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Sometimes recommended

Working on this problem could be among the best ways of improving the long-term future, but we know of fewer high-impact opportunities to work on this issue than on our top priority problems.

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Why might civilisation resilience be an especially pressing issue?

If a catastrophe happens, we might be able to take action to significantly increase the chance that civilisation survives or gets rebuilt — allowing us the possibility of a long and flourishing future.

However, measures in this space receive very little attention today.

A recent investigation by Luisa Rodriguez suggests that recovery from even the worst catastrophes — if they fall short of killing everyone — is relatively likely.

For example, even if a nuclear disaster and resulting nuclear winter caused the deaths of 90–99.99% of people, she estimates we’d still be ~90–97% likely to recover eventually. In short, this is because:

  • Different populations would be spread out geographically and some would be less affected than others. There would be numerous groups, and as time went on, some groups would likely find the means to survive even if others died out. (That is, groups would be separated and thus their fates ‘decorrelated.’)
  • It seems like survivors would be able to subsist long enough to get back on their feet, given that humanity survived for thousands years without technology or society, and survivors would have access to supplies and memories left over from civilisation (which early humans didn’t).
  • Non-traditional agriculture (e.g. cultivating and eating algae) would likely be feasible, helping humanity survive the nuclear winter.
  • The minimal viable population for genetic diversity (and even the survival of basic technological and social knowledge) is very small compared to the population of Earth.

(Read the full report.)

That said, there has been very little research on this topic, so this could all be mistaken. And there does seem to be a lot we could do to increase our chances of survival after a collapse — e.g. developing alternative foods, or refuges to shield some people from the catastrophic event — so we think this is a promising area for more work.

Learn more about civilisation resilience

Read next:  Explore other pressing world problems

Want to learn more about global issues we think are especially pressing? See our list of issues that are large in scale, solvable, and neglected, according to our research.

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