100 million or I reboot!

posted on Mon, 01/14/2008 - 1:53pm
twila_08's picture
twila_08 says:

It's kinda crazy to know that the world will end but we can't change that what happens is supposed to happen

Twila Turnage

posted on Thu, 03/13/2008 - 10:24am
hawa's picture
hawa says:

I don't believe the world is about to end. And if I have $100 million, I could use it to
protect the earth from disaster cause I wouldn't like the idea for everybody dying.

posted on Mon, 03/24/2008 - 2:17pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

The world will end some day, if only because the Sun is going to expand into a Red Giant star and engulf the inner planets. (Don't worry -- this is about 4 billion years in the future.) Or, one of these other things will happen first. The $100 million challenge asks you to think -- which threats do you think are most likely, and which ones can we actually do something about?

posted on Mon, 03/24/2008 - 3:37pm
jimmy's picture
jimmy says:

i dont think it is going to happened

posted on Mon, 03/24/2008 - 3:04pm
diamond2008's picture
diamond2008 says:

i think it's going to happen and there nothing anybody can do about it

posted on Wed, 03/26/2008 - 3:22pm
hawa's picture
hawa says:

Many people will say things about the world ending
but i wouldn't believe it until i see it happen.

posted on Thu, 03/27/2008 - 2:09pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i think you will die.

posted on Thu, 03/27/2008 - 3:00pm
diamond2008's picture
diamond2008 says:

i know pretty soon

posted on Thu, 04/17/2008 - 11:06am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

The Future of Humanity Institute is hosting a conference on global catastrophic risks,

posted on Sat, 07/19/2008 - 3:55am

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