Thinking the Unthinkable

Thanks to the large and thoughtful audience who joined our fascinating discussion with Nik Gowing, Chris Langdon and Sir Peter Gershon on Friday 5 August. Please note that the Thinking the Unthinkable report, and Nik and Chris’s excellent recent World Today article about their project, are both available for download at

CSER Blavatnik Public Lecture on Feeding Everyone No Matter What by Dr David Denkenberger

CSER is pleased to welcome Dr David Denkenberger for this Blavatnik Public Lecture.
2 September 2016, 14:00 – 15:30
Room 1.25, David Attenborough Building, Pembroke Street, Cambridge CB2 3QZ


A large asteroid or comet impact, super volcanic eruption, or full-scale nuclear war could cause a ~100% global agricultural shortfall. Together these have a probability ~10% this century. We have proposed solutions that could feed everyone without the sun, such as growing mushrooms on dead trees. Abrupt climate change, coincident extreme weather, a volcanic eruption like that which caused the year without a summer in 1816, regional nuclear war, complete loss of bees, and medium-sized comet/asteroid could cause a ~10% global agricultural shortfall. Together these have a probability ~80% this century.

We have proposed solutions that would mitigate the food price rise, such as relocating animals to the farm fields so they can consume agricultural residues. A number of risks could cause widespread electrical failure, including a series of high-altitude electromagnetic pulses (HEMPs) caused by nuclear weapons, an extreme solar storm, and a coordinated cyber attack. Since modern industry depends on electricity, it is likely there would be a collapse of the functioning of industry and machines in these scenarios. We have proposed solutions for food (e.g. burning wood from landfills for fertilizer) and nonfood (such as retrofitting ships to be wind powered) requirements of everyone. These alternate food solutions require only low-cost preparation research and planning (unlike storing food), and therefore are cost-effective ways of saving expected lives and reducing the chance of loss of civilization, from which humanity may not recover.

Speaker Biography:

Dr. David Denkenberger received his B.S. from Penn State in Engineering Science, his M.S.E. from Princeton in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado at Boulder in the Building Systems Program. His dissertation was on his patent-pending expanded microchannel heat exchanger. He is an assistant professor at Tennessee State University in architectural engineering. He is also an associate at the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute. He received the National Merit Scholarship, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and is a Penn State distinguished alumnus. He has authored or co-authored over 50 publications, including the book Feeding Everyone no Matter What: Managing Food Security after Global Catastrophe. He has given over 80 technical presentations.

CSER Blavatnik Public Lecture on The Rise of Data Religion by Professor Yuval Harari

A Blavatnik public lecture with Professor Yuval Harari on September 6, 2016. Response by Professor Andrew Briggs and panel discussion chaired by Lord Martin Rees.


The most interesting place in the world from a religious perspective is not the Middle East, but rather Silicon Valley. That is where the new religions of the twenty-first century are being created. Particularly important is the Data Religion, which promises humans all the traditional religious prizes – happiness, peace, prosperity, and even eternal life – but here on earth with the help of data-processing technology, rather than after death with the help of supernatural beings.

Data Religion believes that the entire universe is a flow of data, that organisms are algorithms, and that humanity’s cosmic vocation is to create an all-encompassing data-processing system – and then merge into it. On the practical level Dataists believe that given enough biometric data and enough computing power, you could create an external algorithm that will understand us humans much better than we understand ourselves. Once this happens, authority will shift from humans to algorithms and humanist practices such as democratic elections and free markets will become as obsolete as rain dances and flint knives.

More detail here.

Climate Justice & Disaster Law book launch

imagesClimate disasters demand an integration of multilateral negotiations on climate change, disaster risk reduction, sustainable development, human rights and human security. Via detailed examination of recent law and policy initiatives from around the world, and making use of a Capability Approach, Rosemary Lyster develops a unique approach to human and non-human climate justice and its application to all stages of a disaster: prevention; response, recovery and rebuilding; and compensation and risk transfer. She comprehensively analyses the complexities of climate science and their interfaces with the law- and policy-making processes, and also provides an in-depth analysis of multilateral climate change negotiations dating from the establishment of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to the Twenty First Conference of the Parties in Paris in December 2015.

Professor Lyster will give an introduction to her book, followed by discussion by Dr Julius Weizdoerfer, Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) and Dr Leslie-Anne Duvic Paoli, Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Governance (C-EENRG).

When: 9 June, 12:30PM.
Where: Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, 5 Cranmer Road, CB3 9BL Cambridge.

The event will be preceded by a lunch reception, kindly sponsored by Cambridge University Press.
All are welcome to attend, but please RSVP via Eventbrite so we have numbers for catering.

Rescheduled – Blavatnik Public Lecture, Hilary Greaves

ImageforPosterWe are delighted that Prof Hilary Greaves has agreed to reschedule her talk which was initially planned to take place on 29 April.

The new date of the lecture is: 10 June 2016. The location and the time remain the same.

Location: Hopkinson Lecture Theatre, 1st Floor, Phoenix Building, New Museums Site.

Time: 4-5pm followed by Q&A.

Click here for further info.

Livestream of the open lecture with Prof Paul Ehrlich.

There will be a livestream of the open lecture at the Babbage Lecture Theatre with Prof Paul Ehrlich, starting at 16:00 today, 9 May  2016.
To watch the livestream, please click on the image below.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 13.21.26

The video will be made available later on on our YouTube channel.

CSER Lent Newsletter 2016

CSER had another busy term. We now have a growing team of brilliant postdoctoral researchers from across a range of disciplinary backgrounds, including governance, law, biotechnology, mathematics, philosophy, physics and ecology, and are establishing collaborations within and outside Cambridge on our key risk areas. The team is already hard at work on high-impact research projects, workshops, public lectures and seminars, and it promises to be a tremendous year. To read our latest newsletter click here.
To get regular updates about our work, please sign up to our newsletter.

Partha Dasgupta Awarded Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement

We are delighted to report that Partha Dasgupta, Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Cambridge, and Chair of CSER’s Management Committee and an intellectual lead within its projects, is this year’s recipient of the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (

The award is in recognition of his contributions to the field of environmental economics, and particularly his “pioneering work… in establishing new paradigms at the nexus of society and sustainable development, and his continuing commitment to problems of population and poverty, loss of biodiversity and conservation” (

CSER is co-organising: FUKUSHIMA – Five Years On

The 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Accident constitutes a technological accident, a humanitarian disaster, and the largest civil liability case in legal history. In light of a recent nuclear renaissance, ambitious energy transitions, and aiming to identify concrete policy recommendations regarding the prevention, mitigation, and compensation of future accidents, this international workshop critically addresses the legal challenges and necessary policy lessons from Fukushima. It will be the first to cover all three legal dimensions of the disaster – in public, private, and criminal law – and will comprise contributions by international experts pioneering their fields, including the regulation of risk, crisis management, nuclear safety, disaster resilience, environmental and energy law, and dispute resolution for victims. Further contributions will treat recent developments in Japan, such as the first judgments awarding compensation for the death of evacuees by suicide and the criminal trial against TEPCO executives for negligent manslaughter.

This two-day international workshop MUST be booked for EITHER or BOTH of the days:

  • Friday, 4 March evening KEYNOTE: Nuclear Power and the Mob: Extortion and Social Capital in Japan
  • Saturday, 5 March WORKSHOP: Fukushima Five Years on – Legal Fallout in Japan, Lessons for the EU

Registration via Eventbrite

Event details:



Friday, 4 March 2016 at 17:30 – Saturday, 5 March 2016 at 18:15 (GMT)


Darwin College – Silver Street Cambridge, England CB3 9EU GB