Thursday, January 31, 2019

Solution Convergence


WICO Secretary General Decatur today cautioned against prejudging the final global survival strategy before it is created from all of the national inputs, which are due tomorrow. 

“Threats of violence cannot and will not be tolerated,” he said at a news conference this morning, referring to Reverend Frank Lanton’s statement that invoked Armageddon as a response to an unpopular strategy. “The alternative is to increase the probability of failure, which is already too high.” He noted that counter-demonstrations being held today in many venues where yesterday’s protests occurred “show that there is considerable support for strategy options being considered, but we will not comment on them until and unless they are adopted into the final strategy.”

That didn’t stop much of the world press, me included, from trying to get background opinions from sources with knowledge of the strategy integration effort. Ambassador Lazlo remained unavailable, and no one on her team returned requests for information about their progress. 

I received a cryptic e-mail message flagged as spam by all of my filters, which I suspect came from Sally based on its content. It said: “Prepare for the worst, work for the best, question everything, and fully accept nothing.” This implied to me that a strategy had been decided at the beginning that until now could not be articulated but was already being executed: People were following those basic rules.

Reality Check

Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest. This is my take on one of them.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Judgments Day


In an echo of the global protests on January 7, large rallies were held in the capital cities of 41 countries, with the largest in the streets of London around WICO headquarters and the offices of its Strategy Integration group. Except for Great Britain, the countries appear to have been chosen because available drafts of their strategies to deal with the DIE threat all include unrestricted migration and aggressive means of controlling population growth such as open support of abortion, capital punishment for rape, and mandatory contraception.

Birth control mobilized many religious groups as revealed by a comparison of statements made by their leaders, with mandatory contraception being the most contentious issue because its use should be determined by individuals based on their beliefs and not by the state. Capital punishment for rape was opposed because it exacted too great a penalty, interfered with some religious and cultural norms, and could be abused through false accusation. Protests of state supported abortion varied with religion and whether it was already supported.

Unrestricted migration was second only to mandatory contraception in crowd size and fervor. Various rally leaders made the point that it was equivalent to a surrender of national identity. Others voiced concern that quality of life would rapidly degrade to a point where, as one speaker put it, “we’ll have total anarchy, and we might as well die from extinction.”

Frank Lanton, the leader of one of the largest Christian congregations in the United States, gave a chilling warning that reverberated throughout the world’s social media: “If these policies are included in the final strategy and codified in treaties, it will spark the great war of Armageddon between the righteous and the forces of darkness, proving for certain that the extinction crisis is code for what will happen on Judgment Day.”

Reality Check

This is an attempt to portray some anticipated (and still imaginary) negative responses to some of the more controversial options that might be considered in response to the extinction threat based on previous “news”.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

System Integrity


As I predicted on last night’s news shows, WICO Secretary General Decatur released a statement today characterizing Sally’s assessment of the strategy status as an extreme opinion that isn’t shared by the vast majority of people working at STRIDE. He especially took issue with her view that “preferred territorial and cultural integrity is inconsistent with minimizing casualties,” arguing that it was based on unjustified pessimism and a set of unrealistic expectations about what can be accomplished. The statement concluded with effusive praise of the national strategy development teams and “thanks for their heroic effort in response to this grave threat.”

I was unable to reach either Sally or Ambassador Lazlo for comment, and none of the strategy development teams would return my calls. I did however get a request for a meeting with Expansivtek’s Ronald Wingate. 

While we talked, Wingate took me on a tour of his company’s large wind farm in northern Colorado, which he happened to be visiting today. “Your source Sally put a real scare into her bosses at WICO, didn’t she?” he asked rhetorically. “Who do you think is blowing smoke, her or Decatur?”

“Neither,” I answered. “They just disagree on whether or not we should plan for the worst case.”

“That’s a pretty good guess you made yesterday. It sounded like you’re on the same page with her.”

“Think about something long enough, and your guesses start getting better,” I said. “My job is to report and interpret for my audience, not to make policy.”

“Sure it is,” he said skeptically. He waved at a technician near the top of a turbine, who waved back. “You know, I started out as part of a team of techs making field calls to repair equipment all around the country. What you said about hunter-gatherers and Sally’s comment about fixing the environment reminded me of those trips. That’s kind of the way it felt. It got me to thinking that if this situation’s as bad as she thinks, there might be another way to deal with it.”

“You mean ED?” I asked, referring to the Evolution over Devolution project he announced two weeks ago.

“An extension of it,” he said. “When we would go to a site, the first thing we would do was clean things up, check all the physical and electrical connections, make sure the basic maintenance was done. If the system still wasn’t working properly, we had fewer possibilities for what was wrong, and the odds were good we wouldn’t have to come back for a long time. I’ve been assuming that the system just needs better versions of what it’s currently using that we can strap new functionality to, and that what it’s hooked up to is in good enough shape that we just need better connections. If those assumptions are wrong, then we need to redefine the system as something a lot bigger, and then apply the process to that.” 

I began to fear I had created a monster. “Just to clarify: What exactly is the new system?” 

He grinned. “The whole damn planet!”

Reality Check

I expect that any rational governmental entity would balk at any challenge to the physical or cultural integrity of it or its members, no matter what the reason.

Wingate’s epiphany and related experience is an extrapolation of my own experience and the experience of people I’ve known. His fictional company does not own a wind farm, though there are wind farms in Colorado. 

Monday, January 28, 2019



I called my anonymous source Sally to get an insider’s assessment of whether the deadline for national strategy submissions would be met. She was characteristically blunt: “All submissions are expected by the due date, but not with the degree of completion and quality required for efficient integration. Most egregious is a generally insufficient consideration of the threat’s global nature and how to adapt with rapid deployment of people, technology, and personal behavior modification.”

“You mean like droughts and floods?” I asked, trying to focus on relatable examples.

“Preferred territorial and cultural integrity is inconsistent with minimizing casualties under those and many other conditions because of the dynamics and scales involved,” she said.

I thought of how other species adapt, moving from place to place depending on availability of food, water, and livable temperature ranges. “Are you suggesting that we go back to being hunter-gatherers?”

“You cannot go back, since you never had that experience,” she corrected. “There would be strong similarities between a part of what is required and what people like you typically associate with that behavior.”

“Tell me if I have this right,” I said. “Based on recent population projections, I imagine five billion people split into communicating groups that move around the planet staying in temporary housing near food caches on every land mass, carrying with them the technology, general skills, and knowledge to build or consume whatever they need. A basic, common culture ensures that people work together rather than fight, and that population growth matches what accessible resources can support without disrupting any affected ecological support systems.”

Sally’s response was both reassuring and terrifying. “That is a reasonable approximation. As soon as possible they must also attempt to disassemble and render ecologically reusable everything that poses an extinction threat to any species. No strategy team has yet included a plan for doing so.”

Reality Check

The final strategy is in keeping with the general approach of planning for the worst case and uses some ideas I’ve developed over several years for implementing similar scenarios.

Friday, January 25, 2019



Great Britain’s Charles Lockhart has established a reputation as one of the world’s greatest thinkers, having made groundbreaking discoveries in mathematics, physics, biology, and human ecology. Because of his reputation, he has been consulted by more than a half-dozen nations to assist with their extinction crisis strategies. I discussed that experience with him and asked for a candid opinion of the entire effort.

“There is a general atmosphere of deep frustration bordering on hopelessness in the planning groups,” he told me. “No one has a real clue how to do something like this, so they are relying a little too heavily, in my opinion, on the judgment of STRIDE and its untested testing.” He explained, “There are hundreds of people all over the world making observations and suggestions. How do we know the quality of their work? Are there controlled experiments that have objectively verified it? You might want to ask your anonymous source about that the next time you speak.

“And then there’s this artificial intelligence, Sanda, which I strongly suspect is your source masquerading as a person. Talk about being untested! It’s a one-of-a-kind, highly complex machine that is operating in a complex, one-of-a-kind environment, on a problem unlike anything anyone has ever solved. It doesn’t inspire confidence, to say the least.

“As for the effort, I see it as quite a bit different from dealing with a threat. Ignoring the motivation for the moment, we will be essentially replacing our entire civilization with a fundamentally different one in just two decades. Given that view, the organizations charged with maintaining this civilization are facing the conundrum of responsible service while planning its destruction and rebirth with fewer people in a world radically outside of their experience if it is lucky enough to exist. In my estimation, our odds of survival are depressingly low regardless of what we do.”

Reality Check

I am nowhere as smart or as accomplished as Lockhart is expected to be. His concerns are based on my experience as a test engineer and a lot of thought.  

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Anonymous Corrections


An anonymous source within STRIDE contacted me early this morning to correct the record about strategy development. The source, who goes by the pseudonym “Sally” provided information that leads me to have high confidence in what I’m told.

First, the description of the Hope Chart on January 11 is fundamentally flawed. The chart depicts projected consumption of ecological resources and changes in available resources over time due to nonhuman (“external”) causes, most being self-sustaining natural feedbacks that affect global warming. According to Sally, crashing of our population is triggered when lessthan the amount of available resources is consumed, and speed of the crash is typically faster than the remaining drop in resources. The exact triggers and the crash trajectories are dependent on the conditions driving consumption such as societal regulation of population and how much people can each consume. Sally provided an example based on the baseline strategy showing the consumption trajectory based on the baseline strategy and the mid-projection of external resource reduction if there is no modification of that reduction due to dropping consumption (such as enhanced absorption of carbon from the atmosphere and oceans).    

Second, it is misleading to describe the threat assessment as what was reported in the Global Emergency declaration. Sally emphasized that the threat, like the proposed responses, is intimately dependent on actions actually taken by people, members of other species, and non-living physical processes. “What people and other living creatures do is based on what they know and what they expect as well as their capabilities. Specifically, what a significant number of people know is significantly shaped by the information provided by their leaders with regard to the extinction threat. That information did not weight the worst-case possibilities enough to force an appropriate response. The worst of those possibilities, defined as the fastest-acting and most fatal of them, must be the basis of the response so the amount of time until extinction is maximized. A proper assessment would include that worst case, which projects business-as-usual extinction in 2033 instead of 2038.” 

Sally provided an example of the Hope Chart with a new worst-case for external resource reduction, which favored letting older people die without replacement and letting per-capita consumption decrease until 2040. There was still a possibility of opening resources for other species and avoiding extinction at least until the end of the century, but if that failed then humanity would be extinct by 2043.

Reality Check

The graphs are from the simulation, with a new projection (“Max.”) for the worst case in the last two graphs. Sally’s points likewise derive directly from the simulation; and illustrate the difference between what presenters and experts consider a meaningful amount of detail.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019



Following are brief answers to the top three questions from the international press pool, which are based on my visit to STRIDE’s Strategy Integration group headquarters on January 19-21.

1.     Has the assessment of the threat changed since the Global Emergency declaration, and if so, what is the new assessment?

The threat remains as described in the declaration, though STRIDE has much more detail than was revealed there. Essentially: STRIDE estimates with 80% confidence that humanity will be extinct by 2038 if no action is taken to substantially reduce its ecological footprint beginning this year.

2.     Based on strategy inputs received to date, how probable is it that we will avoid extinction?

As of yesterday, adjustments were still being made and assumptions evaluated. The team’s best judgment was that it would be around 40%. 

3.     How soon after the deadline does STRIDE expect to have a completed strategy?

The integration will take no more than one month after the national strategies are received and the action pledges signed. The resulting treaties can be ready for negotiation almost immediately after that, and should be signed no later than the end of April. STRIDE is dedicated to providing meaningful feedback as soon as possible to avoid delays on implementation.

Reality Check

By question:

1.     The extinction response is based on my simulation’s best match to historical data.
2.     Such estimates would be in flux based on feedback from field evaluators, which would be expected to take some time. The 40% number is dependent on the average of the quality and quantity of inputs received through the online tool, and on the confidence in the projections of the model.
3.     Without assistance from a sophisticated AI like Sanda, such a project could conceivably take many months. Luckily the simulated world has access to that technology and can turn around the strategy fast enough for the implementation schedule to possibly be met. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Strategy Integration


When I began my visit to the Strategy Integration group, I expected to see something like a space mission control room. What I found instead was two floors of offices almost indistinguishable from those used by industry for management and engineering, except that the cubicles had full-size walls that blocked sound from within. A third floor was filled with conference rooms surrounding an open bay used for large group meetings.

“The data and logic behind the operation is mostly in computers,” explained Samantha Lazlo, the Austrian ambassador to WICO, head of the group’s Overview team, and my guide for three days. “Our advanced artificial intelligence system, which we call Sanda, has access to the entire WICO database, including the observations and models from the biosphere assessment, and is about to be connected to all unrestricted global online networks. 

“There are over 700 people in Strategy Integration. Most of them interact directly with Sanda from satellite offices around the world, asking questions and helping answer others that contribute to the integration and testing of the overall strategy. They also coordinate input from the national strategy groups in their regions. Our Administration team on the first floor manages who works where, handles contracts and issues, and coordinates with the other groups. And we have a technical team in the basement, which handles facilities and IT.” 

Lazlo and a member of the technical team set me up in a guest cubicle with the Overview team on the second floor with basic computer access that allowed me to communicate with Sanda, whose voice was eerily similar to Lazlo’s but without her cosmopolitan accent. One of the three large monitors occupying my desk was dedicated to visual feedback from Sanda that included text and images, while the other two functioned as a typical computer desktop with the usual applications. “Ask Sanda whatever you want,” Lazlo told me. “I’ll try to answer anything that it can’t or won’t.”

I had brought a list of questions of my own and submitted by colleagues, which I spent most of the first afternoon trying to get Sanda to answer. Virtually every one led down a proverbial rabbit hole of clarifications, details, and intersecting concepts that added exponentially more confusion to what I was trying to learn. 

Lazlo looked at me with sympathy when I shared my exasperation. “Sanda was designed to emulate in each answer the maximum complexity implicit in each question.” For some reason, my expression made her laugh. “It can’t yet assess what you already know, or what you think you know, so it assumes you know the least amount possible that would generate the question you asked. That way, you have the best chance of getting the answer you seek.” She suggested that I join her in a meeting on the third floor, where she would make formal introductions and I could get some insight from the 23 members who were currently in the building. 

The subject of the meeting was an update on the amount and quality of strategy inputs so far received by STRIDE. After Lazlo introduced me, data expert Zhou Li Xiu took a deep dive into what was being learned from the information gathered by the online tool deployed to assist development by the teams appointed by their governments. She concluded with a 45% assessment of quality based on the 56% of inputs received so far, which everyone agreed was dangerously low.

I knew enough about programming to gather that Sanda was the “back end” of the software, and guessed that it was experiencing the reverse of the problem I experienced with it: essentially, it couldn’t derive from the tool’s simple inputs the detail it needed to construct a meaningful strategy. Lazlo explained that the inputs were expected to be mostly corrections to a strategy being developed through a collaboration between Sanda and the larger group that was well-trained to work with it.

On my second day, I investigated the basis of the famous Hope Chart by datamining a computer server devoted to its creation and maintenance and discussing it with Lazlo’s team members. Hundreds of potential strategies had been simulated and each result translated into a chart that served as a touchstone for evaluation. Zhou explained that the simulations focused on interactions between “subunits” of populations and environments that were each represented by a chart and both evaluated and reality-tested by at least one pair of STRIDE group members doing field research as required.

“Our biggest concern is how natural systems are responding to what we do,” Zhou told me. “Sanda uses the latest data and physical models to assess the range of possibilities, which so far track with some simple approximations of overall ecological impact when averaged over decade-long time scales. We are seeing signs that those approximations could break down soon, which is in part why the world must act now so we can exercise what control is still possible.” 

I was reminded of the Secretary General’s analogy of heading through a minefield toward a cliff. Zhou found the analogy apt, but with a modification. “Some of those mines are actually time bombs. Familiar examples are the melting of ice and frozen methane, and of course the acidification and heating of the oceans. Some of the bombs are already exploding, as we see in the cascading effects of species die-offs, especially at the bottom of the food chain in the oceans and on land. The healing effects we hope for when we draw down our impact may be a chimera if the species we save are unable to save themselves or us.”

The third and last day was spent reviewing documents summarizing the draft strategy, and following up with Lazlo on what I had learned. My discussion with Zhou helped immensely in making sense of the strategy, even with all its placeholders. I tested my understanding by sharing it with Lazlo: “You’re basically stopping the damage being done; repairing the damage that already exists; neutralizing known and potential threats where possible; and enlisting allies to create new and safer environments wherever it can be done.”

“That’s right,” she agreed. “I would add that there’s a lot of ongoing intelligence gathering and sharing so time and resources can be used efficiently. While we presently have the luxury of artificial intelligence to help plan and drive our actions, it shouldn’t be taken as a given. People need to learn to take its place, and that will require a whole new kind of education that to me is the most critical placeholder to be filled.”

Reality Check

Organizations and technologies represented here are pure fabrication based on what I guess might be the minimum requirements for such an effort given its time constraints. 

The number of people in Strategy Integration is based on the sample size of my simulations, with overhead for other functions. It is an estimate of that it would take to gather sufficient information for realistic guidance in developing a detailed strategy. My simulations do NOT represent the culmination of such an effort; they are rather the source of approximations like those mentioned by Zhou.

Characterizations of the strategy and the issues it addresses are based on my own understanding.

Friday, January 18, 2019



“Not-so-fun fact,” Samantha Lazlo says as we sit in her London office, “if your country, the great U.S.A., was totally isolated from the rest of the world, then the average citizen would be living like the average world citizen in 2023, four years after the population maxes out if we all continue business-as-usual.” She stifles a laugh as my jaw drops. “That’s the price of isolation.”

I have been chosen by the international press pool to report on the activities of STRIDE’s Strategy Integration group from the inside as its members tie together inputs from each national strategy development group. Lazlo leads its Overview team, which is tasked with summarizing the overall strategy so it can be voted on by political leadership upon completion.

“Interaction is key to success,” Lazlo explains. “That will be embodied in a treaty derived from the strategy so it has the weight of law in case there are any disputes during execution, as there clearly will be.” She started the discussion of isolation when we got the news that a faction of Congress was arguing that the country should take the resulting strategy as a suggestion only. “The world can’t afford to have any rogue states picking and choosing what they want without agreement with all the rest who will be affected by it. We’ve identified a majority of scenarios where that would lead to something like what we have now, which is unacceptable.”

“What can you do about it?” I ask, and realize immediately what a stupid question it is. “Of course,” I recover, “the enforcement provisions of the declaration as an overarching treaty must handle that.”

Lazlo’s expression is unreadable. “They should, but any nation strong enough and determined enough can theoretically get out of it. That would result in isolation, which is a problem if it wanted that all along. Which is why everyone needs to be convinced of the ‘why’ and not just the ‘what’ of our response to the extinction threat, so they believe what’s likely to happen to them even if they’re successful.”

“That’s why I’m here, isn’t it?”

She smiles as if I’ve discovered a hidden gift. “Yes. For the next three days you can follow me around and I’ll show you those answers. If you’re convinced afterward, then you’ll have a good chance of convincing others. Call it a little extra insurance.”

Reality Check

I am not a journalist, but I play one on a blog. After a three-day break, I will report on what I “saw” while shadowing Lazlo.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Supply Chain Problem


In an interview at Expansaerospace headquarters in Colorado, CEO Mark Luke discussed what he calls “the supply chain problem.” That issue is what motivated him to host the forum two days ago which added fuel to the public debate over the merits of actions proposed by the World Information and Coordination Organization in response to the imminent extinction threat.

At age 46, Luke is an expert at business logistics, which is why he got into the transportation industry 17 years ago. “The global economy depends on extracting raw resources, creating things with them, and enabling people to get and use those things. For every person who uses something, there is a community of people called a supply chain that performs those functions. My industry, for example, contributes to moving resources, products, and people, and this company focuses on doing that above the ground. 

“Whether we like it or not, what we call raw resources includes other creatures and what they need to survive on, basically their supply chain. They also have to live with what we can’t put into products, as well as the products when we’re done using them, which of course they can’t use. That makes them the losers in every aspect of the economy, even the service industries that rely on moving people into their homes. You see where this is going? If we don’t use resources so more of them can live, or live better, then people don’t get what they want and need. It’s basically them or us.

“One of the main points that WICO and its environmentalist base likes to make is that other species provide products and services that help keep us alive. That’s misleading, because what we get is incidental to them keeping themselves alive; and there are other things they do that can hurt us, such as trying to consume us or putting substances in the environment that are toxic to us. In my opinion, which I share with many others, we’re better off creating supply chains we can control so we can keep ourselves alive. I see that as one of the core functions of civilization, which our economy was created to serve.

“Some of the alarmists have compared our impact on other creatures as equivalent to a company demanding more product for less money each year from its suppliers until eventually its suppliers go out of business and the whole supply chain collapses. Again, that’s a false equivalence, because they’re more resources and competitors than suppliers. A business solution is to expand the supply chain to include suppliers who compete with each other to become more efficient, and pick whoever’s winning at the moment. Obviously, other species aren’t competing to better serve us, so we’re justified in taking what we can get from them while developing a network of humans, and ultimately much more efficient and controllable machines, that will be increasingly capable and motivated to give us what we want.

“So, I basically disagree with the definition of the emergency. It isn’t that we’re about to go extinct because of growth. It’s that we need to grow a new supply chain to replace the one that’s becoming useless.”

Reality Check

Luke’s points are based on my experience in business and engineering, some of which I once agreed with. I’ve portrayed the logic as I imagine someone in his position would, and have left out my own considerable criticism so it stands on its own.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Draft Strategies Expose Issues


NOTE: The January 14 post has been updated with a correction. Lazlo said “the fraction is criticallylarge” not “the fraction is critically small.”

WICO’s office of Strategy Tracking, Response, Integration, Development, and Execution (STRIDE) announced today that draft sections of thirteen national strategies were received for initial review in the past two days. Ambassador Lazlo, who serves now as both a team lead and press contact, said at a briefing after the announcement that several common issues have been found which require clarification to all parties involved in the effort.

In her introductory remarks, she said, “There appears to be some confusion about how the templates are used to generate strategy components. To eliminate that, STRIDE has created an online tool that provides both guidance and calculations based on regional data and expected interactions between regions based on what each nation includes in its draft strategy. Development teams appointed by their governments have been given secure access to instances of the tool that are tailored to their needs and conditions.” 

She then demonstrated the tool and explained the largest issue found so far. “Restricting births must account for actual death rates, especially infant mortality, so that the population doesn’t decrease too fast. Ideally, everyone would have access to good medical care and healthy conditions before, during, and after birth, but sadly that isn’t generally the case and increased fertility is used to compensate. Part of our strategy integration is to include sharing of best practices everywhere possible so that the sacrifices needed to avoid extinction are as painless as possible for everyone. That’s why we aren’t ruling out development of any new technology; rather, we’re focusing on development of technologies that meet the needs of the overall strategy without excess waste and that can be used well into the final phases of the transition to lower, safer consumption.”

Reality Check

The “birthrate” used in the simulation and which is found to vary predictably with consumption is related to fertility, and is based on historical population growth rates. It therefore has a maximum of 2.1 children per mother, which is less than actual fertility that includes children who die at or soon after birth. Any planning used to keep population from growing or declining too fast will likely have to adjust for deaths as described by Lazlo. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Industry Leaders Warn of Existential Threat


Today leaders of the world’s largest transportation companies held a public forum at a hotel near WICO headquarters in London to protest the imminent extinction response as an existential threat to their industries and the world.

Expansaerospace CEO Mark Luke summarized their concerns in opening remarks to over 400 attendees and nearly a million online observers: “The goals and strategies being considered by the world’s governments would decimate our collective ability to move people, products, and resources as needed to maintain even a semblance of global civilization. Humanity might not go extinct, but the world we create won’t be worth living in.” Revealing his opinion of the entire effort, he added that “the last time global GDP was at the target provided by the whackos at WICO was sixty years ago, when there were two billion fewer people than what they say we’ll have at the end of this experiment thirty years from now. If isolation is as bad as they told us yesterday, or worse, then what they want us to do will make it unavoidable.”

Among the attendees was a group of energy industry representatives who co-opted the meeting after the first hour. Renewable energy icon Ronald Wingate announced a partnership between his conglomerate Expansivtek, the two largest oil companies, and the top three biotech companies to promote a research and development project called Evolution over Devolution. “ED will create technological solutions that provide all the needs of a growing population at a standard of living that builds on the work of past generations instead of spitting on it.” Wingate defended the late timing of the announcement: “We have been incubating this project for five years, and it’s just a lucky coincidence that it is ready now to help our friends and customers in transportation and other sectors of the economy that would be hurt by doom-and-gloom extremists who have hijacked the debate over our future.”

In a statement following the forum, WICO Secretary General Decatur sharply disagreed with the dominant characterizations of the crisis and strategies based on WICO’s recommendations, and rebuked the notion of Wingate’s ED as a viable alternative. “I must remind everyone, once again, that time is of the essence,” he warned. “We are collectively hurtling through a minefield toward a cliff, and we don’t have the luxury of trying to build an airplane as we go instead of putting on the brakes and attempting to defuse the mines.” 

Reality Check

Luke’s description of projected GDP and population match simulation of the baseline strategy. His concern about resulting isolation are exaggerated but something to think about, given that the scale and complexity of transportation would be much less – like virtually everything else in a sustainable future that relies on natural systems.

WICO’s call for detailed strategies is acknowledgement that without preparation the present economic order (on its world and ours) would likely react to strong economic contraction like a deep depression with a lot in common with the early stages of collapse. 

The portrayal of the energy industry’s reaction to reducing consumption is based on observed (and previously experienced) reactions to similar proposals.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Population Management Debate Gets Heated


Debate over how to manage population to fight the DIE threat grew contentious over the weekend as it became clear that rich nations could not rely on their wealth to keep birth rates low. They would need to limit the urge to increase births as they simultaneously reduce per-capita consumption of ecological resources. Meanwhile, poor nations would struggle with reducing births without an attendant increase in standard of living.

Ambassador Lazlo explained that the underlying issue is that the fraction of basic resources being consumed by a population tends to biologically and psychologically govern both birth rates and aging, and the changes required to improve human survivability currently run counter to those tendencies because the fraction is critically large. 

“This is exacerbated by regional variation,” she said, “where relatively isolated groups or countries may already be experiencing the leading edge of a population crash because they have fewer resources available locally. There will be a lot of pressure to seize others’ resources without granting access to the original owners, especially if those owners are poorer with higher birth rates that threaten to overwhelm the older, less fertile natives. Since everyone is better served by averaging out the birth rates and consumption, that pressure must be resisted and all resources shared, with general discipline to set aside an amount that can help keep the entire system healthy.”

Reality Check

The descriptions of population and consumption follow from the historical dynamics incorporated in the simulation. Lazlo’s attribution of birth rates and aging to biological and psychological mechanisms is based on hypothetical causation that might explain an observed strong correlation between them and the basic resources ratio.

Recent research suggests that the United States and other countries pursuing isolation policies could be on the leading edge of the crash, or moving faster toward it, in the way discussed by Lazlo.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Hope Chart


In response to questions about natural feedbacks at yesterday’s WICO briefing about the DIE threat, the Secretary General’s office provided what strategy integrators call a “Hope Chart.” The chart shows resources consumed by humanity and limits on that consumption due to natural feedbacks. 

The consumption curve on the chart released today (see below) is derived from the baseline strategy. Three dotted red lines illustrate the range of natural feedback effects that WICO considers realistic. Those effects could potentially be offset and then stopped by natural processes, as indicated by a similar set of green dotted lines. If the consumption curve intersects a dotted curve, then consumption will follow the dotted line downward to zero; if not, it will continue as if there are no sustained feedbacks.

Science and Policy Ambassador Lazlo explained at a press briefing that the chart is referred to as “hope” because it is based on assumptions about the feedbacks and how they might respond to reduction of consumption which can only be tested under actual conditions. She warned that sudden feedbacks such as the release of methane from melting permafrost could rapidly accelerate resource deduction (move the “high” curve closer to the present due to a pulse of global warming).

Reality Check

The Hope Chart is based on a simulation of falling consumption that allows other species to be able to consume as much resources as possible while keeping the population reduction rate near the amount expected from not replacing people who die from old age. It levels off just before the worst projected feedback would be reached and force it to zero if the hoped-for recovery of natural systems does not occur.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Secretary General Elaborates Strategy Goals


WICO Secretary General Decatur defended the United States president’s position on strategy development in a briefing on global response to the DIE threat:

“The requirements include mitigation and avoidance in addition to elimination of imminent global extinction. President Larson, like other leaders within her country and around the world, is properly focusing on what makes sense to her and those she represents. The strategies due at the end of this month are likely, and encouraged, to be regional and to fit what people have the most incentive to actually do. It is up to WICO, in performing its basic function of processing information and coordinating action that impacts everyone, to integrate those strategies, assess what the result is likely to be, and recommend action to meet our collective goal of surviving for as long as possible under the best conditions achievable. I must caution everyone, however, that the time constraint is not arbitrary, and our chances of success will be maximized if the guidance provided in the declaration and its companion documents is followed closely. Ambassadors involved in the integration effort can provide additional detailed guidance as needed.”

He was asked by the press representative from Japan about the natural feedbacks that President Larson mentioned in her address on Tuesday. “We have identified the potentially significant ones,” he answered, “such as melting polar ice and critical degradation of marine and land ecosystems that have served as pollution sinks. The range of estimated impact, including none, is included in the scenarios outlined for the strategy alternatives. Those strategies, with the baseline being the most effective, are premised on the possibility that we can reduce pressure on ecosystems enough so they can slow or stop any feedbacks. We currently see no reason to revise the estimates or the strategies, but are ready to do so if new observations or understanding warrant it.”

Reality Check

Three general ways of dealing with a problem are the basis of the types of strategy required as response to the emergency declaration in the simulated world (elimination, mitigation, and avoidance). There are two types of problem that must be addressed in any strategy: experienced (such as current climate change and pollution); and potential (problems that might later be experienced).

People are assumed to have preferences for strategy types and problem types based on personality and experience. Broadly, cultures are assumed to both represent and control the experiences of people within them. They also favor people of specific personality types based on the people who have dominated them. These assumptions are the basis for strategy development and public opinion reported for “nations” (as cultures) within the simulated world.

Because my direct experience is with the United States, the reports of other nations will undoubtedly be far more fictional – but, of course, it all is fictional. The point of the reports is to explore foreseeable issues surrounding the strategies discussed and what the impacts of those strategies might be, based on my simulations.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

President’s Address Met with Criticism

United States President Larson discussed the global state of emergency last night in her first national address of the year. She emphasized that she will focus government effort on identifying and stopping natural feedbacks that could cause uncontrollable collapse of ecosystems around the world and lead to humanity’s extinction within twenty years. Regarding the main approaches recommended by the international community, she said, “Regulation of people’s reproductive and economic choices runs counter to what we stand for as a country, so we reject it as a strategy and will seek out ways to reduce impact on overstressed ecosystems that are aligned with our values.” Additionally, she ordered all departments to create or update plans for coping with effects of ecosystem collapse if it cannot be stopped.

In a rebuttal following the speech, House Speaker Randy Despaccio criticized the president for being ignorant of history and arbitrarily ruling out effective means for confronting the emergency. He angrily disputed what he called “the utter, incredibly, nonsensical notion that collapse on a global scale is survivable.” Despaccio pledged to devote House resources as fully as possible toward debating all options and creating draft legislation that embodied the results. Senate Leader Ronda Canon was unavailable for comment about whether she would take a similar stance.

“They’re acting like this is a surprise,” Science and Policy Ambassador Samantha Lazlo said during an interview from the conference hall that serves as the hub for strategy integration three blocks from WICO headquarters in London. “Potential options have been explored in detail, with reports exchanged among all parties on a bi-weekly basis, concurrent with the biosphere assessment, over the past two years. In my country and others there should already be plans in place that just need a little tweaking. Those of us who have studied this feel like astronomers who have refined the orbit of a planet-killing asteroid to the point of certainty that it will hit soon, have developed weapons to at least partly deflect it if we’re very lucky, and now must endure the possibility that our efforts were wasted because other people don’t care enough to do more than debate the threat.”

Reality Check

The threat – and reality – of ecosystem collapse and its causes have been known for decades in our world. Solutions have been both proposed and deployed, but not within the scope or at the scale needed to stop it. That “scope” includes all extinction drivers, not just pollution-driven climate change. Government support has been intermittent and unreliable, as recent experience in the U.S. has proven, with resulting delays in leaders and organizations getting up to speed if they so choose and have not been disabled by others from doing so. 

In the simulated world there two general options being considered. One of them is to ignore the threat and make no changes to business-as-usual. Another is to reduce humanity’s ecological impact by one of three means (one of which being the “baseline strategy”). Each option is subject to the possibility of sustained global warming within a range of magnitude and acceleration which acts as another source of ecological impact. Humanity can currently only change its own behavior, which is the essence of the strategies being considered.

Samantha Lazlo’s feelings at the end of her interview reflect my own and those of many people I know (and know of) in a similar position to hers.