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Concern About the Future

“In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago — and as dangerous as it has been since World War II,” the bulletin’s science and security board, which oversees the clock, said in a statement.

It cited the risks from North Korea’s nuclear program; discord between Russia and the United States; tensions in the South China Sea; the buildup of the nuclear arsenals of Pakistan and India; and uncertainty over the Iran nuclear deal.

The scientists also warned that the sustained reductions in greenhouse gases needed to prevent disastrous warming of the planet had not yet occurred and cited the dangers that technology disruption is causing for democracies, including disinformation campaigns intended to manipulate elections and undermine confidence in democracy. ...
The scientists added: “To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger — and its immediacy.” ...
Along with nuclear proliferation and climate change — which first factored into the setting of the clock in 2007 — the scientists said they were alarmed by the speed of technological change. They called on world leaders to manage the advances so that the benefits are reaped and the dangers countered.

They cited, among other threats, the hacking of computer systems that control financial and energy infrastructure; the development of autonomous weaponry that can make “kill” decisions without human supervision; and the possible misuse of synthetic biology, including the revolutionary Crispr-Cas9 gene-editing tool.

... some say that warning people of danger actually induces political paralysis. ...
... Ms. Fihn added: “The risks for nuclear use have increased exceptionally these last years, so of course, doing nothing is not an option.” Without disarmament, she said, “these weapons will be used.”

- SEWELL CHAN, Doomsday Clock Is Set at 2 Minutes to Midnight, Closest Since 1950s, NYT, JAN. 25, 2018


Let me sum up. Suppose that the opportunity cost of capital is 0.3. Then the discount rate used by agencies should be based on 0.3 for projects whose effects are felt in the near future (say, thirty or fifty years out). Beyond thirty or fifty years, the discount rate should be infinity. A simple way of putting this point is that agencies should ignore the effects, both positive and negative, of their regulations beyond fifty or one hundred years. To be sure, this implies that agencies should approve projects that destroy generations of the distant future in order to modestly improve the well-being of the present. But there are no such feasible projects at present, unless one thinks that failure to engage in greenhouse gas abatement is such a project....
- Eric A. Posner, Agencies Should Ignore Distant-Future Generations, University of Chicago Law Review, 74:139, 2007


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