The Real Threats We Face.

Our planet is facing a growing number of crises – any one of which could lead to a calamity that could end life as we know it.

Let’s begin with the threat of climate change. We’ve known about the impact of burning fossil fuels for many years. But our Republican politicians continue to allow the coal and oil industries to obstruct most attempts to switch to sustainable forms of energy. As a consequence, greenhouse gases continue to pollute our atmosphere and the planet continues to warm resulting in more severe storms and large scale droughts that are turning tillable land into desert. Already, this has caused the displacement of millions of economic refugees who are finding themselves increasingly unwelcome in other countries. Yet president-elect Trump has dismissed climate change as a Chinese-created hoax.

To make matters worse, climate change has led to the unprecedented melting of glaciers and sea ice. In fact, Arctic sea ice is now declining at the rate 13.3 percent per decade. The Antarctic ice sheet is melting at an alarming rate. And the melting of the Greenland ice sheet doubled between 1996 and 2005, receding more than 12 miles in just the past decade. That may not seem particularly catastrophic until you consider that just one of Greenland’s glaciers contains enough water to raise global sea levels by 18 inches. And, if the entire Greenland ice sheet, which covers more than 656,000 square miles, melts, it could raise sea levels by as much as 20 feet!

If our governments don’t act quickly and aggressively to slow and reverse the melt, many of the world’s largest cities will be under water within a few decades, displacing hundreds of millions more people.

In addition, our oceans are warming. This not only changes ocean currents, it’s placing stress on the coral reefs, which are home to the fish that sustain hundreds of millions of people. Already, 80 percent of the Caribbean’s coral reefs are dead. Large portions of the Great Barrier Reef are dying. And the reefs in the so-called Coral Triangle, which feed more than 380 million people, are stressed and over-fished. What are these people to do when the reefs are dead and the fish are gone?

As if that’s not bad enough, factory ships are cruising the oceans netting anything that swims. The oceans are also being inundated with oil, agricultural runoff and other toxins creating dead zones. What’s more, humans are using the oceans as trash dumps creating floating “islands” of plastics and other trash.

In the Amazon, the rain forest is being clear-cut to create grazing lands for cattle to meet the world’s rising demand for beef. And, in the South Pacific, rain forests are being cleared to grow palm oil to be used as an ingredient in a growing number of processed packaged foods. Not surprisingly, the loss of these rain forests leads to diminished rainfall and changing climate patterns. Moreover, the cattle release methane which further contributes to greenhouse gases and rising temperatures.

In Africa, the rain forests are also being destroyed and, on the savanna, the almost unabated poaching of large mammals, such as elephants, rhinos, giraffes, lions, leopards and tigers may lead to their extinction in our lifetimes. In particular, the loss of the apex predators will create a cascading effect by allowing the overpopulation of other species placing further stress on the environment.

Religious strife has led to wars and terrorism which have also displaced millions and further damaged the environment. Worse, they have distracted our governments from focusing attention on even more dire problems.

Finally, the growth of computerization, robotics and artificial intelligence threaten to eliminate roughly half of the nation’s jobs within the next 10-20 years. Yet, like most of the other crises, this has not even created a conversation by our politicians and news media.

As catastrophic as all of these things could be, they also represent opportunities. For example, addressing climate change by restructuring our economies around renewable energies could create millions of new jobs that could offset those lost to computerization. Rebuilding and modernizing infrastructure could also create jobs.

Limiting our consumption of beef, in addition to other meats, and changing our diets to include more grains and vegetables from sustainable agriculture could not only save our rain forests, it could improve our health and reduce the chemicals in our foods. It could also reduce the stress on our oceans. And reversing the recent trend of nationalism and learning to respect the beliefs of those with other religions and cultures could also help by reducing wars and terrorism.

Ultimately, saving our planet and humanity depends on educating ourselves about these complex issues and electing government officials who truly understand the daunting issues we face and who are willing to address them.

Based on the results of the past election, we failed miserably.

The Age Of Disruption.

It has become fashionable for entrepreneurs and businesses to seek disruption; to seek opportunities so significant they can disrupt and change entire sectors of the economy in the same way Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have disrupted the traditional media business; in the same way Uber and Lyft have disrupted traditional taxicab companies; in the same way AirBnB is disrupting the hotel business.

While these examples have been disruptive, for the most part they have created as many job opportunities as those they have displaced.

However, there are two impending disruptions that promise to be far more damaging: Climate change and Artificial Intelligence. Yet few are talking about them. Few have any idea of the large-scale impact of these issues. And our political leaders are either in denial or clueless.

Let’s begin with the effects of climate change. Scientists, NOAA, NASA, the EPA, the Department of Defense, POTUS, the UN, even world religious leaders have warned of the impending consequences of failing to deal with climate change. We know that the world’s coastlines and many of the world’s largest cities are threatened by global warming and rising sea levels. We know that climate change is increasing the number and violence of weather systems. And we know that thousands of the world’s species of plants and animals are threatened by changing temperatures. Yet politicians – specifically those in the Republican Party – continue to call climate change a hoax. And they have blocked every attempt to head off a crisis. But the rules of science are unbound by the beliefs of politicians.

Climate change is happening on a massive scale. And, unless we view it as a serious threat, as well as an economic opportunity for creating new industries to replace carbon fuels, climate change is likely to cause unprecedented migration and disruption. In the most extreme circumstances, perhaps it will render our planet uninhabitable for humans. Yet, in the first presidential debate, the subject of climate change was not seriously addressed by either candidate.

The other impending disruption is Artificial Intelligence (AI) – computers and robots that can learn by absorbing massive amounts of data and use logic to perform tasks that we take for granted as being exclusive to humans. We have already seen robots replace thousands of workers in manufacturing plants. In fact, more American manufacturing jobs have been lost to robots than have been shipped to China. Indeed, in recent years, many manufacturing plants have been moved back to the US, but much of their work is being done by robots.

Today’s automotive manufacturing plants employee far fewer people than ever before. The automotive frames and bodies are welded together by robots to precise tolerances that cannot be matched by humans. The engine blocks and other parts are cast, drilled and partially assembled by robots. So all of the tough talk about making US corporations bring back jobs through tariffs and other trade deals is just that…talk.

And manufacturing robots are just the beginning.

For example, within the next ten years, we will see the widespread use of self-driving cars and trucks. One of the positive consequences of such vehicles is that they will be able to reduce and virtually eliminate traffic accidents. On the other hand, they will eliminate the jobs of long haul truckers and taxicab drivers, even Lyft and Uber drivers. It is estimated that there are more than 10 million semi-truck drivers in the US alone.

What will these people do?

In the future, AI will permeate every aspect of our lives. AI computers will be able to access online legal libraries, make decisions and file legal documents on our behalf without need of a lawyer. They will be able to perform medical surgeries with more precision than the world’s best surgeons. They will replace military personnel. They will replace airline pilots and ship captains. They will act as highly-skilled and highly-trained servants to perform most of our daily tasks. They will search the Web for the best products at the best value and make recommendations to us. They will make purchases, make reservations and pay bills for us.

Such capabilities are not somewhere far off in the future. Computers are doing similar things now.

If the development of AI continues at the current pace (in all likelihood it will accelerate), more and more humans will be looking for and competing for jobs only humans can do. The disruption will be dramatic!

So while our politicians argue about national deficits and debt; while they dither over the reality of climate change; while they create fear over the influx of immigrants; while they divide us with ideologies; while they fiddle with the mundane, Rome and the rest of the world, including the US is only awaiting the match that will set fire to everything we know, even what we think we know.