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Put another way, imagine the US, UK, France, et al. were run by Viktor Orbán for the next three decades, during the maybe most important century. How much harder would it be to reduce the probability of a GCBR, dangerous superintelligence, etc.? [Edit: And, should EA dedicate some resources to reducing our uncertainty on this question?]

It strikes me as highly plausible that climate change and the global decline of liberal democracy could indirectly increase the probability of an x-risk. However, to my knowledge, there have been no EA investigations into whether or to what extent this is true. I would be very interested in hearing y'all's thoughts on this matter & potentially interested in helping secure funding to research this topic.

To be clear, I am not saying several degrees of global warming or forms of government besides liberal democracy are existential risks. I am saying that they may increase the likelihood of x-risk indirectly, in any number of ways. For instance, climate change and declining liberal democracies are both likely to further increase violence. This may increase the likelihood that a catastrophic bioweapon will be employed.

I also suspect that some longtermists are far too quick to dismiss these issues as not longtermist or a minuscule contributor to the problem. 

Again, I'm posting because I would love to hear your thoughts so please comment (or message me)!


Note on Infohazards: 

I find much of the discussion about political violence in current liberal democracies to be reckless, and indeed increase the likelihood of violence. I expect any discussion of political violence on the EA Forum to be conducted with the utmost seriousness -- without undue pessimism (which seems quite fashionable these day); without any suggestions of the inevitability of doom (because, unlike a natural pandemic, I strongly suspect thinking a democracy will collapse into violence increases the probability that it will); without sensationalizing, dismissiveness.




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Thank you so much! I've been busy the last few weeks & totally missed this post. Really appreciate you sharing it : )

Well, you can look at the recent past to see the impacts of government administrations on policies relevant to climate change and people's well-being. Here are a few points:

  • during Trump's presidency, migrant flows to the US suffered a bump. There was some speculation that the flows had a climate link. Whether or not we assume so, I think it's clear that the administration at the time meant to discourage the migrants from seeking refuge in the United States. This has implications for climate refugees in the future. I'm also in doubt about how the US will handle massive internal migration, frankly.
    Handling of migrant flows in Europe were also not encouraging. Key players included conservative government figures and isolationist and racist social movements.
  • Brazil's president Bolsonaro adopted aggressive development policies in the Amazon. I've seen a suggestion that development of the Amazon (through burning) is a driver of impacts synergistic with climate change, that is, turning the Amazon into a GHG source, and taking it from rainforest to savannah. In particular, development in the east will interrupt the production and carrying of moisture toward the west, increasing chances of drought over the remaining extent of the Amazon, and thus leading to rapid declines in the geographic extent of the Amazon. This will have impacts on Brazil but also the wider world, resulting in some turmoil.
  • Again, thinking of the Trump presidency, but actually, looking at most Republican presidents  since 1980, there's been some friction with efforts to protect the US public from pollution or environmental impacts (really, digging deeper, from all administrations, but you're asking about a particular type of leader). Presence of conservatives in the Supreme Court will impact decisions about carbon taxes, and the legal authority of the EPA to limit corporate activity, for example. I can see this leading to frustration of efforts to mitigate or adapt to climate change (for example, efforts to protect remaining US waterways). Access to clean water is an important need for the happiness and well-being of US citizens.

Hey Noah, Thanks for your comment. I guess I was asking less about the impact democratic leaders have on climate policy and more about how a warmer, less democratic world could increase the likelihood of an x-risk. Do you have any thoughts on how the things mentioned in your comment may impact x-risks?

Noah Scales
Hmm, well, I think once migrant flows become large, the Amazon shrinks enough or Brazil suffers more extreme drought, or the US fails to protect its water supply, that there will be a multitude of knock-on effects involving citizens of those countries. You can extrapolate the general pathway of causes for global citizens.  Thereafter, any scenario in which people carry out actions for our security will involve less certainty. It's plausible that  some actions could lead to human extinction, but are you looking for me to comment with a specific scenario? Your discussion about infohazards leaves me in doubt.
Arden Wiese
I'm afraid I'm not being clear; does the below at all address your uncertainty? I just added this edit: Should EA dedicate some resources to reducing our uncertainty on this question? ("This question" referring to would/how much would x-risk increase if the western world was run by Viktor Orbans.)
Noah Scales
 I'm not a funding decision-maker, far from it. I'm sorry if that wasn't clear. That said, I think your question deserves resources, but I imagine the answer generates rapidly diminishing returns.  If you can gather a few reasonable scenarios that show, in step-by-step fashion, how typical "lets wall off and fear the outsiders and hoard resources" sorts of strategies lead to human extinction in a dystopian future of several degrees celsius of global warming, then I think you're done.    There's plenty of inspiration in popular media, it would be just a bit of a bore to find the b-movies you need. You can take those movies, and change the narrative to show that, instead of the hero saving the day, the hero's efforts falter or never happen, and human extinction results.  The problem wouldn't be that the narratives are unrealistic, but rather that they are too limited and don't consider smaller problems that could still result in massive mismanagement and eventual human extinction. In a way, the problem of climate change itself started out fairly small, with folks just needing to adopt some sensible measures to prevent a later catastrophe. There was plenty of insight and advance notice, but there needed to be global coordination of efforts, and in particular, leadership from the United States. That leadership collapsed after Jimmy Carter's presidency, and never returned.
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