Position Available: Nuclear winter and other catastrophe research

Update 14 Sept 2022: This position has now been filled, see our post introducing the project and team here.

Adapt Research, in conjunction with Wellington-based public health physician Nick Wilson, want to hire a Research Project Co-Investigator.

We have secured funding to conduct an Aotearoa New Zealand Catastrophe Resilience Project. This follows a series of preliminary projects where we evaluated island refuges to mitigate global catastrophic risks such as extreme pandemics and nuclear winter.

The proposed work is partly inspired by the 1980s New Zealand Nuclear Impacts Study and will update some of that knowledge for the 2022-23 context. We link the importance of this prior work to the consequences of present-day major catastrophes in this post on the Effective Altruism Forum. We have also outlined the motivation for the project in a blog-post, and RadioNZ podcast.

We plan to develop a shadow National Risk Register risk profile, conduct workshops, industry surveys, interviews, and a through a Delphi process produce a shadow National Catastrophe Resilience Strategy/Plan.

The aim is to produce a plausible evidence-based path to catastrophe security. We also aim to obtain ongoing funding for a Catastrophe Resilience Think Tank to further develop these proposals in conjunction with others and support their implementation.

These research avenues are particularly topical in the context of recent works on Existential Risks (Toby Ord), Longtermism (Will MacAskill), and in light of sentinel events such as the Covid-19 pandemic, Russian invasion of Ukraine, and risk of approaching Food Shortages.

The role would suit an experienced researcher or policy adviser, who is excited to help lead and contribute to work to secure the future of humanity, through a project that is important, neglected and tractable. Application details below.


Research Project Co-investigator

Aotearoa New Zealand Catastrophe Resilience Project

Adapt Research Ltd

Fixed-term 9–12 months (Full-time or Part-time: 0.5–1.0 FTE)

Must be NZ resident/citizen and be based in NZ

Help lead a project with the aim of understanding Aotearoa New Zealand’s resilience to global catastrophic and existential risks such as nuclear winter, supervolcano eruption, extreme pandemic, or catastrophic collapse of global trade.

The project is philanthropically funded (initially for one year) through the Regranting Programme of the FTX Foundation Future Fund, which supports ambitious projects to improve humanity’s long-term prospects. 

The appointee will help lead the research project. They will contribute to the following: 

  • Project design, planning, and vision
  • Research and risk profile development
  • Workshop facilitation
  • Survey design and deployment
  • Interview studies
  • Preparation of reports, recommendations, and academic papers

The candidate will have a postgraduate qualification and the ideal candidate is likely to have qualifications and experience in some (not necessarily all) of the following: 

  • Qualitative social science methods
  • Communications and facilitation 
  • Policy or public sector work (especially risk and resilience)
  • Academic research or writing
  • Risk analysis or disaster risk reduction
  • Economics, strategy or foresight 
  • Energy, transport, logistics, manufacturing, or agricultural sectors

Mostly, we are looking for a collaborator with a multidisciplinary perspective, big picture view, and who is excited about understanding complexity and building resilience to the very largest global risks. 

Funding is fixed-term, but we aim is to produce high quality findings and outputs that secure additional funding for growth (scope expansion, founding a think tank, etc)

The appointee’s ideal start date would be November 2022. 

Salary will be pro-rata, commensurate with typical bands (eg Public Sector, University) at level of experience.

We will weigh the merits of appointing an experienced candidate full-time at Research Fellow/Advisor level, or a more senior candidate part-time (Principal Advisor/Senior Researcher). Secondments (full-time or part-time), or job sharing arrangements, are welcome. 

We encourage applications from anyone excited by work to secure the future of humanity. 

To apply: email matt@adaptresearchwriting.com with your expression of interest, LinkedIn profile, CV, and links to examples of previous work, ideas and projects, video expressions are welcome.

Islands, nuclear winter, and trade disruption as an existential risk factor

This is a link post to our new long-read on nuclear winter and abrupt sunlight reducing scenarios.

Purpose: In this long-read we provide a summary and extended commentary on our recent paper: Island refuges for surviving nuclear winter and other abrupt sun-reducing catastrophes (available as a pre-print via the link). We demonstrate how this research could help direct efforts to reduce the risk from catastrophic sun-blocking scenarios and suggest some next steps to safeguard humanity from these types of existential threat using New Zealand as a case study. 


  • Abrupt sunlight reducing scenarios (ASRS) such as nuclear winter or volcanic super-eruption are plausible and could have serious consequences for climate and food production. 
  • It is often thought that some Southern Hemisphere islands might resist the more severe impacts of these winters. 
  • We find that some locations could likely produce enough food in a nuclear winter to keep feeding their populations, but food supply alone does not guarantee flourishing of technological society if trade is seriously disrupted.
  • The potential disruption to industry and society caused by serious trade collapse could be severe and cause deindustrialization of societies. 
  • It is problematic to assume that locations such as New Zealand and Australia might survive catastrophes such as nuclear winter with their institutions and technology intact – without major upgrades in their levels of resilience. 
  • This has implications for the future of humanity and human civilisation, given the existing assumptions about Southern Hemisphere islands. 
  • Many nations might be advised to pursue resilient foods to mitigate ASRS, but New Zealand and Australia might focus on resilience measures for preserving transport, energy, manufacturing, and industrial inputs in the absence of global trade. 

You can read the full long-read on the EA Forum by clicking here.

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