How to Save the World

How to Save the World is a major Science for Peace conference planned to take place at the University of Toronto in May 2018 (with a smaller prep meeting in February).


Four threats to humankind can be called “existential,” since a catastrophic event in any one of them could wipe out a huge swath of the human population. Those four are:

  • Global Warming
  • War and Weapons, Especially Nuclear
  • Public Health Catastrophes (pandemics, famines, nuclear reactor explosions)
  • Cyber Attacks

Activists ordinarily address these four types of risk separately. This is not the best approach, for they are interdependent and require a comprehensive set of solutions. For example, war and military equipment not only threaten our existence directly but also emit much of the CO 2 that causes global warming, and squanders the money needed to reduce global warming, public health crises, and Internet attacks. War causes famines, and vice versa. Global warming exacerbates public health problems by ruining farm land and expanding the habitat for viruses threatening pandemics. Also, modern war and computers combine to wreck enemy centrifuges, satellites, and electric grids. We cannot solve these four existential threats separately.

So the time has come to call for a comprehensive set of demands that, if fulfilled adequately, will reduce all these inter-dependent risks. Such is the sole purpose of our conferenceto develop a “Platform for Survival” listing about 25 policies that must be fulfilled to sharply reduce the probability of all four existential threats.

Those 25 policy proposals will be of two types: (a) those that will directly reduce risks of humanitarian catastrophes, and (b) policies that enable those direct policies. For example, all new protective measures must be funded and must be administered—perhaps by new agencies that do not yet exist. Hence the policy changes that can generate funds, political support, or new institutions are what we may call “enabling policies.”

Everything depends on choosing the most effective policies for our platform. I have invented a “prototype” of such a list (see below) that all the participants will keep revising and improving it until the conference is willing to adopt it. We hope that the final “Platform for Survival” then can be a tool for mobilizing political support in every region of the planet.

Preparing for the conference on Facebook

We encourage Science for Peace members to participate actively in the planning for this conference. We’ve created five Facebook discussion pages for this purpose.

NB: While you do not have to be a Facebook member to view these pages, Facebook members may also join the discussion with (substantive) comments and recommendations.

A prototype “Platform for Survival” outline

By Metta Spencer August 13, 2017 (The final real one may barely resemble this.)
Be sure to read the rules which follow immediately after the list

Humankind’s future is at serious risk from four main sources: Global Warming; Wars and Weapons (Especially Nuclear); Public Health Crises (eg. pandemics, famines, or nuclear reactor explosions); and Cyber Attacks. In order to vastly reduce the likelihood of these disasters, we the people of this planet demand prompt compliance with all the following preventive measures.

  1. The UN shall establish an agency for safe disposal of greenhouse gas refrigerator coolants.
  2. The UN shall establish an agency for professional forest management and plant X billion trees.
  3. All states shall ensure full female access to education and access to family planning.
  4. The FAO shall promote and fund expansion of “climate smart agriculture,” including biochar.
  5. All national armed forces shall be reduced by at least 80%, including equipment emitting CO 2 .
  6. The UN shall create a parliamentary assembly which can override any Security Council veto.
  7. A ready UN Peace Force shall be created and deployed to any area where war seems likely.
  8. The World Bank, IMF, and WTO shall be held more accountable, responsive to human needs.
  9. All states shall sign, ratify, and within a decade reach full compliance with the Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons.
  10. Until disarmament is achieved, all nuclear weapons states shall immediately de-alert nuclear weapons and commit to a policy of no-first use.
  11. The UN shall protect the human rights of all people and send peacekeepers and mediators wherever assistance is required to resolve conflicts.
  12. NATO and other military alliances shall immediately and verifiably abandon any policy to use nuclear weapons.
  13. A significant Tobin tax shall be collected for the UN to spend on programs prescribed herein.
  14. All UN agencies and large corporations shall appoint 10% of their directors from NGO organizations affiliated to the UN’s Economic and Social Council.
  15. All states shall develop programs to offer a subsistence-level basic income to all their citizens, to be funded mainly from significant taxation of wealth.
  16. The WHO shall create and fund an extensive, worldwide early-warning system to diagnose, isolate, and treat patients with diseases that could become pandemics.
  17. All states shall donate 60% of their savings from military cutbacks to UN’s agencies.
  18. All states with above-average GDP shall publicly fund research and development of vaccines, new antibiotics and other treatments for resistant microbes.
  19. All states shall undergo and publicize the results of an IAEA safety review of existing and planned nuclear reactors.
  20. All Internet companies and states shall expand law enforcement efforts over cyber crime.
  21. The UN shall convene meetings to negotiate and fulfill a treaty prohibiting cyber attacks.
  22. All states shall adopt decentralization plans for their electricity grids to inhibit cyber war.
  23. All states shall enable NGOs and specialists to expose Internet disinformation campaigns.
  24. All devices controlled through the Internet shall be designed to obviate destructive hacking.

Some rules

Every game, every language, and every bookkeeping system has rules which, even if arbitrary, are necessary. You will study a variety of possible changes to the Platform and show your thinking in a format that others can see. Unless the organizing committee changes them, please observe the following guidelines when choosing your list of policies:

  1. The Platform Must Be Short. Each prep group may have 10 to 15 policies ready for its corresponding breakout group when the conference begins. However, by the end, the length of the Platform for Survival will be determined by the size of a sheet of paper! Using 12-point type, we can only list about 25 items on a sheet, so each group can eventually list only about five policy recommendations on the Platform. Like a treaty, the final text will probably the result of negotiations. You can make it easier if your group is selective throughout the preparatory phase, keeping your list fairly short.
  2. The Four Categories Must Stay Fixed. Each group will presumably change most or all of the policies on the original “prototype platform” but should not add, subtract, combine, or redefine the four categories themselves. No single platform can possibly address all the urgent threats to humankind and your own selection of problems might indeed be better than mine, but please stay with these four anyway.
  3. Only Catastrophic Risks Can Be Addressed. Each of the four existential threats can potentially kill billions of human beings in a single catastrophic event, such as a pandemic like the bubonic plague or the Spanish flu; a nuclear war or meltdown; the release of methane from melting permafrost; or the destruction of a continent-wide electricity grid.
    Many, many grave threats must be left for other campaigns to tackle, which may leave us uncertain about what should count as “existential” and what not. Cyber attacks, for example, range from the teenaged hacker who merely vandalizes your web page to, say, the military experts who can destroy every satellite in outer space. We will address the latter risk but not the former. But how about intermediate-level risks, such as helping Trump defeat Hillary Clinton for the presidency? I’m inclined to count that as serious enough to warrant our attention, though your group or the conference may decide otherwise. Anyway, the plan is to list on the Platform only policies for preventing catastrophic dangers. (There is one exception: If yours is the group that works on “enabling measures,” you must appraise policies for their indirect effects. See below.)
  4. The Platform for Survival Must Apply Universally for all Humankind. Every policy that your group chooses should be valid in all societies, so you may need to modify the phraseology to make certain items suitable. For example, the policy to “educate girls” is an excellent means of reducing global warming, but Canadian girls already have full access to education, so it would be irrelevant here. However, if you rephrase the policy as, “All rich countries shall devote X percent of their income to funding education for girls in poor countries,” it will be universally applicable.
  5. Choose Policies that Need to Be Promoted. If an extremely valuable policy is already being adopted widely, it does not need our help, so please pick a different policy instead. For example, wind turbines are one of the most promising solutions to global warming, but wind farms are sprouting up all over the world anyway. Since you can only propose about five policies, please choose effective ones whose value might otherwise be overlooked.
  6. Choose Collective— Not Personal—Policies. The policies on the Platform for Survival should be enacted on a large-scale, rather than individually. To be sure, it is important for individuals to ride bikes instead of fly; switch off lights when leaving home; eat mostly plants; and change their passwords often, but such personal habits are not items for this platform. Please propose major institutional innovations instead.