Ticking Time Bombs
By Glen Hiemstra, Nov. 2, 2006
The future is not perfectly predictable. But it is knowable.
According to President George Bush, Iraq demonstrates that war is unpredictable.
“What are we not seeing today, even though the evidence is right in front of us?”
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the director of FEMA said there was nothing we could have done to prevent this disaster. The President said that no one could have anticipated the breach of the levees in New Orleans.
After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice stated that no once could have foreseen terrorist flying airplanes into buildings.
We now know that in each of these cases there were highly respected experts who predicted these catastrophes.
What are we not seeing today, even though the evidence is right in front of us?
- Global warming and resulting climate crisis.
The British get it. The American people get it. According to an MIT survey, in 2003 Americans rated global warming only sixth among ten environmental issues. In 2006 Americans believe it is the most pressing problem. Despite the fact that global warming and its human causes are now considered settled science, despite the growing evidence of the seriousness of this threat to survival, despite a growing chorus of cities, nations, and companies calling for immediate action, official U.S. policy remains one of questioning, denial, and weak assertions about allowing private initiatives to deal with it. The problem is that a climate which goes out of control may do more than inconvenience some people. It may threaten economies and human survival itself. The irony is that proposed fixes to slow down global warming would themselves be tremendous economic engines.
- The End of Oil
Suppose you learned that oil was running out, but nobody had told you. World oil production peaked at 85 million barrels a day in December of 2005. Despite record prices, production fell in 2006 to 84 million barrels a day in every month so far, while demand exceeded that supply. How would you respond to this news? Would you muster hundreds of thousands of troops to secure the world?s remaining supply? Or, would you begin to prepare for a different future? This is reality, but the authorities are not telling you.
- Middle Class Revolt
Job insecurity, health care access and cost, retirement fund risks, and government corruption are combining to create a growing resentment among the middle class. The middle class is under attack, and knows it. Their anger will be directed at the Republican Party in the short term which will return Congressional control to Democrats. But gridlock rather than compromise will be the probable course for the next two years.
If moderates and progressives cannot work out solutions to address the problems of the middle class, the political climate will worsen. This would create an environment for radical change, which could range from alternative political parties to a surprising outcome in the 2008 presidential race.
- Illegal Immigration
The illegal immigration problem is likely to worsen unless a solution is developed in the near future. Here is why: there is little serious effort to develop the economies from which illegal immigrants stream to the U.S. looking for work, just as in the U.S. there is little serious effort to attack the problem at its root, which is the desire of U.S. companies to employ cheap, undocumented labor in order to keep pay rates down. Building a wall (which has been approved but as yet unfunded) and even discussions of guest worker programs are window dressing designed to distract the public from the two core issues.
If the status quo continues, the illegal population will grow, leading to increased pressure on the health care system and the criminal justice system. Most important, wages will remain suppressed and the U.S. middle class will suffer.
- Global Pandemic
The current strain of bird flu present mostly in Asia is not yet considered a potent threat to people, as it does not show the ability to move from human to human. However, the scientific and public health communities are very concerned that this bug or one like it could develop into a full-blown human disease. Since millions of people fly around the world everyday such a disease could spread quickly. Public health infrastructures are ill equipped for a massive pandemic. On the other hand, instant communications and quick action by epidemiologists and scientists may enable rapid development of counter measures.
- Government Debt
More and more knowledgeable observers are realizing the enormous gap between the federal government’s projected income and promised benefits. The massive debt and annual deficit are concern enough, but beyond these loom the unfunded liabilities that are not included in the annual budget. The U.S. government has promised to guarantee farm loans, student loans, pension funds, and numerous other programs. These risks make for a precarious future.
The immediate concern is that the Chinese or the Japanese who buy our treasury bills will determine that the U.S. is no longer a good risk at the present rate. If they demand a higher return it would slow economic growth, creating less tax revenue and more debt. Renewed efforts to balance the budget are called for.
- Out of this World: Asteroid or Comet Strike
A new exhibit at the U.S. National Museum of Natural History lays out conclusive evidence that a massive asteroid struck the earth 65 million years ago, at the time that dinosaurs went extinct. It is a wild card, but if you ask what from this entire list could really threaten the long term survival of life on earth, this is it. While there is not much that can be done at the present time to prevent a repeat disaster, there are three actions worth taking right now. One is to increase and support efforts to survey space for early warning of objects that may come near earth orbit. Not that we could do much yet, but with years of advance notice it is conceivable that emergency measures may be developed. Second, programs to correctly identify the annual thirty-odd significant asteroid strikes for what they are, rather than nuclear re-entry vehicles must be supported. Third, consideration of placing a library and human colony “off world” should be mid-term and long-term priorities respectively.
Terrorism is by definition a ticking bomb. It is an ever present reality that calls for prudent defensive measures and active global cooperation on intelligence. However the idea that terrorism poses a threat to humanity, or to civilization, or to a way of life has not only been exaggerated in the past five years, it has been wildly exaggerated. Many unfortunate policy decisions have resulted from this exaggeration. It does have to be this way.
Postscript on Asteroids and Comets, November 20, 2006
Item number 7 may seem a distant threat, not in keeping with the others on this list. However, on November 14, 2006 the New York Times, in their weekly Science Times section (p. D1), published an extensive report on new research which suggests that giant asteroids and comets have struck the earth many more times than previously suspected. Using evidence of “chevron” patterns in costal area debris deposits, scientists now suspect that objects large enough to kill a quarter of the earth’s population have crashed into the world’s oceans as recently as 4,800 years ago. By locating and then studying these debris fields, researchers now theorize that massive strikes may actually come as frequently as every 1,200 years on average, more than ten times the rate previously known. Analysis of 175 flood myths from around the world supports this recent thinking. Research continues, but if it continues down this path, then the threat from item 7 is actually greater than originally thought, and the need to invent counter measures more urgent.
Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, author, consultant, blogger, internet video host and Founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.