In conversation with Andrew Leigh

Listen to this ANU/Canberra Times Meet the Author conversation on the Experience ANU SoundCloud channel

Andrew Leigh will be in conversation with Brian Schmidt on Andrew's new book, What's the Worst That Could Happen? Existential Risk and Extreme Politics in which Andrew Leigh looks at catastrophic risks and how to mitigate them, arguing provocatively that the rise of populist politics makes catastrophe more likely.

Leigh explains that pervasive short-term thinking leaves us unprepared for long-term risks. Politicians sweat the small stuff-granular policy details of legislation and regulation-but rarely devote much attention to reducing long-term risks. Populist movements thrive on short-termism because they focus on their followers' immediate grievances. Leigh argues that we should be long-termers: broaden our thinking and give big threats the attention and resources they need.

Leigh outlines the biggest existential risks facing humanity and suggests remedies for them. He discusses pandemics, considering the possibility that the next virus will be more deadly than COVID-19; warns that unchecked climate change could render large swaths of the earth uninhabitable; describes the metamorphosis of the arms race from a fight into a chaotic brawl; and examines the dangers of runaway superintelligence. Moreover, Leigh points out, populism (and its crony, totalitarianism) not only exacerbates other dangers but is also a risk factor in itself, undermining the institutions of democracy as we watch.

"Ever since the first atom bomb was exploded, humans have faced the possibility of existential risk-and that risk is clearly growing, both because we've unleashed strong physical forces and because our politics has grown ever more short-sighted. This book makes the powerful case that we need to replace populism with clear-headed thinking that takes a long view; it's in our own interest, and the interest of all the generations that we hope will follow." Bill McKibben

Dr Andrew Leigh MP is the Federal Member for Fenner in the ACT. Before being elected in 2010, he was a professor of economics at the ANU. His latest books are Innovation + equality: (with J Gans), MIT Press, and Reconnected: A Community Builder's Handbook (with N Terrell), Black Inc.

Nobel laureate, Professor Brian Schmidt AC is Vice-Chancellor of the The Australian National University. Professor Schmidt makes a significant contribution to public debate through the media, and via his membership of bodies including the Prime Minister's National Science and Technology Council.

In accordance to the current COVID-19 guidelines in the ACT, masks are strongly encouraged. Attendees are requested to review and follow ACT Health guidelines before attending the event.

This event is in association with Harry Hartog Bookshop. Books will be available for purchase on the evening in the Cultural Centre foyer. Pre-event book signings will be available from 5.30pm, and available again after the event until 7.30pm.


Date and Times


Room: Cinema