A permanent, self-sustaining off-Earth colony would be a much more effective mitigation of x-risk than even an equally well funded system of disaster shelters on Earth.


by Eric Rogstad Dec 23 2016 updated Dec 23 2016

See also the less precise claim: Establishing a permanent off-Earth colony would be a useful way to mitigate x-risk


Eric Bruylant

A bunch of specifics being pinned down would help. e.g. are the shelters inhabited, or just available? are they isolated in a way that stops them being raided? seasteading-based? self-sustaining? what stops people forcing their way in if disaster strikes?

It may be easier to fund off-earth colonies to this level, because it provides directly for individuals. Few would sell their house for a spot in a disaster shelter, some would for a ticket to mars.

Alex Pear

Excellent increase in precision on this claim.

Jules Tanneur

In the long term, yes.

But before we can build an off-Earth colony, we need to expand our mastery of shelter-building dramatically, to accomodate for incredibly hostile conditions.

By the time off-Earth colonization is at hand, the shelters we'd be able to make here would be unbelievable, especially if we chose to focus all resources on shelter-building rather than also work on the massive undertaking that is interplanetary transport.

So for anything but long term, no.

Ted Sanders

Suggested edit: remove the word 'permanent' from the claim. It seems a little funny in the context of x-risk. I think 'self-sustaining' covers the intended meaning by itself.

Ben Pace

I think the words that made me disagree the most were "equally well funded". That's a significant amount of funding for Earth-based shelters. That's plausibly somewhere in the $50 billion range.

Ted Sanders

@Ben Pace: For a brand-new, never-been-tested, fully self-sustaining off-Earth colony, $50B seems super low to me. I think it's got to be in the many many trillions at the very minimum. For some time scales, even infinite money might not be enough. Creating a whole robot/non-atmosphere economy with positive energy ROI is something that no one knows how to do. Much of today's wealth comes from cheap human labor and massive economies of scale. An off-Earth colony would possess neither of these advantages.

Kyle Bogosian

I don't think people are properly grasping what it would mean to have a set of shelters on Earth that would be equally well funded as a permanent self-sustaining colony off-Earth. You could probably afford equally-sized self-sustaining colonies in underground locations in each of multiple different climate zones as well as multiple undersea locations. Plus each of them could be better hardened in all sorts of ways. But it's nearly impossible to estimate because a permanent, self-sustaining extraterrestrial colony is something with almost unbounded size and complexity. We currently don't know how to synthesize all required materials from nearby planets and the number of people required could easily be tens of thousands.

To be honest, spending that much money on shelters on Earth is downright absurd. Instead of such a monstrous shelter-building program, you could spend 5% of the money on shelters which would be 95% as effective at increasing the probability that humanity would survive a catastrophe. That's the more likely and relevant comparison.