The year 2020 has undeniably been a watershed before-and-after year for most of humanity, but if the attacks of 9/11 taught us anything, it’s that life does eventually move on, albeit in a less free and stable way.
It is highly probable that, while COVID-19 has consumed much of our attention this year, it will fade to a mere blip on our life chronologies compared to the traumas we will face in the decades to come.
Here are just five of the imminent threats we will likely endure in the next thirty years.
1. Nuclear attack
While the odds of a nuclear war between any of the major powers are very low, there are enough rogue states and fundamentalist actors out there to make Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like a pair of Roman candles.
Experts expect a nuclear event in a major global city at some point in our lifetime, and the real surprise is that it hasn’t happened already. While some nations are far more prepared than others most of the world’s major cities will simply cease to exist if a bomb goes off.
The knock-on effects of a nuclear event will be wide-ranging: expect the suspension of civil liberties, declarations of war, economic chaos, and catastrophic environmental effects including global cooling, ozone depletion, and mass starvation.
2. Ecological collapse
If we were to divide the total amount of arable land by the global population, each person would get just 2000m² — about half an acre. Everything we need — food, clothing, animal feed, space for renewable energy and biofuels, and trees for oxygen production, air purification, soil retention, and wildlife habitat — must be derived from that tiny amount of space.
At the same time, the planet is getting hotter, freshwater reserves are decreasing, soil quality is eroding, the oceans are filling with plastic, and our groundwater is being contaminated by pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.
If we chart our current trajectory, we can forecast that our soil, air, and water quality will continue to degrade, and as the population grows by another 2.3+ billion in the next 30 years, the strain on our food systems will see us colonize much of what remains of wild nature, continuing mass deforestation and pushing the ocean’s fishing stocks to the brink of extinction.
Currently, 688 million people go to bed hungry each night. How many more will be hungry in thirty years when we’ve added 2.3 billion more people on ever-decreasing resources?
3. 50% joblessness
Automation is forecast to eliminate 40% of jobs in the next 10–15 years, and by the mid-point of the century, we can expect half the global population to be cemented in a Permanent Depression.
We may also expect the next 45+% — the former middle class — to continue to struggle greatly. Job competition will be stronger than ever, people will own few if any assets, inflation with continue to silently skyrocket the cost of living and make real estate impossible for the commoner to own, and taxation will soar to meet the needs of a poor and aging population.
At the same time, the corporatocracy will complete their capture of the democratic legislatures, move completely offshore while simultaneously enjoying the benefits of corporate socialism. This will put an even greater tax burden on what few laborers remain employed.
4. Panopticon surveillance
If we do remember anything about 2020 (aside from those of us who lost someone during this time), it will be that governments used the crisis as a way to covertly expand their abilities to surveil the citizens they purport to serve.
Health crises provide an excellent opportunity not only to increase general street-level and device-level espionage, but also to expand in-home and under-the-skin tracking of the populace.
While the trade-off in safety may seem fair in the short-term, it will have disastrous effects on liberty in the long-run, especially when paired with the renewed push towards a cashless economy.
5. More pandemics
Unless we seriously re-think our commercial trade networks and our bee-like need to flit around the globe — which we most certainly will not — it’s mathematically impossible that we will not see more pandemics (or, at least, regional epidemics), as antibiotic resistance grows and virulent strains begin to mutate rapidly in the overheated and overpopulated petri dish called Earth.
What can we do?
It is unhelpful and unrealistic to think that our current crop of politicians, corporatists, or technologists can or will save us from the challenges ahead. They will only do so to the extent that it amasses more personal wealth and power, and no further.
While there is certainly far more cause for despair than naive positivity, our best position is that of an unflinching hopeful realist.
1. The nuclear front
According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, “there are more than 1,800 metric tons of weapons-usable nuclear materials-highly enriched uranium and plutonium — stored in hundreds of sites across 25 countries, some of them poorly secured. To build a bomb, terrorists won’t necessarily look to the biggest stockpiles; they’ll go where nuclear materials are the most vulnerable.”
Therefore, while it seems counterintuitive, global nuclear security is the purview of the major nuclear powers — America, Russia, and China.
Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea are all armed, and are the most likely nations to press the red button if threatened with annihilation.
Accordingly, it’s up to the Big Three to keep the peace between them, while securing all global stockpiles against terrorism, and ensuring nuclear weapons proliferate no further. Our only options are cooperation or catastrophe.
2. The environment front
We will never solve the environmental crisis until we address the global economic system, which in turn we simply cannot re-engineer until we see meaningful democratic reform.
While technologists are making rapid and necessary strides in AgTech innovation — hydroponics, vertical farming, etc — these new technologies actually create greater incentives for corporatists not to heal the planet, but simply move all food production into skyscraper factories and let the natural world burn.
3. The economic front
The Occupy movement was quickly quelled because, at the end of the day, people need to work to make money to survive, and the state’s policing and military forces were simply too strong.
We can expect militaries to continue to strengthen as they have for several generations, and we will continue to see the populace become more reliant on capital as their purchasing power continues to erode as it has since the early 1970s.
This one-two punch will make future protests economically unfeasible, politically futile, and highly dangerous.
What we need is a global-yet-localized Marshall Plan to ensure a rapid transition to a circular bioeconomy — where biology, not bank-captured politicians, dictates the limits of a sustainable economic system.
But whether we get it or not is entirely out of our hands. It appears that we have reached escape velocity, and that only the economic elites can turn the ship around. It does seem, however, that most are preparing to bunker down and wait out the collapse before re-building personalized Shangri-Las.
4. The power front
As the Internet of Things invade our homes, as biomedicine goes under our skin, as e-currency tracks our every penny, and screen tech continues to machine-understand us better than we know ourselves, the right to privacy and the right to not be surveilled must be amended into constitutions around the world, and enforced vigorously.
The de-weaponization of data is a non-negotiable if we are to enjoy any meaningful measure of autonomy and liberty in the Digital Age.
Unfortunately, we have yet to see political movements arise to meet these challenges in any house of legislature.
5. The health front
In hindsight, we may look back on Covid-19 and chuckle fondly at our unsophisticated response.
Much will be learned in the aftermath of 2020, as we do a postmortem on which countries were ravaged (USA, UK, etc) and which countries (such as New Zealand and South Korea) made it through almost entirely unscathed.
We may yet look back on Covid-19 in a more positive light, seeing it as an opportunity to grow in anti-fragility, while firing a warning shot to prepare for the far greater challenges ahead.
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