Contingency / Emergency Planning
Why should we think about contingencies and emergencies? Why not just focus on positive, happy things and planning for a great life?
I agree that it is important to come up with a happy plan for our life and have an optimistic trajectory for our main course. Observation and experience though have shown that rarely do optimistic plans always go according to course. In my life, I have seen a lot of very bad things that can happen, ranging from divorce to drug addiction to 9/11 to ebola & the bird flu to my employees caught in war zones in Syria, Pakistan, Ukraine. I believe it is important to enjoy life to the max, but also to plan and build for the worst that can happen. If the worst doesn’t happen, then you still have a happy, great life and you wasted a bit of effort and time and money. If tragedy strikes, being prepared with a plan can turn something heart breaking or even fatal to us into a manageable situation and possibly one in which we can still live a happy, albeit changed, life.
What are the possible threats to our family out there we should prepare for? What is the probability of each happening in our lifetimes (next 50 years)?
Existential threats (threats causing loss of life greater than 30% globally):
- Biological weapons / autonomous, self propagating weapons (nanotech, drones, etc)
- Options for what could happen:
- Genetic engineering is now within the capabilities of thousands of labs around the world, over the next 10-20 years that ability will extend to include most universities, research labs, even private individuals. Many of these labs have already cultured “superviruses” that are very dangerous. All it takes is one rogue biologist (think Ted Kaczinski, Islamic State radical, Timothy McVeigh, etc.) to alter an existing disease to create something for which humans have no evolved defense. Over the next 50 years as the tools for genetic engineering become commonplace, the risk increases exponentially. I think the risk this year is maybe 1%, but in 20 years the risk will be closer to 50%. Over the course of 50 years, I think the odds are around 70% total likelihood of a genetically engineered disease being unleashed on people.
- Nanotechnology includes micro-machines created from molecules or cells or artificial means. Many are currently in use today, creating many drugs such as insulin. If nanotechnology was weaponized, it could threaten human life through disease-like symptoms, through altering the environment we need to live, through traditional attack / defense methods. I think this is more difficult to engineer and is more around a 5% threat over the next 50 years.
- A small nation that feels threatened by others (the Koreas, Pakistan, Iran, even Russia or China) could develop and mass produce cheap but deadly military drones. Think of the scale at which automobiles alone are produced each year – 93 million units globally. Imagine if a nation went into mass production of military drones. Iran for example could launch a sneak attack along the lines of Pearl Harbor that would wipe out the United States in a day. They currently have a supertanker fleet of 42 ships that each carry 50% more than an aircraft carrier. Drones need very short takeoff strips. A single ship could carry weapons and fuel for over a thousand drones capable of hitting the middle of the country. At the end of WW2 the allies decimated all of the axis in a matter of months with 2,000 bombers a day. Imagine 21 times that amount hitting us. And this does not even involve nuclear, chemical or biological weapons – just good old traditional explosives. I think this would be difficult to pull off in secret and so rate the threat as 3% over a period of 50 years.
- What is it?
- Augmented biological / human or artificially created intelligence is coming. Last year, IBM produced a computer chip that used a neural network identical in structure to biological brains. The power of this chip was the equivalent of a mouses brain. As this was their first try, they will rapidly improve upon it. There are dozens of other avenues similar to this being built by nations, corporations, and other organizations in an arms race to gain the power granted by augmented intelligence. Unless there is a global catastrophe halting technological advance, we will create a superintelligent “species” or machine with a 90% likelihood in the next 50 years.
- What does this mean to humanity?
- The first organization to build a superintelligence will most likely get there by having machine learning algorithms and powerful machines helping them. The most efficient pathway is to train these algorithms and machines with the goal of “become as intelligent and powerful as possible”. The risk with this is that even a lower level superintelligence with this goal is likely to harvest our planetary resources that humans need to survive to achieve that goal. I think the odds of superintelligence that comes into being ignoring us and harvesting resources we need to survive to be around 95-99%.
- Total likelihood of an extinction event by a superintelligence could approach 90%, though most other commentators believe this to be closer to 50%.
- Climate change
- Climate change is well documented. Last month (July 2015) was the hottest in the recorded history of our planet. We don’t know exactly what will happen as the climate heats up – results could range from global cloud cover that reflects sunlight and loses heat pushing Earth back into the ice age it temporarily emerged from 20,000 years ago or we could create a second Venus with a greenhouse effect where the planet heats in a vicious cycle leading to surface temperatures of 470 degrees celsius. Climate change could also lead to “milder” catastrophes such as large scale crop failures leading to mass starvation. Odds of climate change leading to extinction or near extinction are 15-37%.
- Global total war (including nuclear / chemical weapons… biological and autonomous weapons odds are included in #1)
- I believe this option to be highly unlikely as the global human population becomes more interconnected by the internet, leading to greater compassion being extended to foreigners. This is only a 1 in 500 chance during our lives or .2%
- Asteroid impact
- The dinosaurs and 90% of species on earth were believed to have been wiped out in a massive asteroid impact. Nasa says that asteroids of this size and deadliness impact with earth once every few hundred thousand years. Odds of this happening in our lifetime are .006%
Catastrophic threats (threats causing massive losses of life, but under 30% global fatalities):
- Naturally occurring disease (as opposed to artificially created and engineered specifically to target humans as mentioned in existential threats above)
- Historic epidemics:
- 2012 – 122,000 people died of measles, tuberculosis killed 1.3 million
- 2009- H1N1 flu killed an estimated 575,000
- 1984- today – HIV killed 25 million individuals, 35 million infected now
- 1918 – 30 to 50 million were killed this year by the flu, ending WW1
- 1860- the plague killed 12 million people in China
- 1519 – 1633 – it is believed 20 million native americans died of disease brought by Europeans, another 25 million in Mexico died of smallpox and other diseases.
- A modern natural disease that was evolved to hit modern humans would devastate us. Due to global travel and interbreeding our genetics are very similar throughout our species – almost every other species has more variations than us. Many diseases are evolving antibiotic resistance, and other deadly features. Diseases in history have had up to a 95% kill rate on local human populations.
- Odds in my opinion here are 20% over the course of our lives.
- Agricultural disaster
- Disease that destroys vital plants or bees
- Soil destruction
- “Great Leap Forward” style mismanagement
- Likelihood: 1-3% in our lifetime.
- Smaller scale war (limited nuclear use, less than ⅓ of the global population mobilized)
- A war that is big enough to affect us in the United States but not be a global total war has odds of 2% in our lifetime in my opinion.
Local threats (life threatening threats to Los Angeles, we can expect external areas to help us. Think hurricane katrina – we may have to wait / survive on our own up to a couple of weeks, but the outside world will help):
- http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Earthquake-Chance-California-USGS-Report-295893531.html – Magnitude 8+ earthquake has a 7% chance of happening in Los Angeles in the next 30 years. Over 50 years this is 10%.
- Tsunamis are caused by earthquakes (see odds of LA quake above) anywhere in the vicinity or out at sea. An earthquake in the middle of the pacific ocean would affect LA.
- Odds over 50 years are 5%
- Drought / Water shortages
- Less sudden and more easily dealt with. We will know ahead of time if water runs out and we can leave the area ahead of time, although there potentially could be millions of other refugees leaving the area as well.
- Odds of this harming us are 3-5%
What are the odds of each major category happening in our lifetimes (next 50 years):
- Existential threats
- Genetic engineering 70%
- Superintelligence 50%
- Climate change 20%
- Total war .2%
- Asteroids .006%
- TOTAL –
- Formula with multiple independent events with different probabilities
- 1-((1-.7)*(1-.5)*(1-.2)*(1-.002)*(1-.00006)) = 88% total probability
- Catastrophic threats
- Naturally occurring disease 20%
- Agricultural disaster 1%
- Smaller scale war 2%
- 1-((1-.2)*(1-.01)*(1-.02)) = 22% total probability
- Local threats
- Earthquake 10%
- Tsunami 5%
- Drought 3%
- 1-((1-.1)*(1-.05)*(1-.03)) = 17% total probability
- Total probability of some disaster impacting our lives:
- 1-((1-.88)*(1-.22)*(1-.17)) = 92% total probability
How do we prepare for these contingencies?
Some of these events listed above would cause global human extinction. Should we just give up? No. I believe that if we can scrape together a few more years together as a family and perhaps even choose our own method of leaving this planet, that is far better than having those options taken away from us.
Do we need separation preparations for every contingency? That seems overwhelming. Fortunately, general preparedness can greatly increase survival odds and quality of life in the case of one of these scenarios coming to pass.
General preparedness comes down to having supplies and equipment on hand that can increase the odds of survival, as well as having training necessary to increase survival.
Here is what I see as the most important areas to prepare:
- People – since the beginning of human history, we have organized into families, tribes, villages, towns, cities, states, nations to defend against outside threats and extract what resources we need from the world, other species, and even other humans. The stronger your group is, the more likely you will survive. A tribe of 100 will likely be able to kill a tribe of 20 and take their equipment, supplies, and territory.
- Training – give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.
- Usage of weapons to defend what you have
- Agricultural methods for producing your own consumables
- Carpentry for building shelter
- Medical training (wound / disease / pregnancy )
- People skills – inevitably you will cross people with bigger badder weapons and training… humor / diplomacy will go a long ways here.
- Equipment – what do you need to survive alone?
- Weapons to defend people / equipment / supplies / territory
- Farming tools
- Mechanical tools (tractors, vehicle repair)
- Carpentry tools (shelter, fencing, etc.)
- Supplies – what happens if you suddenly lose access to fresh water, gas, or food?
- Medical supplies
- Territory – where can you live safely long term?
- Good farming country for growing food easily
- Out of the way – less likely to be raided by others in desperate straits
- Defendable in case someone wants what you have
My specific circumstances:
- Situation: We live in an area dependent on outside territories for water, energy, and food. In a catastrophic situation, it is likely that Southern California would be unable to sustain human life on the scale it currently does. 15 million people in the greater LA region require massive outside support and if either water or gas or food were cut off, very bad things would happen. “Civilization is only 3 meals away from revolution at any given time”. I would kill to feed my family and I think many others would too… especially those with military training and experience who will be better than I am at killing.
- Solution: As soon as possible as a dangerous situation began to play out, we should leave Los Angeles for safer territory.
- We should go somewhere where we will have equipment and supplies to survive, with a high preference for other people who will welcome us, protect us and support us. Laurel’s family is located in Sierra Madre which is equally vulnerable to the rest of Los Angeles. Ideally, we either go to Joel’s family in Washington State or Laurel’s extended family in Ohio. I don’t know Laurel’s family in Ohio, but she does not seem impressed with them or to know them that well. On the other hand, Joel’s family is pretty strong in Graham. Jordan is a member of the Brannon “tribe” of 4-5 families, and Jordan’s father in law is senior pastor of the local church (a church is just a social group that can function like a tribe or village in the event of a disaster). In my opinion, the safest place with the best resources would be to go to Graham, WA and join Jordan. I have already spoken to Jordan about this and he is preparing for the same contingencies above by building a house on a 5 acre lot where he can have a small organic farm attached to his parents in law on a 10 acre lot and his sister in law on a 5 acre lot. They will have their own well (with a hand pump if necessary), pond stocked with fish, animals, gardens, weapons.
- How to get there?
- We will have to travel 1200 miles at a minimum if we went straight up I5. In the event of a catastrophic disaster, a direct route probably will not be possible. We may have to travel up to 2000 miles to reach Graham, WA. In order to get there safely from LA, we need to have a cache of gas, water, food, weapons, shelter, and spare parts for the vehicle. Ideally, our vehicle should be 4 wheel drive and capable of fording streams and have aggressive tires and suspension capable of climbing muddy hills and large rocks. We will need 140 gallons of gas (2000 miles / 300 miles per 20 gallon gas tank = 140 gallons of gas), water & food for a journey that could take 2-3 weeks, shelter (tent & sleeping bags & clothing), spare parts for a vehicle going through possibly very harsh terrain, and weapons to defend all of the above from other desperate individuals. This is not ideal. It would be much better to live in a place with everything when we get started. I think we are unlikely to face this scenario in the next 3-5 years so we are okay in LA for that time, but we should still have an exit option in case I am wrong. Beyond 3-5 years, we need our own place. For the same reason I discussed previously that it is critical to have a tribe we can trust around us, I believe we should move to Washington to an area where we either are already in Graham or have easy (50 miles or less) access to Graham.
- What if none of the eventualities come to pass above?
- We will be out some money.
- We will live in a place that is less sunny and nice than LA and will have to take more frequent flights to visit Laurel’s family there (although what do we do if catastrophe strikes and we are in LA with no supplies???)
- Our quality of life will probably be at least 90% as good as it currently is in LA. Could be better than LA too… we will see.
Bonus fun question section!
- What percentage of net worth / annual income should be committed to preparation for emergencies?
- I think it should be 5-10% of income per year. 88% likelihood of dangerous result in our lifetime breaks down to a much smaller risk each year. 5-10% of our income will not damage our lifestyle, just reduce the growth of our savings and investments (which are for the hopeful non-catastrophic side of life anyways).
- What are the ethics of a catastrophic situation? Should you kill to prevent people from taking your supplies? Keeping them away from your territory? Where are the lines drawn?
- Family first, tribe second, everyone else a very distant last place. I would help others if I could, but the health and safety of my family would be paramount, closely followed by my tribe.
It’s almost been eight weeks since the outbreak. I look all around and what do I see? A barren, desolate landscape. What does a man have left when the world is no longer? Nothing, but a hardwired instinct for survival. Maybe, maybe one day, things can return to the old way. At least, that’s the lie I keep telling myself. Holding onto a falsehood is better than falling into the madness of despair.
For now, I have a purpose: cross Appalachia, the Mississippi, the Rockies, and find Grahamstown in the Pacific Northwest. There could still be a world there, a family. My family. I’m an atheist hoping to God they’re still there, stilling holding out. I should have listened to them when I had the chance. “There are dark clouds gathering on the horizon and God shall make his way back into this realm.” They were almost right. God has returned, but instead of coming to institute a second age, instead of being a Christ who shed his blood for our sins, there’s only a plumb, mad-dog mean enigma of a force that only seeks to punish us and exude its vengeance from our flesh.
By my calculations, it’ll take me three months to reach my destination. A long, perilous journey, indeed. The path is fraught with ravagers, cannibals, compounds of far-right crazies, disease, famine, and God knows what else. My friends implore me to stay here, but a man does not abandon his family; a man’s best chance is with his family. Mine was prepared — they left civilization and sought out private lands where they could build and grow without threat of interference.
What will they say when they see me? Will they even recognize me after all this time? Will I even recognize myself? This journey will require me to fall into the depths of depravity, to rely upon those most human of instincts that I may see their faces once more. But, they might only see the face of a savage. Alas, Babylon.