Hide table of contents

There are a number of overlapping reasons for why we might want really good refuges

  1. Countermeasures refuges: In a global catastrophic biological event, we ought to have a secure facility where scientific personnel can develop medical countermeasures in a position of relative safety.
  2. Foundation-style refuges: In the case of an extreme global catastrophe, a civilizational refuge can protect a nucleus of people, information, and materials to increase the probability of rebuilding and recovery after civilization collapse.
  3. Values refuges: We would have a means to safeguard important cosmopolitan values and empirical or conceptual worldviews[1] to survive and flourish after a civilizational collapse, assuming it is good to do so.

Currently, we think all three reasons are plausible, with a focus on #1 and #3. In particular, we believe that building refuges can be an unusually effective broad-spectrum intervention for reducing existential risk from a wide range of non-agentic sources.

We (a working group composed of Linch and two other people) have worked part-time to deliver a temporary plan for refuges. We’ve made considerable progress, but we will greatly benefit from having a technically competent volunteer or short-term contractor help us refine our plans and make them much more detailed/precise/concrete. If you are interested, please message us or chat with us at EA Global London!

Funders are potentially interested, assuming a good initial team and operational plan. 

Our two biggest bottlenecks: 

  1. We have not yet identified great candidates for a sufficiently competent (interim) CEO who is both capable and willing to take ownership of the refuge project.
  2. Our technical requirements write-up is not yet detailed enough to a) attract top non-EA talent or b) discuss a feasibility study with an architecture firm in sufficient depth to be useful. This would require expanding out technical requirements from a ~10-pager to a ~40-pager in the next 4-6 weeks.

Here are ways you can advance the refuge project:

  1. Reach out to us at EAGlobal if you’re interested in volunteering to help us build better plans or talent scout for a CEO to champion this.
    1. If you think you might make for a good CEO, definitely talk to us.
  2. Apply to Rethink Priority’s new temporary roles in General Longtermism or Special Projects, to potentially work full-time on this under Linch’s guidance.
    1. Note that the jobs won’t start until June/July, and we’d ideally want to make progress faster. Also it is not guaranteed that RP would work on this.
  3. Independently come up with your own plans/schema[2] for civilizational refuges, and pitch it to funders. More competition in the EA ecosystem can be very valuable!
  1. ^

     E.g., impartial concern, the importance of existential risk reduction

  2. ^

     We can potentially help with funding small-scale experiments and preliminary research.

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

We got plenty of bunkers, oh I mean refuges, in Switzerland - as Luisa Rodriguez pointed out. Happy to help if this moves forward.

We also got a small one in my basement, happy to co-host a trial run. :)

I volunteer my amateur enthusiasm to whoever works on this.

One thing I'm curious is what percentage of worlds would require the bunker to be well-hidden in order to be useful, e.g. due to an all-out WW3 where there are automated weapons seeking out targets that would include bunkers. I am less sure the size of the risk of Local Warlords In Your Area, though will note that if it's near a local population the bunker should be cooperative with nearby inhabitants rather than engage in the false individualist bias that is rampant in survivalist thought.

I think it would make sense to have multiple bunkers distributed in different geographies and suited for different GCRs, where some fraction of these bunkers are kept very very secret. But I strongly don't think a v1 (Version 1 / Vault 1) should have that feature.

Quick note that I misread "refuges" as "refugees," and got really confused. In case anyone else made the same mistake, this post is talking about bunkers, not immigrants ;)

I suspect this is down the road, but when it comes down to site selection, I follow the Eastern Ontario/Western Quebec (Canada) real estate market. This region has the benefits of political stability, fresh water, and relatively easy access, however getting permits to build geothermal and massive scale projects would be difficult as building, especially close to water, is quite regulated. There are 100+ acre properties like this one on a deep lake: https://www.realtor.ca/real-estate/24040099/950-ch-assad-lange-gardien which are coming up for sale as people realize their bush land/farm is valuable. You could buy up land like this for future use.

Appreciate the tip!

Bunker on island is probably a robust set-up, at least two given volcanic nature of eg Iceland, New Zealand: https://adaptresearchwriting.com/island-refuges/ Synergies/complementarities in island and bunker work should be explored. We're currently exploring the islands/nuclear winter strand (EA LTFF), and have put in for FTX too. 

Thanks for the tip!

Many have observed that Elon Musk's Boring Company (which ostensibly is about improving the tunnel-digging state-of-the-art so that we can have lots of nice subway / tunnel infrastructure and alleviate traffic) seems like it would be quite helpful for digging airtight underground habitats on Mars, thus tying into Elon's SpaceX ambitions of settling the red planet.

Similarly, I feel that the project of constructing  really-high-quality civilizational refuges could benefit from the technology required to build space habitats like the ISS.  As excerpted from a longer Forum comment of mine about the overlaps between EA & space exploration:

I think the bunker project has a lot of overlap with existing knowledge about how to build life-support systems for space stations, and with near-future projects to create large underground moonbases and mars cities.  It would certainly be worth trying to hire some human-spaceflight engineers to consult on a future EA bunker project.  I even have a crazy vision that you might be able to turn a profit on a properly-designed bunker-digging business — attracting ambitious employees with the long-term SpaceX-style hype that you’re working on technology to eventually build underground Martian cities, and earning near-term money by selling high-quality bunkers to governments and eccentric billionaires.

Is not the greatest refuge what Elon is planning for Mars? That's a separate track though we should be working to expedite and ensure that that civilizational plan b is operational ASAP. 

Mars colony is just an incredibly inefficient way to do civilizational refuges. Many times more expensive, not much safer, and far harder to rebuild from for most global catastrophic scenarios. ("No matter how inhospitable you make Earth, it is likely still more hospitable than Mars.")

However, lessons/talent from space colonization might be very useful for terrestial refuges, and vice versa.

Does the CEO have to be based in the UK or is willingness to travel a lot sufficient?

Hi. The position is entirely remote, at least to start with. The CEO will probably play a role in deciding things like where they should be based.

More from Linch
Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities