Fatal catastrophes have always been hitting mankind, but their effect so far had only been local due to relative isolation. Wars, contagious diseases and societal decadence destroyed whole cities and countries, but never threatened our whole civilization… until now. Globalization leads to shrinking distances1 and interconnection that are beneficial for global trade that plays major role in our recent economic wellbeing2. The flipside of globalization and shrinking distances means that catastrophes that used to be local will now be global3.
There have always been wars and there will always be4 – the difference is that advances in technology lead to more powerful weapons with global scale of destruction. Numerous villages and cities had been completely razed with primitive weapons of the past. Current advances in nuclear, chemical and biological weapons greatly increase the impacted territory. If not now, then thanks to further scientific advancements in very near future we will have weapons powerful enough to wipe out whole continents and the whole planet. A sane person would not use them, but there have always been crazy mass killers and terrorists and it is only a question of time when some of them gets hold of such weapons and pulls the trigger5. Einstein said: “I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth — rocks!”6
Throughout the history there had been outbreaks of illnesses that decimated cities7. But the affected territory kept increasing together with people increasingly moving between regions. In the 14th century, black plague came from Asia along the Silk Road to wipe out half of Europe8, but other continents were still quite isolated and therefore not affected. Now with planes continuously connecting the whole world, a deadly illness could infect the whole world population within a couple of days from outbreak.
If it (i) spreads easily, (ii) has long incubation period while being infectious, (iii) cannot be cured and (iv) is fatal, all at the same time, then we are doomed9. So far illnesses that emerged in recent history of interconnected world never met all of these criteria10). With ongoing mutations, it is just a question of time when illness that meets all four criteria breaks out to wipe out most or all of us.
Globally interconnected economy and global production of vital goods also leads to global vulnerability. Bad debt in a few countries started global financial crisis in 2008 where almost the whole world suffered. If a more severe crisis emerges that destroys some major economy, a ripple effect can destroy the economies of other connected countries leading to major global civil disorders, shortages of food, famine etc.
- Thousand years ago, traveling from Europe to China took several month, two hundred years ago it took several weeks, hundred years ago it took several days and today it takes several hours. ↩
- People in the north have fresh fruits all year long imported from the south, developing countries benefit from technologies researched in developed countries, developed countries benefit from cheap labor in developing countries etc. ↩
- First signs of that started with World War 1 and 2, continued with global epidemics (e.g., HIV) and global financial crises. ↩
- Aggressiveness, greed, the need for power, cruelty, retaliation, envy, conflicting beliefs are all among the reasons for past wars and are deep embedded in the human nature, but also nature as a whole. Look at almost any species of animals from spiders to lions and you will find that at some time or other they fight animals of the same species with all their might. Wishing we can all forever live in peace is nice, but believing it is a naive utopia. ↩
- Already during the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy estimated the odds of nuclear war as being “somewhere between one out of three and even.” ↩
- http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/World_War_III ↩
- http://www.neatorama.com/2009/04/27/5-deadliest-pandemics-in-history/ ↩
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death ↩
- If it (i) spreads easily for example via air, or touch, such as flu, people get easily infected, not like AIDS that is only transmitted via body liquids making it difficult to spread. Unlike flu, it needs to have (ii) long incubation period such as AIDS/HIV so that it goes unnoticed for long time to prevent isolation of infected people. With advancements in science we have found vaccinations or treatment for many diseases, but by far not all and (iii) we might not have enough time to find cure for a new disease. ↩
- For example AIDS meets (ii), (iii) and (iv), but not (i ↩