Written by an award-winning historian of science and technology, Planet in Peril describes the top four mega-dangers facing humankind – climate change, nukes, pandemics, and artificial intelligence. It outlines the solutions that have been tried, and analyzes why they have thus far fallen short. These four existential dangers present a special kind of challenge that urgently requires planet-level responses, yet today's international institutions have so far failed to meet this need. The book lays out a realistic pathway for gradually modifying the United Nations over the coming century so that it can become more effective at coordinating global solutions to humanity's problems. Neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but pragmatic and constructive, the book explores how to move past ideological polarization and global political fragmentation. Unafraid to take intellectual risks, Planet in Peril sketches a plausible roadmap toward a safer, more democratic future for us all.
Part I. Existential Threats: The Four Most Pressing Dangers Facing Humankind
2. Fossil fuels and climate change
3. Nukes for war and peacetime
4. Pandemics, natural or bioengineered
5. Artificial intelligence: extreme reward and risk
Part II. Strategies and Obstacles: The Solutions We Need, and What's Preventing them from Being Realized
6. How to beat climate change
7. Wise governance for nukes and pandemics: where to go faster and where to slow down
8. Controlling things vs. controlling agents: the challenge of high-level AI
9. The international dimension: where every solution stumbles
Prologue to Parts III, IV, and V: Does history have a direction? Hegel, Smith, Darwin
Part III. Sensible Steps for Today's World: Powerful Measures we Can Implement Right Away
10. Do it now: five points of leverage
11. Constructive moves on the international front for the next 25 years
12. Breaking the political logjam
13. Lessons from the green movement: how to build lasting change in the absence of full consensus
Part IV. The Middle-Term Goal: New International Tools for the Late 21st Century
14. A promising track record: the dramatic growth of international institutions and networks since 1900
15. How to escape the sovereignty trap: lessons and limitations of the EU Model
16. Taking the UN up a notch: planet-level solutions for the year 2100
17. The other path to 2100: ruthless competition, fingers crossed
Part V. The Long-Term Goal: Envisioning a Mature System of Global Governance for the 22nd Century
18. Global government in a world of democracies and dictatorships: what it might look like in 2150
19. Keeping the system accountable and fair
20. Collective military security and economic sanctions: how to handle rogues, cheaters, and fanatics
21. What could go wrong?
Michael Bess is Chancellor's Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. He has been teaching award-winning courses on science, technology, environmentalism, and global catastrophic threats since 1989, and has written four other books on these topics. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and National Human Genome Research Institute.
"The term 'existential threat' may be overused by those who explore global governance; but it undoubtedly describes climate change and pandemics, two of the four mega-dangers that preoccupy Michael Bess in Planet in Peril. It is hard to believe that international cooperation remains a tough sell in 2022. Imagine: global problems require global solutions! Bess spells out concrete, and hopefully doable, steps toward overcoming polarization and fragmentation. Let's hope he's right."
– Thomas G. Weiss, CUNY Graduate Center
"We are threatened by our own cleverness, and it is easy to get paranoid. This book, by one of our best historians of science and technology, offers a sane, balanced, and deeply informed look at the major threats and lays out a rational way forward."
– Donald Worster, author of Shrinking the Earth and A Passion for Nature
"In Planet in Peril, Michael Bess brings his singular voice, intellectual courage, and good judgment to bear on the four mega-dangers facing humankind – climate change, nuclear weapons, pandemics, and artificial intelligence. He avoids the simplistic thinking that characterizes too much of the public debate on these issues and offers insightful, viable solutions. It is one of those rare books that is both a joy to read and a roadmap for solving daunting problems."
– Michael Vandenbergh, Vanderbilt University