Introducing the Anti-Apocalyptus Newsletter

We should pay more attention to the worst case scenario's

Dear reader,

This is the first issue of the Anti-Apocalyptus Newsletter. In it I discuss existential risks, that could kill humanity, or threats serious enough to disrupt our society or hurt significant amounts of people.

It’s a newsletter about the most important, pressing issues of our time.

Issues that I feel are often forgotten today in the maelstrom of short-term politics and social media debates. We often pay more attention to the latest Twitter fight than to issues such as climate change or nuclear war, which I want to correct here.

In each issue you will receive one interesting link, like an article, scientific paper or podcast, about each of these topics:

1. Climate change

2. Weapons of mass destruction

3. Emerging technologies, like AI or biotechnology

4. Mass causes of death, like pandemics, malaria or car accidents

5. Great power wars

Inspiration for this newsletter comes from books like The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity from Toby Ord and On the Future: Prospects for Humanity by Martin Rees. It’s intended to focus on the biggest questions and issues facing the human race right now, and what the biggest challenges are to work on.

Contrary to what its subject matter suggest this newsletter isn't pessimistic about the future, nor is it about morbidity or expressions of helplessness like survivalism. This newsletter fundamentally has an optimistic angle, even when the articles I share at times will be shocking or pessimistic. I want to track what are undoubtedly the biggest scientific, technological and political challenges of our time. This newsletter wants to give them their due, and contribute to solving them.

I'm neither apocalyptic nor post-apocalyptic, I'm anti-apocalyptic.

These five topics are of course up for debate, and I might change them over time. I also realise questions like inequality, racism or animal abuse aren't in there. But these topics are a good combination of what I know, and what's important. Since my background is in technology, this angle will probably also be present prominently.

So feel free to subscribe to my newsletter or send me feedback. Hopefully it will offer something of use.

Below you can find the first five stories.

1. Climate change

CNN - We've been using the same bricks for over 5,000 years. This engineer says it's time for a change.

There’s dime a dozen stories about interesting new technologies that might or might not make a dent in climate change. Yet I linked to this one because it shows how basic industrial processes, like making bricks, often contribute significantly to climate change. Turning that around is key to securing our future.

2. Weapons of mass destruction

NY Times - ‘Now I Am Become Death’: The Legacy of the First Nuclear Bomb Test

This week was the the 75th anniversary of the Trinity nuclear test, the first nuclear bomb test in history. Many interesting details to it, such as that the designers weren’t entirely sure the bomb wouldn’t cause a chain reaction that would destroy all of us. This article offers an interesting account to the test, with attention to the damage it caused to local communities.

3. Emerging technologies

NBER Working Paper - COVID-19 and Implications for Automation

A scientific paper that analyses what the impact of COVID-19 will be for automation. They calculate how vulnerable a job is to automation, and relate that to the impact each of these are seeing from COVID-19 and lockdown measures. They conclude mid-educate females are probably the most likely target of a COVID-19 automation push.

4. Mass causes of death

Journal of Consumer Research - Was Television Responsible for a New Generation of Smokers?

This paper tracks the impact of television, and particularly television advertising, on smoking levels. For this they use smoking data going back to the forties, and compare that to the uneven introduction of television in the US (because of licensing issues some towns arbitrarily introduced it years earlier than other towns). They conclude television caused 11 million extra smokers, and by extension had a major negative health effect.

5. Great power war

The National Interest - We Asked a Military Expert to Dream Up a U.S.-China War. We Wish We Hadn't.

A national security expert plays out a scenario for a US-China war. The piece itself is relatively sober, but includes a range of quite scary implications, like the use of tactical nuclear weapons, how a Pacific war would disturb supply chains all across the world and how whoever wins this war, it will likely just be a recipe for revanchism and a second Sino-US war.