Where the Wild Threats Are

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What are the real problems facing society? I’m not talking about the issues that take the most space on cable news channels, or in the remaining newsprint options available, or on internet boards. No, I’m talking about the issues that face humanity across the globe, issues that threaten our well-being and the health of the planet that we share as a species. This post is a discussion of what I consider to be the 7 most critical problems that we face, with a little explanation as to why they are so critical. They are posted in inverse order. That is, the least important is presented first, and the most important is last.


7. Celestial billiards. With increased sensitivity, we are now learning how many objects out there in space may have Earth’s name engraved on them. It seems that almost monthly we hear about an object of substantial size that will pass, or has passed within a few 10’s of thousands of miles of Earth. Efforts are being made to catalog all objects that may be an existential threat to life on Earth, and we will likely see an attempt made on some object in the future to alter its orbit, just to prove that the capability works before we need it. But space is huge, and we are small, but just large enough to serve as a target in the ongoing game of celestial billiards.


6. Infectious Diseases. This problem has two main causes. First is antibiotic resistance. Having been given the magic bullets of antibiotics in the 1940’s, we applied them everywhere. Go to the doctor for a viral cold? Ask the doctor for an antibiotic. Learn that antibiotics lead to faster meat animal growth? Apply low dosages of antibiotic to animal feeds, ensuring the maximum exposure to antibiotics in the environment. And now, 80 years later, resistance to antibiotics is emerging everywhere, and it is doubtful that new antibiotics can be developed at a fast enough rate to compensate for the loss of effectiveness of standard antibiotics. We may later look upon the brief period of antibiotic effectiveness as the golden age of human longevity. Add to this the possibility of viral diseases such as Ebola becoming global pandemics due to the increased interconnectedness of our society, and we face potential crises of infectious diseases in the future that are intractable.


5. The Rise of Willful Ignorance. This is different than denial of scientific truths, although many who are willfully ignorant also deny findings from science. This is a recent phenomenon, and it manifests itself by deriding subject matter experts as “elitists” who are out of touch with the human experience. Its adherents find solace in anecdotal evidence, and evidence shared second and third hand via the internet. It includes those who decry fake news while sharing the latest conspiracy-laced rumor without a shred of physical evidence. Why? Because those shadowy figures who control the mass media are trying to foist their elitist world view down the throats of the normal hard-working silent majority, and thus we cannot trust anything that they say. Those who follow this practice will ignore all real evidence against their beliefs, up to the point where their ignorance costs them their lives.


4. Sea level rise. Regardless of the source of the warming, it is abundantly clear that ice is melting, especially in the arctic, the surface ocean waters are also warming and expanding, and that will result in sea level rise. Since so much of humanity’s population is settled on or adjacent to the ocean shore, ongoing sea level rise will cause massive human displacements in the underdeveloped world, and will cause unimaginable damage to infrastructure in developed nations. The local communities on the front lines of the struggle are trying to deal with the issues, but unless and until we recognize that sea level rise is inexorable, and that we need to deal with it both on a national and trans-national level, then we will incur excessive costs due to our intransigence at denying that there is indeed a problem. And the refugees that are flooded out of their subsistence farms in Bangladesh and other countries will dwarf the number of refugees that came from the Syria conflict.


3. Tribalism and Denialism. These two items are strongly linked, since there is evidence that the political movements most identified with tribalism and nationalism and isolationism, are also the political movements most engaged in the denial of demonstrated scientific principles. Tribalism is troubling since it assumes that all of our problems are the result of “others” encroaching on our borders, or serving as a fifth column within our borders. It denies that there are problems that are trans-national in nature, that can only be addressed effectively by multi-lateral efforts. Thus any effort to reduce the growth of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is ridiculed, since all true tribal believers know that CO2 is a fertilizer for plants, and besides, 400 parts per million is too small to affect the thermodynamics of the atmosphere, and besides, whatever we do in our country will be overwhelmed by the developing countries increasing their emissions, and besides, who are we to think that we are as powerful as God. You can go through any series of logical sequences for any of the problems that are fostered by tribalism and denialism, but the bottom line is that a tribal world sees others as a threat, and focuses non-productive energy on preventing incursions from others, while excluding any problem that is truly global in nature from being worked on.


2. Human-induced extinctions. Ever since humanity learned how to craft weapons and hunt creatures larger than ourselves, we have served as agents of extinction. During the last two centuries, the pace of extinctions has grown exponentially, so that now the rate of extinction is estimated at 10 to 100 times the natural rate of species extinction. Whether it is through habitat elimination, or overfishing, or introduction of non-native species, or through unintended effects of herbicides and pesticides, all of these conditions are removing species from the Earth. We do not know what effects there will be by changing the composition of the web of life. But the fact that we appear to be such poor stewards of the Earth that we believe we are the only species that matters, is one for concern.


1. The number of people on Earth x the resource consumption per person. In higher math, it is often the cross-product that is the variable of interest. Here we have a cross-product that represents the amount of resources that we are extracting from the Earth at a given time. Both factors are increasing, and we are finding physical limits on what we can do to address this problem. This problem exacerbates other critical problems, such as anthropomorphic global warming, plastic pollution overwhelming the oceans, creation of dysfunctional mega-cities, and increasing the risk of the collapse of natural systems.


This represents my own list of concerns that can develop into existential crises for life on Earth. As such it is an extremely arbitrary list, and others should work to develop their own lists. Some of the things I excluded from the list include the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and its effect on employment. Also, I excluded scientific terrorism, like developing a super virus and unleashing it on the world. Even basic terrorism failed to make the list. Nuclear engagement is not on the list, although many of the problems I describe could have a nuclear engagement as a likely outcome if they are taken to extremes. Later posts may tackle some of these concerns and discuss potential solutions for them.


Posted first on my blog https://evenabrokenclock.blog


Dave Volek Added May 30, 2018 - 12:18pm
Nice piece.
I would recommend reading "11" by Paul Hanley. He links research from many places to prove that the earth can feed 11 billion people, and be more environmentally friendly.
The Tribalism is the most concerning to me. We can see this on WB with several contributors blaming Democrats, liberals, etc. for all the flaws of the world. And of course, the left tribe is doing the same. If trends continue, the USA will become a one-party state. But which party will become the dominant tribe? 
Leroy Added May 30, 2018 - 1:26pm
That's an interesting list, Clock.  Infectious disease would certainly be high on my list.  Frigid visitors from outer space aren't so high on my list.  If we knew the big one was coming, I might change my mind.  It would be worth everything we had to prevent it. We should try to plan for it, but, in reality, there is nothing we can do about it today, so I don't worry about it.  I don't worry about overpopulation in general, but I do worry about the next wave out of Africa.  It will be a game changer.  I'm not sure that Western democracy can survive it.
My most immediate concern today is debt.  Governments will have no choice but to continue to raise taxes and fees at an accelerated pace to pay for the ridiculous government pensions, all the while providing fewer and fewer services.  We will pay more to retirees than to active government workers.  Household debt is crushing the middle-class and will only get worse.
Tubularsock Added May 30, 2018 - 2:44pm
Clock, a most interesting venture into the absurd life plane we are actively caught in.
As Tubularsock and Alfred E. Newman have said, What, “Me Worry”?
Your seven concerns may even be real or illusionary and can we tell?
Life is a MENTAL construct so “your world” is the only world “you” see. And the world that you see is different from EACH AND EVERYONE else.
Which makes your worries, YOURS. As you stated, others may have their own list.
That being said, Tubularsock’s only concern is with the human race and the human race has got to be, “in truth”, an anomaly to the existence of a wise and orderly universe!
Keep up the thoughts, it is all there is ............. on this plane.
Dino Manalis Added May 30, 2018 - 4:30pm
  These threats are not imminent, but long-term problems.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 30, 2018 - 6:23pm
Dave, thanks for the heads-up. I'll take a look at 11. There is no question but that we can be more efficient at growing food, but there's a cost to do that especially when you are dealing with subsistence agriculture. There are huge cultural barriers that fight against becoming more efficient. Whatever techniques are used need to fit into the existing culture instead of causing a cultural revolution.
I especially like the concept of urban and vertical agriculture, taking advantage of some of the already-built large buildings in order to grow the vegetables needed for an urban population center.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 30, 2018 - 6:27pm
Thanks, Leroy. Figured I could do one post that was not politics based (though there are some near political topics in here). I agree that trying to deal with solar system traffic accidents is a low probability event, but one that could have global repercussions. And I think that developing a defensive capability against space rocks could be a good opportunity for trans-national cooperation. Maybe a good use of some of our excess nuclear weapons. Who knows?
Even A Broken Clock Added May 30, 2018 - 6:28pm
Tube, it is clear that you see very well. Yes, this piece is written solely from my perspective, and I encourage all who read to maybe even come up with their own list.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 30, 2018 - 6:30pm
Dino, some are longer in nature, but some are imminent. The whole issue of extinctions is one that humanity has brought about ever since we formed clans. Now we can see the cost when the last member of a species dies in a zoo, and despite gains in DNA research, cloning a wooly mammoth does not seem like a viable approach.
George N Romey Added May 30, 2018 - 7:10pm
Good list and I would add an increasingly selfish nature of human beings and technology being used to put many at economic and social risk.
Mustafa Kemal Added May 30, 2018 - 9:39pm
Even a Broken Clock,
Good list, but I think number one is
1)The Banksters
As General Smedley Butler says War is a Racket
Jeff Jackson Added May 30, 2018 - 10:06pm
Nice article Even. The next world war will involve space in ways we cannot imagine. So while we face extinction from rocks in space, we use that same territory to kill one another. China has already tested an anti-satellite weapon, without the consent of anyone. I wrote a paper on space-based asteroid defense, it was interesting. The antibiotic-resisting strains are already out there. Antibiotic-resistant syphlis is already here.
Ric Wells Added May 30, 2018 - 10:25pm
I would have to say the number one major threat to the human race is ourselves. By the way if you have a glass full of ice and water and the ice melts the level drops slightly because the ice has more volume. 
Morgoth Added May 30, 2018 - 11:00pm
Interesting.  Infectious diseases are the big one for me.  Global epidemics occur now and again and it seems we are overdue.  Last big one was what?  Spanish flu in 1918?
Well, there is also the remote chance there is a cosmic Death Star out there somewhere.
Jeffry Gilbert Added May 31, 2018 - 12:46am
The single biggest existential threat to the planet is embodied in Washington, DC. 
I get this article wasn't intended to be political but your list pales in comparison to warmongering terrorist regime - the Gang of 535 and their neo-liberal owners. 
Stone-Eater Added May 31, 2018 - 4:34am
I agree with Ric...and Jeffry. We are the biggest threat to ourselves. Maybe religion should be on the list too.
Kurt Bresler Added May 31, 2018 - 6:20am
target="_blank">an·thro·po·gen·ic  might be the better term
1. caused by humans: relating to or resulting from the influence that humans have on the natural world
 Also this might be of interest to some:
Rev 8:
...a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.
8 The second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire (Volcano) was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood,
9 and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed.
10 The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, (meteor shower) and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters.
11 The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.
Don Allen Added May 31, 2018 - 7:00am
Willful ignorance is there.  Happy are its practioners.  Putting aside the networks and their various agendas, we see it in our community.
Example: The hardware store. Once upon a  time, the hardware store staff really knew their business, location, item use, pros and cons, etc. Now you are confronted with staff that sometimes know the aisle where your item might be located.  But really could care less.  "Employment confers entitlement."
Example: Math.  How often have you seen someone, maybe on TV, simply laughing at how they don't know math?   Laughing makes it ok?  No, ignorance makes it ok!  You would be appalled at how thin is the mathematical knowledge of our teachers.  BTW, no one laughs at their ignorance of what a verb is.
Example: The desiccate, a small (chemical) packet that comes with some products that need reduced humidity for storage. In the olden days, everyone knew what it was and never ever to eat it.  Now that little packet instructs us "Do not eat." Thus, the convolution of lawyers and ignorance, the one earning a living from the stupidity of the other.
Jeffry Gilbert Added May 31, 2018 - 7:07am
ignorance makes it ok!
Apparently so.
Don Allen Added May 31, 2018 - 7:15am
Check your words for a moment, s'il vous plait, and the chemical in the packet as compared with the packet and the function.  My-o-my.  
Jeffry Gilbert Added May 31, 2018 - 7:22am
Check your words for a moment
A desiccant is a hygroscopic substance that induces or sustains a state of dryness in its vicinity; it is the opposite of a humectant. Commonly encountered pre-packaged desiccants are solids that absorb water. Desiccants for specialized purposes may be in forms other than solid, and may work through other principles, such as chemical bonding of water molecules. They are commonly encountered in foods to retain crispness.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 31, 2018 - 10:14am
It looks like the purpose of this post is being fulfilled. Each of us has a list of concerns, and even as much as I dislike this world of relative truth, in this case the concerns of each of us is real, since we are the ones who have the concern. This post may work to make readers think about what is on their own list.
Bankers, debt, a government run amuck, all of these are certainly valid concerns. I will say, however, that the spelling of desiccant is probably not on most peoples lists of severe concerns. LOL
Bill Kamps Added May 31, 2018 - 11:33am
Clock, I would agree these are a reasonable list of things to be concerned about.  It is tough to know how  they will ultimately be sorted out.
There are some big dormant volcanoes out there like Yellowstone, which should they act up again would be more than a minor inconvenience for humans. 
Whether it is an asteroid, climate change, large volcanoes, or rising sea levels, we have been relatively free of these kinds of events during modern human history.  The Earth however, has experienced large events which if they happened today, would be quite disrupting to our way of life.
Add to those, the ones humans create ourselves, and yes the world can be a dangerous place.  So far, we have managed to avoid extinction, but it is not a certainty. 
Don Allen Added May 31, 2018 - 12:23pm
To Clock: You are correct.  Your nicely written article should not be muddied up by word definitions. Apologies.
Frosty Wooldridge Added May 31, 2018 - 2:47pm
It's all being driven by human overpopulation.  In fact, every single environmental crisis facing humanity today stems from overpopulation. We now accelerate into the "Sixth Extinction Session" ; Catastrophic Climate Destabilization ;  Air pollution worldwide, acidified oceans, plastic trash devouring our oceans, acid rain, energy crisis, water shortages and the list grows--all because of overpopulation.  We need an national-international discussion on mandatory 1 child per woman from here on out until we get ourselves back under  1 billion humans on this planet. Otherwise, Mother Nature will do it for us with no mercy.
James Travil Added May 31, 2018 - 9:30pm
I would say that the two things that most concern me are Catastrophic Climate Destabilization and Nuclear War. Unnecessary new cold war tensions between the United States and Russia could obviously lead to the latter, but so could tension with North Korea and between India and Pakistan (which no one thinks about but they are bitter enemies). 
Jeff Michka Added May 31, 2018 - 9:35pm
Wow, and I find myself agreeing with Bill Kamps.  There are a lot of pending disasters out there.  Yellowstone volcano?  Possible, but I live in a region that can easily be devastated by several large volcanos, and Capt Gilbert would be delighted if that happened.  pushing that aside, this same region could be totaled by a mega-quake we're over due for, so it can get worse.  However, Kim Jung Un's missiles might also reach here, soooooo....LOL Gotta laugh!  If a quake or volcano don't get us, bikini barristas, immigrants and Victoria BC's raw sewage will, right?
Ward Tipton Added May 31, 2018 - 11:20pm
Banksters and gubmints will be the death of us all ... if nothing else, just so that they can divvy up the estate tax and enjoy even more of the fruits of our labors. 
Flying Junior Added Jun 1, 2018 - 4:27am
Don't you have an ACE Hardware?  Every time I go to ACE, I wonder just how they figured out exactly what I needed.
Actually, employees of the Home Depot and Lowe's are quite knowledgeable as well where I live.  They offer classes.  Dixieline Lumber.  These are holy places that furnish people with the tools and resources they need.
Just about every retail employee in any commodity knows their product backwards and forwards.  Hardware stores are among the constellations of enlightened employees.
Kids and working adults have to know their business to compete.  They also need an ability to make people feel comfortable.  They need to know how to help people.  It's us lucky bastards with the money to spend that are reaping the benefits of their training and expertise.
Even A Broken Clock Added Jun 1, 2018 - 10:00am
Bill, it is quite clear that we as a species have been very adaptable, considering how we emerged and spread across the globe after the last ice age. What more severe change can you get than going from mile-high layers of ice over much of Canada and the northern hemisphere, to talk about the complete melting of the Greenland ice cap.
What we definitely need to take into account is the amount of infrastructure / people that would be affected should sea rise continue. That is something we can work on.
Even A Broken Clock Added Jun 1, 2018 - 10:03am
Frosty, I agree that overpopulation is the most severe threat, thus I had it at #1 myself. I think the ultimate carrying capacity of the earth is larger than 1 billion humans, but part of that depends upon what standard of living they will have. Forcing reproductive levels won't go well - see China and how they adapted to a generation without cousins. But as you say, Mother Nature will not show mercy if we keep going as is.
Steve Bull Added Jun 1, 2018 - 10:05am
Great compilation. 
My own bias puts energy at the forefront of concerns. Everything derives from energy. It 'powers' the planet, our bodies, and the technologies we leverage to keep pushing the planet's natural carrying capacity well past what would be considered 'sustainable'. 
Since pre/history seems to suggest diminishing returns sets up virtually every complex society that has existed to the present for eventual 'collapse', the evidence that we have reached that point for our current energy systems has me on edge. Yes, there are other threats that may come to pass but for the most part they seem to depend upon us being able to maintain our complex systems; systems that require increasing amounts of cheap and easily-transportable energy--something we appear to be encountering increasing difficulty with. 
Even A Broken Clock Added Jun 1, 2018 - 10:07am
James - we may be near a climate tipping point. Once the methane clathrates start to bubble up uncontrollably from the continental shelves and from the permafrost, we could see a very significant change occurring within a decade.
As for nuclear holocaust, I still hope for rationality to reign. Current political leadership across the world tends to lessen that hope. Your mention of India v Pakistan is very appropriate to keep in mind. Should there ever be another nuclear exchange, I would hope that the scope of the devastation and contamination would be enough to force humanity to foreswear the use of nuclear weapons again for at least 75 years.
Even A Broken Clock Added Jun 1, 2018 - 10:08am
Jeff - I think bikini barristas are quite underrated as threats to humanity. LOL.
Even A Broken Clock Added Jun 1, 2018 - 10:09am
Ward - you may be right. Not all government representatives are as good-hearted as the game wardens you refer to in your posts.
Even A Broken Clock Added Jun 1, 2018 - 10:12am
FJ - we have an old-fashioned ACE store with the kind of knowledge and inventory of so many esoteric and obsolete things, it is amazing. Yet I find I spend much more of my money at the big box stores, since it is so easy to get especially the garden stuff there as compared to the local hardware store. In fact, I need to go out to the local Lowes right now to pick up the remaining flowers and garden hose I need. See you later.
Ari Silverstein Added Jun 2, 2018 - 5:46am
Your #1 concern isn’t a concern any longer.  Thanks to economic growth (it's the impoverished of the world that have the most amount of children) and advancements in both cost and effectiveness of birth control, people are having far less children than they used to have.  If it wasn’t for immigration, most of the developed world would be experiencing population decline.  So the denominator (people) is leveling off rather quickly. 
As for the numerator (resources), thanks to technological breakthroughs such as GMOs and hydraulic fracking, we keep finding ways to extract more resources from the same amount of land.  I mean we can now grow corn that use half the amount of water as corn grown in the past. I don’t know about others, but if my number one threat to humanity became mute I would rejoice. 
Steve Bull Added Jun 2, 2018 - 8:41am
Ari Silverstein Your point is one often used by many who tend to believe that some smooth transition to a 'natural' and/or sustainable population level is just ahead. One of the problems I see in this assumption is that populations rarely, if ever, make such smooth transitions; they are more often than not reflective of the 'overshoot and collapse' scenario seen in almost all populations that tend to rely on significant (but finite) resources. In addition, the path you suggest also assumes that as expanding populations in the 'emerging' economies become 'advanced', they level off or decline in numbers. While this may be true for 'advanced' economies over the past couple of centuries, a huge, and problematic, assumption here is that there exists not only the resources but capital to pull the billions of people in such emerging economies into the 'advanced' state where their procreation will be subdued. Considering the fact that 'advanced' economies tend to use the vast majority of resources (and seem to have pushed us well beyond natural limits here) and that these economies are leveraged well beyond anything that seems remotely sustainable (consider the global debt levels that are many, many times beyond current GDP). The 'smooth' transition that many are believing is just ahead is very likely a pipe dream that will never occur...
Steve Bull Added Jun 2, 2018 - 10:43am
Slight correction to above statement: "...there does not exist the resources or the capital..."
opher goodwin Added Jun 2, 2018 - 10:55am
Nice. You have highlighted many of the horrors that I address. Overpopulation is top of my list too. I am sure that we can manage with 11 billion and be environmentally friendly - but we aren't managing it with less than 8 billion. All of the pollution and environmental destruction can be laid at the door of overpopulation. We are presently trashing the planet. I reckon we will end up destroying ourselves. Roll on the virus!!
wsucram15 Added Jun 2, 2018 - 10:55am
I liked this sad but truthful article EABC.  I agree with apparently Ric, Jeffry and SEF on the humans are their own largest threat thing. Doesnt matter what area of ignorance you choose either..its all the same.
Bill H. Added Jun 2, 2018 - 11:32am
Great article EABC-
You pretty much nailed it all, and yes, add what our technology will do when it backfires.
As you can see by the responses, there are those who are actually aware and concerned for the health of the planet, and there are those who are simply here to live out their existence with no concern for anything but themselves.
I believe the latter attitude is reflected by statements such as:
"thanks to technological breakthroughs such as GMOs and hydraulic fracking, we keep finding ways to extract more resources from the same amount of land"
If we are to continue to exist and become the stewards of our planet as we were meant to be, sacrifices, logic, and common sense would need to come into play. Simply living for tomorrow is naïve.
Back in 1968, the Zero Population Growth movement was formed. Then along came religious movements that have done their best to crush the effort.
If we continue to allow our greed, ignorance, and the results of our technology to control our reasoning, then we deserve our demise.
James Travil Added Jun 2, 2018 - 9:20pm
" Your mention of India v Pakistan is very appropriate to keep in mind. Should there ever be another nuclear exchange, I would hope that the scope of the devastation and contamination would be enough to force humanity to foreswear the use of nuclear weapons again for at least 75 years."
The biggest threat of even a limited nuclear war between powers such as India and Pakistan is not so much the devastation and contamination but rather nuclear winter. The few predictions about it I have seen are quite dire and include global mass starvation and the collapse of civilization. 
Katharine Otto Added Jun 2, 2018 - 9:44pm
Reading your list and others' comments makes me aware that we are living in a very small slice of time.  While we think we remember history, we only have a sporadic and contested idea of what different places and times were like.  Seems like many people can't even remember last week, and they disagree about that.
With so many people worrying about things we can't control, or even influence very much, I wonder who benefits?  I do my part to step lightly on the planet, but I think it's important to remember that we do still have the now.  Most of the catastrophes you and others worry about probably won't happen in our lifetimes.  Worry only intensifies the problems and makes them seem worse than they are.  
I'm only saying this because one of the biggest problems I see is the paranoia that has consumed the planet.  People are easily manipulated by fear and insecurity.  It is highly profitable for the war mongers, evangelists, Madison Avenue, politicians, and all the control freaks of every persuasion.  
Neil Lock Added Jun 3, 2018 - 7:30am
Broken Clock: Thank you for your extremely thought provoking list of “current critical problems.” I apologize for the slow (and long) reply.
I’ll start with the easy one, your number 7, celestial billiards. Yes, it’s a real problem; worth some research, and maybe investment in technologies that could deflect an incomer if it were to happen. But I don’t lose sleep about it. Wake me up when Opher’s latest novel on this subject sells its millionth copy.
Next, your number 4, sea level rise. The key question here is, how much sea level rise? Global sea level has been rising for 12,000 years or so (since the last ice age), slowing as it goes. And there are places, notably Bangladesh, where local conditions make flooding likely; and the problem they have is, that the areas that flood are more fertile than the areas that don’t. So, where do people choose to farm?
On the other hand, 40 years ago I was living in Holland, more than 8 metres below sea level. The Dutch have – rightly – invested in flood control in the last 50+ years; and as far as I know, it works. And it can work anywhere else, given a rational calculation of the risk, followed by the necessary investment.
Now, there are those – and some of them call themselves “scientists” – that try to make out that sea level rise is accelerating today. From what I know, I think that’s a ruse, or even a lie. More than a few millimetres of sea level rise per year isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future. And so, neither I nor you should worry too much about it.
Your number 6, infectious diseases, is one I confess I haven’t studied much. More, and more rapid, travel does indeed raise the chances of spread. So, like celestial billiards, this is one I consider worth clarifying and sizing up. But again, I don’t lose sleep about it.
To your number 1, the cross product of population and resource use. But hasn’t the rate of increase of human population slowed hugely in the last 35 years or so? It’s now below replacement level in much of the world – isn’t it? And hasn’t our per-person use of resources gone down over the last 50 years, rather than up? Moreover, from what I know, the plastic pollution scare is grossly overblown. It’s a third world problem, not a Western one. But it’s a convenient opportunity for politicians to virtue signal, no?
On to your number 5, what you call “willful ignorance.” Here, a difference in our philosophies manifests itself. What you seem to think of as a shutting of the mind to information from outside, I see as a growing mistrust of those that claim “authority.” And that includes politicians and the mainstream media, of all political persuasions. What you interpret as “I don’t want to know about it,” I think of as “I don’t believe anything they say, unless it tallies with my own knowledge and experience.” So, for me the rise of this kind of skepticism is a good thing, not a bad one.
That leads to my biggest area of difference with you; on what you call “denialism.” To distinguish between justified skepticism and “denialism” on an issue demands examination of the objective facts, does it not? But unfortunately, in today’s corrupt system we can’t depend on what are put forward as facts or “science” being honest and without political bias. Indeed, it’s usually the political activists, pushing the Party Line, that neglect or misrepresent the facts, rather than those they label “deniers.”
On your number 2, human-induced extinctions of species, I find a lack of hard evidence. Even to say exactly what a “species” is, and how many of them there are on the planet, is problematical. When someone can come up with hard, detailed evidence that I, as an individual, have contributed by my specific actions to the extinction of a well defined species, then I’ll take notice. Until then, I won’t worry about it.
But this issue leads to a very important question, “What are we here for?” To freeze the planet in the state it was in at some particular epoch, and to live as if we were ghosts, leaving no legacy and nothing of substance behind? Or to make our planet into a home and garden fit for a civilized species? My answer is the second – and if the weeds and the dangerous viruses (not to mention the greenies) don’t like it, that’s tough.
Lastly, your number 3. You are spot on with your criticisms of tribalism. And there are many forms of tribalism; racial, ethnic, ideological, nationalist, cultural and religious, to name but six. Indeed, all politics is tribal, and identity politics most of all. It’s politics that is the problem.
So, what would my own list of the bogeymen of our times be? Well, top of it has t
Neil Lock Added Jun 3, 2018 - 7:30am
So, what would my own list of the bogeymen of our times be? Well, top of it has to be politics, and the tribalism it inspires. The current political system – world, regional, national, local – is obsolete and a failure. Wars, debts, taxes, financial crises, bad laws, overpricing and unreliability of energy supplies, media lies and propaganda, paranoia and dissatisfaction, all arise from this. The state is out of date – as are the supranational governmental organizations like the EU and UN. We need a new system of governance, that allows people maximum freedom to associate with whom they want, holds all individuals responsible for the effects of their actions on others, delivers objective justice, and doesn’t allow anyone to impose their culture, religion or political ideology on those who don’t want them.
As to other issues not directly related to politics, my number 2 is greedy gamblers causing a collapse of the worldwide financial system, from which only the very rich would be able to recover. Beyond this, infectious diseases, potential unwanted side-effects of “gardening” our planet, and celestial billiards are probably my 3, 4 and 5.
Even A Broken Clock Added Jun 3, 2018 - 11:19am
Ari - while you are correct in that technology has to this point come up with solutions that have forestalled a catastrophic reckoning, some of the issues I point out are tending to work against technological solutions. In particular, the problems called "Willful Ignorance" and "Denialism" show that more and more people are refusing to accept scientific evidence, thus they refuse technological solutions. Therefore, even though science may have the answer to grow enough food, or gather enough energy, the political will to implement the "correct" solution may not exist.
One comment on GMO's. I worked for a company whose products were overwhelmed by the acceptance by farmers of Round-Up ready soybeans, wheat, corn, etc. Eventually we purchased the rights to this genetic trait, and sold GMO's and herbicides as well. 20 years later, and the wonders of evolution have shown up, and resistance is evident in many weeds. So now the agricultural companies are creating 2nd generation GMO's which are resistant to 2 herbicides. In order to take advantage of them, you run a mix of glyphosate and dicamba, or glyphosate and 2,4-D. Instead of fewer chemicals needed, we are heading the opposite direction, and requiring more. If farmers had heeded the advice to change chemical treatments every few years, it would have reduced the development of resistance. But it was so easy to use Round-Up, and now see what's happened. A recent issue of Science has a whole section on resistance (antibiotic, herbicide, etc. ) that I'm working through. I may have a piece about this in the future.
George N Romey Added Jun 3, 2018 - 11:43am
Having the technology to solve big problems and implementing such technology are different issues. Most of our problems are solvable but unfortunately our stupidity, greed and narrow thinking are not.
Even A Broken Clock Added Jun 3, 2018 - 12:38pm
Steve - your points are why I identified the product of population growth times the resources required per person as the critical variable and ranked it as my #1 concern. We've certainly seen the growth in resource consumption as China has evolved their economy. India is straining trying to do the same, and they are much further down the curve in that they still have a huge rural population whose lives have changed little since the days of the British occupation. Add in the burgeoning population of Africa, and the demand on resources just keeps growing. Thanks for your post.
Even A Broken Clock Added Jun 3, 2018 - 12:40pm
Opher and Jeanne - I am old enough to remember seeing the Pogo comic coining the phrase "We have met the enemy, and he is us". Sadly, though we in the US have made progress in the environmental areas, the resurgence of the regulation-hating current administration is showing just how fragile the progress has been. If we are goring someone's ox, they will take revenge.
Even A Broken Clock Added Jun 3, 2018 - 12:44pm
Bill - can't add anything to what you said. Thanks.
James - an isolated nuclear exchange (even if fusion bombs are used), would not bring on nuclear winter. That was based upon a large-scale exchange among nuclear-armed nations, with hundreds of weapons detonated in a short period of time. The fires lit from the remains of the cities would be enough to encircle the globe in a cloud of radioactive dust that would cause the climate to freeze for several years. But the exchange of a very few weapons would not cause a global impact like that. Small consolation though.
Even A Broken Clock Added Jun 3, 2018 - 12:47pm
Katharine - your point on the paranoia is why I rank the tribalism / denialism so high on the list. People for the most part do not think - they react. And they are manipulated by the images they see and the sounds they hear, apparently not being able to differentiate fake facts from reality.
This is one reason why I value this forum. As this exchange has shown, we don't all agree, but we all are thoughtful enough to interact in a way that shows we have thought about the issue.
Even A Broken Clock Added Jun 3, 2018 - 12:54pm
Neil - thanks for your comments. As you note, we disagree on the importance of several of my points and that's perfectly fine. The one thing that I will note about the aspects of denialism being the flip side of justified skepticism, I have a much higher degree of confidence in the progress of science. I do not have a graduate degree, but have always been a science junky, and have subscribed to Science magazine for nearly 40 years. I have seen how the field of science is a self-correcting mechanism, and if something is printed that is later found to be wrong, it is retracted and those who published the incorrect information are censured as appropriate.
Unfortunately, often in the popular media, the nuance of this sort of thing does not get publicized, and thus you do see people using the current findings of science to push their agendas far beyond what is justified. On that point I agree with you.
Thanks for taking the time to respond as you did.
Neil Lock Added Jun 4, 2018 - 4:09am
Broken Clock: Thank you. I agree that, when science is done properly and honestly, it is a very effective way to acquire knowledge. I even went so far as to write a few months ago an article on this very forum, "On Science and Nonscience," about my (generalist) view of science.
The problem I see is that, when science becomes politicized, it ceases to be honest, and thereby ceases to be science. Those who have only a limited understanding in an area, however, are likely to miss this, and to believe the politicized "science" ahead of those who are questioning it. This is the point I was trying to make in my earlier comment about "denialism."
BTW, I realized I had missed one off my list of bogeymen; collapse of the electric power grid. It should be in there at number 3.
Even A Broken Clock Added Jun 6, 2018 - 10:52am
Grid collapse is indeed pretty high, and we are much more vulnerable to it than to some of the other items I have. I might reconsider it's place. It definitely would have made a top 10 but I was trying to limit the words in the post.
Steve Bull Added Jun 6, 2018 - 1:27pm
If you have concern about grid collapse (which is what my novel series is centred around) you should read Richard Duncan's work around his thesis: the Olduvai Theory. Here are some links to his work:
MEFOBILLS Added Jun 23, 2018 - 8:35pm
Robert David Steele,
The 10 major threats:
10 major threats
(Note that Trumps national security adviser is not even aware of these.)
Below are “snapshots” of the ten high-level threats from my perspective, not from the reference source, which should be consulted directly. In every instance, corruption and fraud (with attendant enabling secrecy and deception of the public) play a major role in nurturing any given threat. Everything here is either fact or common sense, yet none of this is being discussed by any of the world leaders, who would prefer to talk about carbon trades, a form of phantom wealth that is merely a scam at the highest levels, not something actually intended to help the five billion poor.
01. Poverty is pandemic. 5 billion people live in poverty globally (one billion extreme). It’s increasing in the USA. Americans cannot buy or give our way out of poverty, we must empower the poor to create infinite wealth by connecting them to one another and to information.
02. Infectious Disease without borders kills leaders and wealthy, prevention critical, low-cost medicine works. The U.S. pays $600 a unit for something that sells for $6 overseas.
03. Environmental Degradation is poisoning air, water, and land while also accelerating. Changes that took 10,000 years now take 3 years. It is not just Global Warming — fresh water is vanishing, earth is toxifying. When an aquifer (dropping a meter a year) takes in salt water it is lost forever.
04. Inter-State Conflict is made possible by UN Security Council members who sell the guns instead of banning exports. We should create regional peace networks, use planned giving to negotiate peace terms, and invest in peace which is one-third the cost of war.
05. Civil War is a manifestation of corruption. America supports 42 of 44 dictators looting their respective commonwealths, a story must ably documented by Ambassador Mark Palmer in target="_hplink" rel="nofollow">Breaking the Real Axis of Evil-How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025(Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).
06. Genocide coincides with resource scarcity and lifetimes of shared hatreds. It can be anticipated and prevented. Israel must adapt, instead of arming Arabs and Israel the USA should invest in a fifty-year education & prosperity regime that raises an entire new generation in peace.
07. Other Atrocities include child and adult slavery and prostitution, “by name” kidnapping of movie starlets and girls that catch a wealthy foreign predator’s eye, and murder for body parts.
08. Proliferation, defined as Nuclear, Radiological, Biological, & Chemical (NRBC), should also include cluster bombs and small arms while continuing the campaign to not only eliminate landmines, but clear all existing landmines that continue to maim indigenous populations. UN Security Council members are the proliferators!
09. Terrorism is a tactic, not a threat, but included by the Panel to recognize the potential for catastrophic consequences, e.g. radiological poisoning of an entire city. Law enforcement can and should resolve this providing that USA and others wage peace instead of war.
10. Transnational Crime is seriously under-estimated. It is at least $2 trillion a year. It includes the Mafia, the Vatican, Wall Street, and elements of the US Government entwined. Drug cash is Wall Street’s liquidity.
The High-Level Panel report makes the following general comments:
A threat to one is a threat to all. Globalization, complexity, our relatively unsophisticated mechanisms for sharing information and making sense out of changes that we barely perceive, much less understand, all assure that any major threat — and especially non-state threats such as infectious disease — will cross borders with impunity.
I don't normally cut and past to such an extent, but his list is excellent:

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