I've recently run across a number of debates on the subject of "global threats to humanity". This prompted me to consider my short-list of threats that could alter our future in ways we prefer not to think about. I've concluded there are at least three global threats to humanity that are:
- more certain
- more imminent
- more aggressive
- more destructive
1. A Global Pandemic - we are long overdue; the world is much more highly integrated (in terms of mobility of pathogenic hosts) than in the past; and the nasty bugs/viruses are clearly evolving in a worrisome direction at an alarming rate. A pandemic would most likely start in the undeveloped world and spread to the Developed World.
2. A Geomagnetic Storm - we are really long overdue for a high-magnitude storm, and developed societies are far more dependent on the electric grid than we were when the last great storms occurred in 1859 (the so-called "Carrington Event") and 1921. A large storm could bring down continental electric grids (and everything that depends on them) for periods of time ranging from many months to many years. This would reduce developed countries to barbaric conditions almost "at the flick of a switch". The Developed World is much more vulnerable than the Undeveloped World to this threat.
3. Geopolitical Instability Due To Lack of Access To Electricity. A billion of our fellow inhabitants of this globe have virtually NO access to electricity TODAY, and another billion or so have such limited access that only their most basic needs are infrequently met. The growing impact of this lack of access to abundant, reliable, and affordable electricity is a current, and growing problem of colossal humanitarian and geopolitical import. This dynamic, along with all the associated induced phenomena, is destined to be a growing source of geopolitical instability throughout this century. But it is first and foremost, a CURRENT humanitarian crisis. The Undeveloped World is currently suffering from this "threat", and the Developed World seems to lack both the conviction, the wisdom, and perhaps the means to effectively attack the issue in the near-term.
Personally, I believe these three threats are more likely to significantly impact human life on Earth over the next several decades than anthropomorphic global climate change. I believe an objective, risk-based analysis that includes appropriate treatment of uncertainties would confirm this conclusion.
My conclusion, if correct, does not imply we shouldn't be paying attention to global climate change. It just means we should be paying more attention to these other threats. All three threats have many intersections with science and technology. But that's fodder for future posts...