17 August 2018

'Governing 'Boring' Apocalypses' published in journal Futures

How do we frame policy responses against creeping, complex and ‘unspectacular’ global catastrophe?

On the occasions when people consider how the world might end, Hollywood images often dominate: fears of asteroid strikes, pandemics, nuclear war and the robot apocalypse tend to come to the fore, and this reinforces dystopian visions of single-source apocalypses. A focus on such abrupt, action-packed scenarios also often pervaded the academic discussions of world-ending 'existential risks'--discussions which often are focused on identifying and addressing the sources of discrete ‘hazards’.

In their new article in the Futures journal Special Issue on 'Futures of research in catastrophic and existential risk', Hin-Yan Liu, Kristian Lauta, and Matthijs Maas seek to expand the scope of governance beyond such mere 'hazards'. They argue that the focus on one-hit knock-out hazards overemphasises the importance or sufficiency of narrowly scientific and technological responses to such disasters, and sidelines broader legal, policy, regulatory and governance responses.

As a counter-balance, they propose a new model of 'existential risks' that emphasises vulnerability and exposure to existential hazards. This means that smaller hazards below the current thresholds of existential risks can accrete and knock humanity out, if our societies are especially vulnerable and exposed to such hazards. By over-stating existential hazards, the current approach leaves gaps that render us more susceptible to such ‘boring apocalypses’.

Our aim is to spark the discussion on how law, policy, regulation and governance can help to stall such boring apocalypses.

The article is available here.

Hin-Yan Liu

Kristian Cedervall Lauta

Matthijs Michiel Maas