Be like Stanislav Petrov

  1. Research the problem. Generate models, test your hypotheses.
  2. Work with effective people and organizations rather than going at it alone.
  3. Give directly to the best organizations if you can’t work on the problem directly.
  4. Research the problem. With an issue large as the threat of global nuclear annihilation, it’s tempting to want to jump in and start working on solutions. However, without an adequate understanding of the problem space, even good faith attempts at solutions are likely to be useless at best and actively harmful at worst. Taking action will look different depending on which risk factors are greatest. How likely is it that states are building cobalt bombs? How well could the US defend Japan against a nuclear strike by North Korea? Would nuclear detonations in modern cities create firestorms intense enough to alter the climate? Different answers to these questions would necessitate different strategies. Unfortunately no one is particularly good at predicting future human events, but some people are much better than others. We must understand the nuclear risk well enough to evaluate relative risk, in order to prioritize money and effort spent. For those new to the field, I have included some research suggestions at the end of this post.
  5. Don’t work alone. While this may seem obvious, it can be hard to coordinate with other people, and one may be tempted to act dramatically to raise awareness of the problem or influence a prominent policy maker. Not only is this likely to be ineffective, it risks jeopardizing other global risk reduction efforts. This is a version of the problem Nick Bostrom calls the unilateralists curse, where the greater number of agents, the greater the risk of accidental harmful action. I do not mean to imply that there is no room to innovate or create new organizations or actions. There are over twenty anti-nuclear organizations, and I doubt most are very effective. As technology changes and new threats come into place, I think fresh strategies are necessary. However, ignoring accumulated wisdom and contacts from established organizations would be ill-advised. In my own search, I have found constant, quality material from organizations like the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and the Future of Life Institute. Working with these organizations will increase our chances of success. See the end of the post for a list.
  6. Give to effective organizations. The strategy of “earning to give” has been well-discussed in the Effective Altruism community. For those who possess skills to work directly in research or policy, I think direct work will have a greater impact than earning to give. However, it is not practical for many people to switch careers or fields of study. Giving money to organizations does not look as sexy as literally refusing to give the command to start a nuclear war, but it’s still important. Donations help these organizations to hire researchers, writers, and operational staff. Giving to prevent catastrophe and safeguard human civilization is awesome!

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Applying the security mindset to everything

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