How Will the World End?

From a War? From Global Warming? From Famine? From a Pandemic? From a Nuclear Reactor Explosion? From Cyber Attacks?

By Metta Spencer

Maybe. Maybe all of them at once, since any one of those catastrophes could cause the others.

But cheer up. None of these are inevitable. If we’re smart, we can reduce the risk of them all—and have fun doing it. The happiest people are those who devote their lives to a cause larger than themselves. Pick any one of these threats and you’ve got it made. Then you can hang out with other happy people, working on the world together and having fun.

The fun begins on May 30th and 31st at the University of Toronto, when we’ll hold a forum called “How to Save the World in a Hurry.” And indeed, we are in a hurry, for these global threats are real and getting riskier every day.

If you’re too modest to claim that you’re saving the world, you can just say that you’re “repairing” it. The beautiful Hebrew expression Tikkun Olam refers to our duty to repair the world. But it’s not just a matter of repairing what has already been damaged; we also have to prevent further damage. We have to protect the world and save it, while having fun and being happy. I’ll meet you in Room 140, University College at 9:00 am on May 30th.

In the meantime, you have homework to do. How are you going to solve the global threat that you’ve chosen? What’s the optimum approach? Maybe you’ll wear a Hazmat suit and fight Ebola or radiation in hand-to-hand combat—but probably not. Most of us will use words. We’ll try to influence the policies of powerful organizations such as national governments, multi-national corporations, the World Bank, national armies, the UN General Assembly, or the World Health Organization. By smartening up the policies of those institutions, we can reduce the risk of our six global threats. You need to promote more effective policies than the current ones, and to compare their effectiveness, you need to study and discuss them with others. Do so before May 30th, if possible. Here’s how:

Step 1: Find out what makes your chosen global threat so risky. (Read articles, attend public meetings, or watch TV shows by people complaining about the issue.)

Step 2: Find out what experts and the victims themselves propose as partial solutions to those problems. (Usually the complainers also offer solutions.) See below for the material we’re assembling for you to study.

Step 3: Imagine what might go wrong with all of the solutions being proposed. Use strategic foresight. What “unanticipated consequences” should we try to anticipate?

Step 4: Choosing the most promising policy changes, decide what organization should be responsible for implementing them. Formulate your proposal in a sentence no longer than 15 words, and send it to We’ll add it to the accumulating list of proposals for the “Platform for Survival.” Everyone is welcome to contribute items for the platform.

Step 5: Come to our “How to Save the World in a Hurry” forum on May 30 and 31. Question the experts. Discuss the policies in a breakout group, where there will be resource persons to answer more questions, and vote for the most effective ones. Every registered participant in the conference can vote.

Step 6: Sign the final Platform for Survival and get additional organizations to sign and ratify it as well.

Step 7: Promote the Platform for Survival as a shared vision of a future toward which we are all working in alignment.

Studying “Threatology”

You probably won’t become a professional expert on your chosen global threat, but you should learn basic facts about it, so as to choose effective policy solutions. I like a word Larry Brilliant used in our interview in this issue—“threatology”—meaning the study of global threats. On the web site for the forum——you will find a bibliography of relevant articles and books, as well as links to a variety of video lectures and discussions.

The value of a Platform for Survival will ultimately depend on the wise choice of policies for the final version. The selection of policies for the Platform must be both democratic and astute. For the sake of democracy, anyone in the world is free to add policies to the preliminary list. But for the sake of astuteness, the judicious selecting of items for the final platform must be informed by the advice of experts.

Frankly, the cumulative preliminary list of suggestions from the public inevitably will include some goofy or unrealistic proposals. However, the process of studying and appraising them is an important contribution to public discourse. Therefore, before the conference we are offering numerous free, live-streamed lectures, articles, and videos relating to several of the proposals. See the links on this web site. Better information yields better public discourse, which yields better democratic decision-making. The process is important in itself.

Moreover, throughout the forum’s first day, pairs of experts will answer questions from the floor and from distant live viewers. Their informed remarks cannot, of course, eliminate all controversies about these proposals. However, the audience will surely be better prepared for the next day when, in breakout groups, they discuss the proposed policies and select the most promising few for the Platform for Survival.

Live-streaming peace

This year, the program of weekly free public lectures at the University of Toronto has been tailored to address primarily issues relating to proposals for the Platform for Survival. Since January, those weekly lectures have been live-streamed. Unfortunately, the series will end on April 4, but the recordings of previous ones will remain available on Facebook and YouTube, linked from the Science for Peace website,

Live-streaming is a marvelous invention that enables ordinary people to broadcast to their own social networks and beyond. However, it does seem to reduce the turnout of audiences to lectures. Some previously frequent attenders now prefer to stay at home and watch the proceedings on their computers.

On the other hand, the number of Internet viewers can be many times greater than that of a physical audience. Live-streaming is a fine way to educate more people, though it does nothing to build a sense of community, as can happen when people assemble every week to hear a lecture together.

Anyway, I am shifting over to the new technology. Every Monday evening at 8:00 I am hosting a one-hour-long conversation on Facebook Live, streamed to the Peace Magazine page. We use Zoom video-conferencing, usually with four or five participants, and stream it directly to Facebook Live. Again, you can send us questions or comments if you have a Facebook account. The first of these conversations was on March 12, when Professor Emily Gilbert here in Toronto joined Cesar Jaramillo in Waterloo, Gar Smith in Berkeley, California, and Joanna Santa Barbara in New Zealand for a discussion of the impact of militarism on climate change. You can continue watching those videos after they are no longer live. On your computer, view them on our website,, and on the Peace Magazine Facebook page.

You can register for the Forum on Eventbrite: general admission $100; students and unwaged $40.

Peace Magazine Apr-Jun 2018

Peace Magazine Apr-Jun 2018, page 6. Some rights reserved.

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